About the 11 Plus │ Bond 11+

Parent and child

The 11+ is a selective entrance examination for secondary school. All children took the 11+ exam until the early 1970s, when there was a move away from selective state-funded grammar schools towards non-selective comprehensive schools.

The 11+ exam is no longer a compulsory test, however it continues to be used in those areas with grammar schools, and also by selective independent schools, to identify academic ability and potential.

Want all this information in one place? Download The 11+ Exam: A Parent's Guide from Bond, packed with helpful insights and advice to guide you through every stage of the 11+ exam process.


What is the 11+?

11+ in your area

CEM 11+

How to prepare your child for the 11+

About Bond: Find out why Bond 11+ is the UK's No.1 choice for 11+ exam preparation

What is the 11+?

The 11+ is an examination used in areas that have retained state-funded grammar schools or for those seeking entrance to some selective private schools. It is taken towards the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 of primary school and is used to identify the most academically-able children.

The content of the 11+ exam varies between different areas of the country but generally it will focus on a combination of the following four subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness tests are not school-based subjects and will not be taught as part of the curriculum in state schools. Therefore your child is likely to need additional support and exam preparation practice to familiarise themselves with verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness exam question types.

There are two different formats for 11+ exam papers:

  • Standard format – where children write their answers on the test paper
  • Multiple-choice format – where answers are marked in a separate answer booklet

11+ exam papers are timed and usually last between 45-60 minutes. Children should practise with timed 11+ mock test papers, as well as working through non-timed practice, so they can see what they are able to do within a given time frame.

There are two main exam boards for the 11+ exam:

  • GL Assessment – previously known as NFER, GL Assessment develop and administer 11+ exams in the majority of grammar schools in the UK.
  • CEM – developed by the Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring at Durham University, the CEM 11+ exam was created in response to fears from some grammar schools that the existing 11+ exam system had become too predictable. The CEM exam was designed to address concerns over question spotting and ‘teaching to the test’.

Find out more about the differences between GL and CEM exams and which Local Authorities use which exam board in the CEM 11+ section below.

There are always more pupils applying for grammar schools than there are places available, (sometimes as many as 10 pupils for every one place) and so competition can be fierce. It is therefore vital to find out how the 11+ exam is structured where you live and to prepare your child adequately.


11+ in your area

The 11+ exam is highly regionalised: the subjects covered in the 11+ papers and how your child will be tested will depend on where you live.

If we look at the Kent and Gloucestershire 11+ exam processes, you can see just how much the exam can vary from one Local Authority to another:

Kent has the largest number of grammar schools of any LA in England with 35 fully-selective grammar schools and 4 partially-selective grammar schools. As a result, parents who want their child to apply for grammar school must register their child for the Kent Test. The test comprises of 3 separate assessments and the exam board is GL Assessment:

  • First test: 1 hour multiple choice paper split into two sections, maths and English. Each section has a 5-minute practice exercise.
  • Second test: 1 hour paper split into two sections, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness.
  • Third test: 40-minute writing test, including 10 minutes of planning time. Only marked when looking at borderline candidates or appeals.

By contrast, in Gloucestershire there are only 7 grammar schools remaining and the exam follows a different format and is administered by the CEM (Durham University) exam board:

  • Two 50-minute multiple choice tests, testing Verbal ability (verbal reasoning and comprehension), Numerical reasoning (the CEM term for Maths) and Non-verbal reasoning.

As these examples show, there can be significant differences between the exams depending on where your child is taking the 11+. This makes it extremely important to check with your LA and local grammar schools so that you know exactly what subjects and skills your child will be tested on as part of their 11+ exam.

Checklist – to find out how the 11+ exam is structured in your area, check the following details with your chosen school:

  • When the 11+ test is
  • Which subjects are tested
  • What format the exams take
  • Who provides the exam

CEM 11+

GL and CEM are the two main exam boards for the 11+ and although they cover broadly the same topics – English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness – there are very real differences to the way the GL and CEM 11+ exams work, which will have an impact on how you support your child.

To help you prepare your child for the 11+ exam, we’ve summarised the key differences between GL and CEM.

Where is the CEM 11+ taken?

  • CEM regions: Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Wolverhampton & Wrekin
  • GL regions: Bromley, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland
  • GL and CEM regions: Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Wirral, Yorkshire

Which subjects are covered?

  • GL: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness (schools can choose any combination of these to best suit their selection policy)
  • CEM: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning (‘verbal reasoning’ encompasses many of the skills tested in the GL English exam, including comprehension. ‘Numerical reasoning’ involves the core maths skills needed for the GL exam.)

Which skills will be tested?

Your child will require strong skills in the following areas:

  • GL: vocabulary, logic, maths and spelling
  • CEM: English, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling and maths. CEM verbal reasoning is very different to GL and success is dependent on children having a wide-ranging vocabulary.

Further resources here.

Read more detailed information about the format of GL and CEM 11+ exam papers.

Why is CEM different?

The CEM 11+ exam is favoured by some regions and schools as it is seen as more ‘tutor-proof’ than GL. CEM places much emphasis on:

  • not producing or endorsing any published practice papers
  • basing the test papers more closely on the National Curriculum, which is followed by all state school children
  • a perceived increase in difficulty

Take a look at the Bond CEM 11+ practice range to find ‘How To Do’ guides, assessment papers and exam papers for the CEM 11+.

How to prepare your child for the 11+

We know how daunting the 11+ can be, with many parents unsure how to start preparing their child for the 11+ exam. To help you, we’ve put together a Getting Started guide to the 11+, covering everything you need to know – from when to start preparing for the exam to how to create a revision schedule.

Read the Getting Started Guide now.

The 11+ exam is about testing your child’s natural aptitude and the importance of a well-rounded education cannot be stressed enough. Reading widely, building vocabulary and developing mathematical skills are all key ways of helping to prepare your child for the 11+. With that in mind, here are some key pieces of advice that will help your child prepare for their specific 11+ exam.

  1. Find out exactly what exams your child will be taking – this can change from school to school, not just region to region. Also bear in mind that schools may change the examiner they use, so do keep checking. Look not just at the exam board, but subject, format, length of test and any additional tests set by that school (such as creative writing).
  2. If your child is sitting a GL Assessment-examined test, use plenty of past and practice papers to familiarise your child with the question types in each subject. (Plenty of exam prep using practice papers is also important for CEM, but the questions types that appear in the real CEM 11+ exam are much more unpredictable.)
  3. If your child is sitting a CEM-examined test, work hard on developing a deep and rich vocabulary:
    • Use a vocabulary book to record new words and their meanings to ensure that your child really understands the new words they are meeting and can use them in context.
    • Read widely with your child and use ‘grown up’ words in ordinary conversation, explaining their meaning as you go.
    • Practise synonyms and antonyms, for example, encourage your child to use more sophisticated words to describe something, or complete crosswords together.
  4. For both tests, but especially the CEM-examined tests, time management skills are of great importance:
    • Make sure your child does plenty of timed practice and is accustomed to managing their time carefully.
    • Use practice test papers to set mock tests under exam conditions to help them get used to formal exam conditions – getting used to working in test conditions will help your child feel less intimidated by the real exam.

If you want to find out more about the subjects tested in the 11+ exam visit our subject pages: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness.

For more tips on how to prepare your child for their 11+ exam see our Getting Started page.

We have lots of 11+ practice papers online