What Are 11 Plus Exams

PUBLISHED: September 2, 2020

 UPDATED: October 15, 2020

What are 11 Plus Exams

This article provides a comprehensive guide for parents who aspire to prepare their children for the 11 Plus exam.

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Sutton Trust Report (2008)

Grammar School pupils make greater progress throughout Key Stage 3 and 4 and achieve better GCSEs and A levels compared to pupils from other types of school.

What is the 11 Plus Exam?

The 11 Plus Exams are a selective entrance test that pupils in year 6 will take to enter into Year 7 at a Grammar School. The 11 plus exams happen towards the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 of primary school.

Your child has to pass the 11 Plus exam to eligible to continue their secondary school at a Grammar School.

According to the Sutton Trust Report (2008), grammar school pupils make greater progress throughout Key Stage 3 and 4 and achieve better GCSEs and A levels compared to pupils from other types of school.

Why is the 11 Plus Exam?

Grammar Schools are most sought after because of the education provided is on par with the best-run private schools in the country.

Not all grammar schools are performing equal, but they hold a better profile in the public view. Hence the reason why the 11 Plus exams become highly competitive and most coveted.

11 Plus exams will enable the pupil to get into Grammar School. Hence why you need to prepare and pass the 11 Plus entrance test.

Although not all grammar schools are providing a high standard of education, they hold a better profile than comprehensive schools in the public view.

If we stop the debate for a minute whether they are good or not, preparing for the 11 Plus will change the trajectory of your child. 

It's my own experience as my son who passed the 11 Plus exam in 2016 is now cruising the secondary school. I can see the hockey stick curve in his attitude towards education and general grades.

"If you take the SAME ACTIONS as everyone else, you will get the SAME RESULTS. BREAKOUT from the PACK to get a BREAKTHROUGH!" — Narendra Mandadapu

I am an ardent fan of 11 Plus exam preparation. Irrespective of the result, the 11 plus preparation makes our children ready for secondary school education. The kids who prepared are in a better position than any other who makes no effort towards the entrance exam.

When education turns out to be a commodity item, the 11 plus exam and the preparation towards the exam will set your kid apart from everyone else.

The 11 plus preparation is the differentiator of better-equipped children vs non-primed children.

It is a life-changing opportunity hence make most out of it by concentrating undividedly on the preparation without attaching yourself to the result.

Where are 11 Plus Exams Conducted?

The following counties are conducting the 11 Plus exams which have state-funded grammar schools: 

Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Medway, Shropshire, Trafford, Wiltshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton and Yorkshire.

Northern Irish grammar schools use the Northern Ireland Transfer Test.

Whether you live near to any grammar school or not, I would highly recommend you to prepare your children for the 11 Plus entrance exam.

It was the best decision I took years back to prepare my son for the exam. I used to live in Oxfordshire, and there are no grammar schools nearby, yet I wanted him to attend as I said the result should not be the criteria.

The 11 Plus preparation process is intense so do the extraction of the diamond from the kimberlite.

— Narendra Mandadapu

Who Conduct the 11 Plus Exams?

CEM (Durham University) and GL (Granada Learning) are the two central bodies that conduct the 11 Plus exams in England. Which exam board depends on the location of your chosen grammar school. 


Please check with your preferred grammar school to know precisely what exam board they are following. The preparation varies widely depends on the exam board.

Which Schools Use GL Assessment?

As of the year 2020, the following regions use the GL Assessment:

Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Kent, Lancashire & Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Medway, Northern Ireland, Wiltshire.

Which Schools Use CEM Assessment?

As of the year 2020, the following regions use the CEM Assessment:

Berkshire, Bexley, Birmingham, Devon, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wirral, Wolverhampton.

Which School Use Both CEM & GL?

As of the year 2020, the following regions use both CEM and GL Assessment:

Devon, Essex, Hertfordshire, Trafford, Yorkshire












Lancashire & Cumbria









Northern Ireland










What Disciplines the 11 Plus Exam Test?

Although the exam framework and pattern varies between different parts of the country, the exam will test the skill level from the following subjects.

  • English
  • Maths
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Non-verbal Reasoning

Although there are 4 subjects to learn the test mainly divided into 3 disciplines

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Numerical Reasoning
  3. Non-verbal Reasoning

What is the 11 Plus Exam Format?

There are two formats in the 11 Plus Exams

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

11 Plus - CEM Exam Format

The CEM 11 Plus exams cover both English and Mathematical skills and some cognitive testing components. 

Which subjects are covered CEM Exam Format?

Verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning

What skills are covered in CEM Exam Format?
  • English
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Spelling
  • Maths

Exam Toughness  

What To Expect - CEM

Percentage of each topics in CEM exam


Verbal Reasoning


Numerical Reasoning


Non Verbal Reasoning

The CEM 11 Plus exams consist of two 50 minute test papers contains either multiple-choices or standard format of shorter timed sections that integrate the different subjects in a mixed order.

Each paper has a combination of topics including English (with some Verbal Reasoning), Non-Verbal Reasoning and Numerical Reasoning (Maths).

There is a strong emphasis on vocabulary, problem solving and speed.

The CEM definition of verbal reasoning is broader than that of GL and incorporates things like Comprehension.

Two 50-minute multiple choice tests. Tests Verbal ability (verbal reasoning and comprehension), Numerical reasoning (nothing but Maths) and Non-verbal reasoning.
  • Strong emphasis on vocabulary
  • Improves problem solving skills
  • Tutor-proof means cannot be spoon fed.
  • Time based
  • Two tests
  • Low pass rate
  • May need private tutoring

CEM assessment exam is more challenging than GL assessment exam. Almost all top schools have opted the CEM style exam pattern. Once prepared, your kid will set academically for life as I believe it sets them apart from everyone else irrespective of the result.

11 Plus - GL Exam Format

The GL 11 Plus exams cover both English and Mathematical skills and spatial recognition skills.

Which subjects are covered GL Exam Format?

English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning/spatial awareness

What skills are covered in GL Exam Format?
  • Vocabulary
  • Maths
  • Logic
  • Spelling

Exam Toughness  


Most GL exams last around 45 minutes, and questions usually are in multiple-choice format. There is some evidence that authorities use a written answer format for verbal and maths tests.

Tests Verbal ability (verbal reasoning and comprehension), Numerical reasoning (nothing but Maths) and Non-verbal reasoning.
  • Strong emphasis on spatial recognition skills
  • Mostly private tutoring NOT needed
  • High pass rate.
  • Pattern can be tutored
  • Top schools use CEM style means you may miss out on those school.

GL assessment exam is more manageable than the CEM style test. The pass rate is better compared to the CEM style, and it is a bit predictable. Once prepared, your kid will see the academical improvements, and it sets them apart from most of the peers irrespective of the result.

What 11 Plus Exam Jargon You Have to Understand

CEM stands for Center of Evaluation and Monitoring

GL stands for Granada Learning (GL)

VR stands for Verbal Reasoning

NVR stands for Non-verbal reasoning

MA stands for Maths

EN stands for English

How Do I Prepare An 11 Plus Exam?

Step 1 – Find out about the 11 Plus in your area.

Find a list of local grammar schools in your area/county.

I would highly recommend you to prepare for the 11 Plus whether you are looking to join the Grammar School or not. You can always move to the area once your little one clears the exam. I moved after my son pass the 11 plus test.

Have a list of 2-3 good Grammar schools.

Next, find the exam board of your prefered Grammar School. Usually either CEM or GL style.

Understand the exam pattern and subjects covered. Find the percentage of each subject that the exam board cover in the entrance exam.

Have a list of test registration open dates and deadlines for the application of the registration process.

Register for the 11 Plus exam before the deadline.

In the meantime, you can prepare for the exam.

Step 2 – When should you start preparing?

There's no best time to prepare for the 11 Plus. Make sure that you cultivate high-value habits like regular book reading, knowing the time table up to table 20. Having a higher comprehension is an essential skill to successfully attempting the exam, and you can only get by reading plenty of books, so encourage your kid to read more books.

Build a routine like sleeping early and spending time on habits like reading fiction and understanding simple mathematics.

You can start preparing from when your child is in year 3.

Step 3 – Create a preparation plan for your child.

Here is an article I wrote in-depth on how you can start your 11 plus preparation. Please, go and check it out.

Where to Start the 11 Plus Exam Registration Process

To know the registration process for the 11 Plus test in your area check your local authority website


About the author 

Narendra Mandadapu

I started this website to help moms and pops who need a direction to guide their little ones to pass the 11-plus. A few years back, I was exactly in your position and running around like a headless chicken. I firmly believe 11 Plus Preparation Is For Life, not a gateway to Grammar School. I am NOT a genius, but I can see things from a different perspective which helped my son to pass the 11-plus. Since then, I helped hundreds of parents. Fasten your seatbelt as principles taught here would propel your kiddos to the next generation of cutting edge creative Hogwarts rather than an army of 9-5 battalion. Are you ready for the magic?

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