11 Plus – How to Pass and Smash the Exam?


The 11 Plus exam is a standardized test taken by students in the UK during their final year of primary school. The exam is used to determine which students are eligible for selective secondary schools, which are often more academically rigorous than non-selective schools. The exam typically includes sections on English, math, and reasoning skills, and the format can vary depending on the region or school district.

What is the Passing Score for the 11 Plus Exam?

A good 11 plus score is one which gets your child into the school of your choice ! So aim for achieving at least a score of 85% in any of the 11 plus exam practice tests you do. The 11 plus is scored using the SAS (standard age score) which uses the raw score a pupil has received and converts it into an understandable and comparable mark across different types of assessments.

The average score is 100 with 50% of children scoring less than 100 and 50% of children scoring higher. By using this benchmark progress of different pupil across different ages and years can be tracked. By the time your child is ready to sit the 11 plus they should be achieving an SAS of at least 115 – or approximately 84%. Practice papers are the best way to check your child’s progress and their potential performance in the real 11 plus exam.

Find the Best Approach to Passing the 11 Plus Exam

Passing the 11 plus is just like any other test where a structured approach can increase your child’s chances. Using an 11 plus mock test is an essential strategy parents need to consider when supporting their child. The 11 plus is one of the most difficult tests a year 5/6 child can face and without support and a planned approach it will almost be impossible to pass.

Map showing grammar schools that use the 11 plus as a entrance exam.
Grammar school areas and groups in England (Ref: Wikipedia)

Here is 6-step approach tailored for passing the 11 plus test:

  1. Find online or paper based 11plus mock tests
  2. Do one 11plus mock test
  3. Mark the test or if online submit it for automatic marking
  4. Review the feedback / test results and identify improvement areas
  5. Find exercises / worksheets to practice these areas
  6. Repeat from 2 above until an 80% score is consistently being achieved

Marking these tests is challenging for parents due to the style of questions – some questions measure academic ability and others measure aptitude (intelligence). It’s much easier to either let a tutor do this or use an online 11plus mock test which automatically marks the test and provides a summary identifying areas that require improvement. This saves a lot of time and can be repeated again and again without extra effort.

What is the pass mark for the 11 plus?

The pass mark for the 11 plus is approximately 80% but fluctuates yearly and can be as high as 90% in some schools. There are a limited number of seats so in reality the children with the highest marks are the ones who get offered a place. The test is very challenging and most simply won’t pass. Using a structured approach and revising intelligently, doing practice questions and complete 11plus mock tests will help increase your child’s chances. Understanding the weaknesses of your child and then addressing them systematically ensures you don’t waste time on areas which your child is already comfortable with.

How many children fail the 11 plus?

The 11 plus is designed to select the most able pupils and it does this by failing approximately 85% of pupils and selecting approximately the top 15% of pupils. It seems like a failure but rather it’s more a case of not able to do as well as their peers. Unlike other exams which have a predetermined pass or failure mark, the 11+ tests pass mark is relative to the scores of other students. It is all about “making the cut” – coming in within the top 10 or 15% of students.

How are 11+ test results calculated?

Raw marks go through a standardisation process to allow children to be fairly compared. This standardised score is then used to determine the rank order and what the pass mark is for that particular school and year. 11 plus tests normally consist of a number of tests each with a different number of questions – these marks will then go through a weighting process, and along with the candidate’s age (and possibly postcode, ethnicity and faith), a final standardized score will then be calculated.

The 11 plus test being used by the school may be from an organization, such as GL Assessment or CEM, so the standardisation process will also take into consideration previous years’ 11+ test results and also the different versions of the test and their difficulty. The whole process is quite involved and aiming for more than 85% in any given 11plus mock test will provide you with high level of confidence that your child passes the real thing.

Does my child need to prepare for the 11 plus tests?

Boy in front of an old school building walking along to possibly go and sit the 11 plus exam.
‘Tutor-proof’ 11-plus professor admits grammar school test doesn’t work (Ref: Guardian)

The reasons for children not making “the cut” and coming in the top 15% is many fold and any distraction, domestic problems, or illness should be evidenced and the test postponed. If the pupil is not 100% focused its highly unlikely, he or she will meet the pass rate.

Absolutely, every child sitting the 11 plus will need to prepare, but prepare at the right level and start at the right time. Too much preparation can be just as bad as too little and leave the child overworked and unable to stay motivated leading to underperformance on the day of the exam. Timing is critical and just like an elite athlete a child needs to reach their peak on the day of the exam.

Factors which can effect your child’s score

Some children who naturally have a higher aptitude and academic ability sometimes lose out to other children who may be less able but have had the support required to prepare and practice. The school curriculum does not cover the material required for the 11plus tests particularly the verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions are not covered at all in school.

For these questions the right type of preparation is required and its going vary from child to child since reasoning skills may be more or less developed and require nurturing over a period of time. So the fact a child doesn’t pass is not necessarily how difficult he or she found the questions but rather an indication of the lack of preparation and support received.

Right or wrong the 11 plus is not just a test of academic ability but also an indicator of the stability of the environment in which the child lives and how much support a child receives. This could be seen as unfair but it could be justified due to the fact that the same levels of support, or lack of, will continue into later years and leave the child underachieving in a highly competitive environment.


Passing the 11plus test is very possible and does not require spending 100s of pounds (parents are spending on average 1800 GBP on 11+ tutors) rather it requires a simple, straightforward 6-step approach to determine what your child needs to learn and how much progress he or she has made. Take leave your child disadvantaged. If you need any help or advice on what the best approach simply contact me in the comments below or send me a message on the contact page by clicking here. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Try a 11 Plus Practice Test

The practice tests on this site are not official tests but use a similar format that can be used to help identify gaps in knowledge and exam taking technique. To try an example of the format and types of questions that may come up click below.


How do CAT4 results help your child do better

CAT4 (Cognitive Abilities Test) is the new edition of the Cognitive Abilities Test and is the UK’s most widely used assessment of ability. It’s available on demand throughout the year. CAT4 is a standardized test designed to assess cognitive abilities in children and young people. It is used in educational settings to identify strengths and weaknesses in cognitive abilities, such as verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, spatial awareness, and numerical ability. The test can be used to identify students who may be at risk of underachieving academically, or who may need additional support in order to reach their full potential. It is often used as part of a comprehensive assessment process, along with other tests and observations, to identify students who may have learning difficulties or disabilities.

CAT4 reports received by the school providing individual performance and performance of the cohort

It provides teachers with essential data to help personalise learning, engage with parents, and monitor progress. It supports measuring student abilities and the admissions process into selective schools. There are 4 areas of reasoning which are measured; quantitative, verbal, non-verbal and spatial. The last skills is extremely important for science, technology, engineering, and maths. This is an ability not measured by other tests at school such as the 11+ or SATs.

Individualised Learning

By understanding a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences teaching can be adapted accordingly and talented pupils can be pushed ahead while pupils with low ability can be provided learning support or screened for learning difficulties.

Identifying Learning Styles

From a child’s ability profile it becomes clear if they have a bias towards spatial skills and will learn better through flow charts and diagrams but may struggle with verbal based subjects. Pupils with an extreme verbal bias will learn well through written texts, writing and discussion but may struggle with STEM subjects. Pupils with a balanced profile will respond to all types of teaching styles.

Helping Students

Underachieving pupils can be provided with targeted measures to remove barriers to learning. Appropriate goals can be set and monitored, with progress indicators. The results are good indicators to GCSE, A-level and IB course success and the individual student report for teachers provides data that helps to understand a pupils learning profile. The implications for teaching and learning arre profound and base deicisions on objective not subjective opinion.


CAT4 supports personalized learning and improves parental engagement, provides direction for informed intervention strategies. Specialized reports are available for senior school leaders to help provide strategic direction to areas where the school or class as a whole can improve. The CAT4 is not about knowledge recall and requires no preparation, although I argue that familiarity of the question format and online delivery helps. There are three ability batteries that are not dependent on language so it is highly suitable for second language students too. CAT4 is available throughout the year and results are available immediately. The CAT4 tests attempt to offer all pupils the same opportunity to show their underlying ability – at least that’s the theory!

CAT4 love it or hate it let me know in the comments section below.

How to improve your child’s vocabulary for the 11+

Having a better chance of scoring highly in the eleven plus you need to focus on vocabulary, an area that many children find difficult.

What to expect during your 11 plus tests?

The 11 plus test is designed to assess whether grammar school is a suitable choice for your child. More importantly whether or not if it is the best place for your child to thrive. The 11+ is broken up into four main areas so in the assessment you can expect questions based on English, Maths, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning.

Improving Vocabulary Skills for the 11 Plus

Vocabulary can account for 10% to 15% of the marks in the 11+ exam so your child really needs to make sure they do well in these questions. You’ll need a good quality children’s dictionary – children nowadays use the internet to look up definitions but sometimes the definitions online are confusing. A lot of times they don’t know what they are reading so its better to use a dictionary that uses language they can easily understand.

Probably the most important way of teaching a child new vocabulary is to first introduce the word and then place the word into context and then repeat this a few times so they really get the meaning. This is generally the way we learn when we are very young and continues to work even when we are older. If your child asks you the meaning of a word its a perfect opportunity to provide an explanation but normally just by hearing the word in context the meaning will become obvious. If they do ask you the meaning get them to look it up in the dictionary as a first step.

Varying the Teaching

To make it more fun sometimes you can ask them to use tools like Siri on your phone. Kids really like using technology and it adds a bit of variety so that learning new words isn’t too boring. Another way of improving vocabulary is by using flashcards and colours to help your child recommend difficult words. Your child should help make them and will definitely remember many of the words because of this. Try to vary the way you make the flash cards to again trigger your child’s memory; you could use felts, crayons and paint. On the reverse of the card put the definition so that when you test your child the answer is readily available.

To further expand your child’s vocabulary you could use a thesaurus and also write the synonyms too. I suggest you write one or two words that your child already knows the meaning of and then write the new words next to it to help expand their knowledge. Flashcards should become part of your daily routine so stick them on your fridge and get your child to look at them at meal time and test them in the morning while having breakfast. You could even test them on the way to school in the car or as you walk along. Don’t do this all the time because you can go overboard but a couple of times a week will help your child’s recall.

It’s also a good idea to put some words away for a few weeks before pulling them out again to see what has been remembered. It is particularly important to point out prefixes and suffixes in words and any other clues that a word has in order to determine its meaning.

Bond, CGP and other books

There are also a number of Bond and CGP books with verbal reasoning questions that can help your child pickup on patterns, synonyms or antonyms. Spread out all these techniques, there’s no need to do all of this in one week. The 11 plus is all about having understanding as well as recall. One week you might want to focus on new words and cut back on some of their other homework.

If they don’t know how to pronounce the word then they need to practice saying the word out loud by reading story books or following audiobooks which can add a little more context around the word. Reading out a word can help them to grasp the definition as well.

Some more tips on increasing vocabulary

1. Conversation, conversation, conversation

Speak to your chldren all the time and most critically don’t overly dumb down your language. Young children will learn the most difficult of words so itis important to immerse them in new vocabulary from the start. It is truely amazing the amount of words a young child learns and the wider the vocabulary the better a child can score on the 11+.

2. Read and listen to your child

You should has regular reading time with your child where you not only read to your child but also listento your child reading. Firstly the interest you show to reading will help your child love reading, secondly you will be modelling the correct reading style with appropriate intonation and pronounciation, thirdly you will provide feedback when your child is reading. It also gives your child an opportunity to immediately ask about vocabulary they do not understand.

The above routine should not stop even after your child can read independently. Children enjoy listening to stories especially from books which they find too difficult. Find books and material which interest them and use non-fiction too. You’ll be surprised at how interested they are when you read an article on the first Space X launch !!

If you do the above religiously you will be amazed at how quickly reading skills, vocabulary, and comprehension develop.

3. Play word games

As well as playing the traditional eye spy and scrabble types games you can try something like going through the alphabet and providing a word for each letter in turns. Another variation is the last letter of the word as the first letter of the word you need to think of or simpy as many words as possible for one randomly chosen letter in the alphabet.

All these games will provide your child with useful skills that will be helpful when its time for the 11+.

4. Make sentences for new words

Make new sentences of the word – this really helps your child understand how the word can be used. Also if the word has multiple meanings it can help your child understand the subtleties of English. It’s one thing knowing how to say a word another knowing what it really means and using it in your own context. Weekly spelling tests are excellent way of introducing new vocabulary but an added exercise it to create new sentences using the words ! This proves that the child really knows wha the word means – an invaluable skill that is very useful for the 11+.

5. Write, write, write and write some more.

Writing is difficult for most adults, only because they didn’t do enough of it when they were children. The first step in writing is to just write ! It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it doesn’t matter about spelling and sentence structure, children just need to start writing. Everything else can be fixed later. Although there is no set 11+ section that requires a written piece of work – if your child can write they can read and understand words better. Have a weekly journal, choose topics for your children or simply ask them to write about their day. Review their work and provide feedback to help them improve, but don’t be overly critical about grammar and punctuation – it takes time to develop a plot and technical details are the last thing on a child’s mind. The bottom line is to just write.

6. Create a daily word

This tip is something I did with my kids and it worked wonders. Use letter magnets to make new words every day. Use your fridge as the wall or a magnetic white board which is visible from the place at which you eat your breakfast. The word can then become a topic of conversation and can be used in sentences to help understanding. An easy but very effective way to help your child learn new words. You could even reward your child for using the new word during the day !

7. Have a dictionary and thesaurus

It is essential that these two books are accessible to your child at home. You will be amazed at how they’ll just start looking up words for fun. You could also reinforce their use by asking for synonyms of new words you’ve introduced or ask them to expand their writing a little by using richer adjectives and adverbs. Reinforcing the use of new words by simply being a part of your child’s learning journey will help your child to grow their vocabulary and hopefully pass the 11+with flying colours.

If you have some tricks please let me know in the comments below…

COVID-19 And Its Impact On The 11 Plus

Should the 11+ be pushed back as suggested by the government to as late as November? The guidance which is only advisory indicates that children are not “likely to perform to their utmost ability in a test at the beginning of September” because of school closures during coronavirus. This raises “the elephant in the room” – with current restrictions in schools will children actually get enough education in the extra few months to make up for all that was lost before the summer holidays?

Continue reading “COVID-19 And Its Impact On The 11 Plus”

What Skills Do You Need To Pass The 11+?

The 11 plus is an entrance exam used by grammar schools and private schools all around the country. As a parent who can’t afford to pay for a private school we have to hope that our child can pass and get into one of the grammar schools. As a parent we want the best for our children and want them get a good start to life and not to be disadvantaged. We all know the school your child goes to will have a direct impact on their future.

Continue reading “What Skills Do You Need To Pass The 11+?”

Breaking Down the CAT4 Levels – X, Y, A to G

CAT4 level tests are different versions of the test catering for children who are in different grades in primary school and high school. The table below provides you with a brief summary. CAT4 Level X and Level Y are for year 1 and 2 and have a different structure. CAT4 Level A to Level G is for year 3 to year 12 and above.

Continue reading “Breaking Down the CAT4 Levels – X, Y, A to G”