How to help revise for the various 11+ exam styles
By Sarah Collins
04 May

With familiar formats changing, a range of companies producing new tests and electronic delivery methods being introduced, there has never been so much variety in the 11+ exams (including the ISEB Common Pre-Test). Added to this confusion, many children take more than one test style if they apply to multiple schools.

So how can you help your child prepare the wide variety of experiences they will potentially face? In this blog we offer advice on how you can step up to the challenge!

Do the research

It is as important to find out what your child won’t be facing as much as what they will be, so begin by talking to your target schools. This initial research will help you to plan your child’s revision effectively.


Your child may be tested on some but not necessarily all of the following subjects: English Comprehension, English Writing, Maths, Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning. You may also hear ‘Cloze procedure’ mentioned. This is a kind of comprehension exercise and can be part of either Verbal reasoning or English.

Test style

It is equally important to find out as much as you can about the style of test they will be taking. Even though tests change each year, there tend to be some basic characteristics of each test style. These are some of the common boards and styles:

  • Consortium

  • ISEB

  • GL

  • CEM

  • Independent schools bespoke tests (often provided by GL or CEM).

If the schools you are applying to provide sample tests, then do obtain these samples before your child begins their preparation.

Test characteristics

Before beginning any revision work, look at these tests (or the style of test suggested – the Galore Park Practice Papers have examples of the above formats where they are applicable to the subject). A quick review will give you an idea of kind of questions your child can expect. Here are some examples of what to look out for.

Some CEM tests tend to concentrate more on knowledge than logic (such as short Maths tests with quick-fire mental calculations and Verbal Reasoning tests with difficult vocabulary).

GL tests typically concentrate more on logic (such as longer Maths tests with questions covering real-life problems and Verbal Reasoning tests requiring less challenging vocabulary but more thoughtful responses).

Here is an example of how Verbal Reasoning questions concentrate on different skills in CEM and GL:

CEM style:
Find the word that means the same or nearly the same as the bold word.

arduous            simple      onerous        heavy         income          easy

GL style:
Find one word in each set of brackets to complete the sentence in the most sensible way.  

Seam is to (sew, appear, shirt) as joint is to (together, cupboard, bar).

Both of these questions are testing knowledge of word meaning although in two different ways:
The CEM question is looking for an understanding of challenging vocabulary (arduous and onerous both mean ‘to be difficult’). As long as you understand what each word means the answer is simply a case of choosing the correct match. The GL question is looking more closely at the ability to make logical connections between words. Although the words are not particularly complicated, there are several options to consider:

  • seam can be a verb in the context of ‘seaming a curtain’ – an alternative to ‘sew’

  • seam, spelt differently (seem), would link to ‘appear’ and is a verb

  • seam (a seam) is a join in a shirt and a noun in this context

  • joint works with ‘together’, such as a joint account (adjective), an account that is held together

  • joint is also a noun meaning a physical connection, such as a joint in a cupboard or table

  • joint works equally well with ‘bar’, as it can be a slang expression meaning a place to meet.

The answer is ’shirt’ and ‘cupboard’, since these are both nouns meaning a join in an object.
You will see from the explanations that although the GL question appears simpler at first glance, the concepts need a great deal of thought.

Preparing for this kind of logic question takes practice!

Question style
CEM papers tend to have a mix of standard and multiple-choice questions within one paper. GL tests are now mostly multiple-choice, although some schools can ask for standard-format papers. GL do not tend to mix question styles within a single paper. Some other boards can have all standard-format questions.

Multiple-choice papers are often set within demanding time frames. This is especially true if the method of delivery is electronic to see how many questions children can get through in the time.

Standard-format questions take longer to complete since your child often needs to construct an answer (particularly in English). They will also need to read the questions carefully to make sure that they answer the question being asked since is easy to misread questions when working at speed.

Many Independent schools also expect your child to complete a writing task, which is why all Galore Park Practice Tests have a variety of writing questions to give your child plenty of examples to develop their writing skills.

Test structure
Are the tests long or short? CEM has a range of short tests within two longer tests, as a general rule. GL tests are typically much longer – up to 80 questions in some Verbal Reasoning papers.

Most exam boards assume a knowledge base of KS2 to Year 6 (sometimes all of this year) and occasionally (as in the case of ISEB) with some extension into Year 7. There is guidance available on what your child is expected to cover and it is worth discussing the ‘curriculum’ with the target school.
The Galore Park Curriculum covers content from all these test agencies and you can be confident that there is enough practice across the range for whichever exam they are taking.

Make a plan

Once you know what your child needs to cover, you can start making plans!
Be realistic within the timeframe left before the tests (a year is ideal although it is more than possible to fit revision work in a shorter period).
This is one proven structure that works:

Start with a test similar to the style your child will be taking.
Galore Park Practice Paper 1 for each subject has foundation-level introduction tests for this purpose.

Review the answer explanations to find out where your child may need further support
Galore Park 11+ products all have clearly-explained answers to support parents and children to understand how the correct answers have been arrived at in order to plan further work.

Revise areas where there are gaps in knowledge (English and Maths) and further understanding is required in Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.
Galore Park Revision Guides work step-by-step through each ‘curriculum’. Topics typically delivered in two page sections with example questions for short bursts of after-school work.

Practice to build confidence in existing and new skills, preparing your child for the speed needed in the 11+ tests.
Galore Park Workbooks provide practice in a huge variety of question styles and curriculum content with fully explained answers to support further revision.

Sit papers in realistic test conditions to practice the format that your child will face. 
Galore Park Practice Papers provide progression in difficulty and variety in format so that your child is prepared in terms of weighting, question style, test structure and content.    
Work with the Learning Ladders
After finding out about the tests your child will take and setting a sample test, you may find the Galore Park Learning Ladders a useful aid to planning revision.
 learning ladder
The ladders above show the connections between Non-Verbal Reasoning and Maths. There are similar ladders showing the connections between Verbal Reasoning and English. These ladders are found at the front of the 11+ Revision Guides and are a simple way to look at the progression of skills in each subject from knowledge-based to problem-solving. The colours and steps also show how skills in Non-Verbal Reasoning link across to Maths skills taught at KS2.

The ladders can be useful in two different ways:

Focusing work on areas relating to specific tests
Once you have looked at the content of the papers your child will take, you should have a good indication of whether the test focuses more on knowledge-based content (such as CEM) or more heavily on problem-solving (such as GL). Of course, all tests expect your child to be able to apply their knowledge to problems, nonetheless, it is helpful to know where the focus is likely to be so that you can be sure your child has a thorough grounding in the key areas they will be tested on.

Understanding areas for development
Because Non-Verbal Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning questions tend to be unfamiliar to both parents and children it can be difficult to know how to help your child if they are struggling with these questions. The Galore Park Revision Guides break down Non-Verbal Reasoning skills into simple Maths concepts and the same approach is taken with Verbal Reasoning and English. You will see from the ladders that they relate to each other quite simply. Therefore, for example, if your child finds questions involving the changing position of elements in Non-Verbal Reasoning questions challenging (see descriptions from the Revision Guide, below), practice in the related area of Maths can also be very helpful in building confidence with these questions.
 maths puzzle
Step it up
So now you have a good grounding in how to begin, it’s time to start stepping up the Learning Ladders!
Your child’s confidence should soon begin to grow once they have a good understanding of what is expected of them in these tests and have build some familiarity with the question styles they will face. The final stage, as we have indicated in the test plan, is to move onto the Practice Papers to make sure they are secure in their basic subject knowledge when working at the pace expected in the tests.
Working through both sets of Galore Park Practice Papers will give them a complete coverage of all the subject areas and question styles they are likely to face so that they are ready to
step up to exam success.

The products mentioned throughout this blog have produced to help with revision at home and can be found here. We believe that they work best when used together so why not top up on Revision Guides, workbooks and practice paper books today

11+ range


Tags: 11+, 11+ English, 11, 11 plus, 11plus, assessment, blog, cloze, Entrance exams, exam, Exam Preparation, Exam tips

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