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Everything you need to know about the 11+ entrance exam process
By Sarah Collins
14 May

Map out your 11+ revision route for the journey ahead

It’s unlikely we’d set off on any journey without checking the route first – we’d end up wasting time heading in the wrong direction and running into dead ends. So, it’s not really a surprise that parents want to know exactly what is expected of their child in the 11+ entrance exam before they embark on this journey. 

Most 11+ exams don’t have a specific syllabus or curriculum, concentrating only on children’s knowledge of maths and English, and occasionally science, at the end of Year 5. This also applies to verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests which are based on existing maths and English skills. However, there is an emphasis in all exams on thinking and problem-solving based on this knowledge which is where revision is helpful.

This blog takes you through three stages…

Stage 1: Setting the route
A guide to the curriculum coverage required for each of the main 11+ entrance exams.

Stage 2: Reaching your destination
What your child can expect to see when they take the tests.

Stage 3: Making the journey
How long this journey may take and help we can give you along the way.

Galore Park have built their own curriculum, ‘The Galore Park Framework’, specifically designed to prepare children for 11+ entrance exams. All Galore Park 11+ titles are based on the information in this Framework. 

Stage 1: Setting the route

The curriculum coverage required for each of the main 11+ entrance exams.

Checking with the school or schools your child would like to apply for is the essential first step to setting up your revision route. You will see from the list below that there are a wide variety of tests, some of which require additional knowledge.

Here is a brief description of what is expected from children entering these exams.

Pre-Test

Set by many independent schools to assess children in Year 6 and 7 aiming to take the 13+ in Year 8 or 9. The ISEB (Independent Schools Examination Board) Common Pre-Test is the most widely used although a number of schools create their own. The notes below relate to the ISEB Pre-Test.

  • Similar in content to the 11+.
  • English and maths questions are based on the National Curriculum content to the end of Year 5.
  • Verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions are word and shape problems based on skills attained in maths and English. Spatial ability is also tested (being able to visualise shapes from different angles and perspectives).
  • Some schools may also ask children to come for additional tests such as a writing task and/or an interview (read our helpful blog post on top tips for preparing for a school entrance interview here).

ISEB 11+ Common Entrance

Set by a number of Independent (mainly girls’) schools in Year 6.

  • English syllabus created by ISEB largely based on the National Curriculum for Years 5 and 6, with some additions and variation. An example being to set out a discussion in play dialogue.
  • Maths syllabus created by ISEB largely based on the National Curriculum for Year 5, with some additions and variation. An example being to multiply simple proper fractions together. 
  • Science syllabus created by ISEB largely based on the National Curriculum to Year 6 (covering biology, chemistry and physics), with some variation in specific content details. An example being how the growth and reproduction of bacteria and the replication of viruses can affect health.
  • Schools may also ask children to come for an interview.

11+ entrance exams in different formats (main exam boards being GL Assessment and CEM)

Set by a number of Independent and grammar schools in Year 6.

  • English and maths questions are based on the National Curriculum content to the end of Year 5.
  • Verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions are word and shape problems based on skills attained in maths and English. Spatial ability is also tested.
  • Schools may ask children to come for additional tests such as a writing task and/or an interview.

Note: not all schools set all four subjects so it is important to check before beginning revision.

Bespoke 11+ entrance exams created for individual schools

Set by a number of Independent and grammar schools in Year 6.

  • Often commissioned from a company such as GL Assessment or CEM and adapted for the individual school.
  • English and maths questions are likely to be based on the National Curriculum content to the end of Year 5 although additional knowledge is often required.
  • Verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions are word and shape problems based on skills attained in maths and English. Spatial ability is often tested as well.
  • Schools are likely to ask children to come for additional tests such as a writing task and/or an interview.

Note: not all schools set all four subjects so it is important to check which subjects your child will need to practice.

Stage 2: Reaching your destination

What your child can expect to see when they take the tests.

It is important to understand that the 11+ is designed to test children’s ability to develop and thrive in the school they are applying to and so testing how they solve problems is an important aspect of that. Consequently, all test setters are looking for ways to vary the questions so that children can’t simply be taught how to answer correctly. The information below is based on the most recent tests.

Common subjects in 11+ exams

Although the papers vary, there are four common subject areas tested (although ISEB also include Science).  

Where maths and English are included, the questions are likely to follow a pattern.

Mental maths, spelling, grammar and vocabulary knowledge are assessed, though this may be in different forms. For this reason, calculators, textbooks, mobile devices and other reference aids cannot be taken into the exam room.

Problem-solving and text analysis questions also appear in all the tests and can range from quite simple to more challenging problems.

The Galore Park learning ladders used throughout the 11+ series break these skills down so it is easy to focus practice in areas important to the tests your child will be taking.

Many tests include verbal and/or non-verbal reasoning questions.

Your child may already have seen some of these questions in CAT4 tests during their time at school.

Although the questions seem unfamiliar, these exams are testing thinking skills related to maths and English. Here is the Learning Ladder for maths alongside that for non-verbal reasoning to show how we link these skills. If your child is struggling with a particular non-verbal reasoning problem, the books guide you to the related maths skills to practice.

11+ Learning Ladder 2

What to expect in specific tests

Here is a summary of timings and content for each test. 

Pre-Test

These tests can be both electronic and paper-based. The ISEB tests are online and all notes below relate to the ISEB Pre-Test.

The tests are…

  • Adaptive – this means when a child answers a question correctly, they are then given a more challenging question. Answering incorrectly can generate a simpler question. The number of questions is finite and if a child works at a moderate pace, considering their answers they should get to the end of the test.
  • One directional – children can’t return to a question once answered
  • Multiple choice
  • Last for 2 1/2 hours
    • English – 25 minutes
    • Maths – 50 minutes
    • Non-verbal reasoning (including spatial reasoning) ­– 32 minutes
    • Verbal reasoning – 36 minutes
  • Paper and pencil can be used in maths and verbal reasoning only

ISEB 11+ Common Entrance

The ISEB 11+ Common Entrance tests are paper-based and can be a mixture of standard and multiple-choice questions. There is reasonable time to answer the questions. They consist of the following papers:

  • English reading – 45 minutes
  • English writing – 45 minutes
  • Maths ­– 60 minutes
  • Science – 60 minutes

11+ entrance exams in different formats

The two most common tests being produced by two companies: GL Assessment and CEM.

GL Assessment

These are paper-based and often multiple-choice where answers are recorded on a separate sheet. Timing is challenging though realistic for a confident and well-paced candidate.

Not all schools will take all subjects so it is important to check first before beginning revision work.

  • English comprehension – 45–50 minutes
  • Maths ­– 45–50 minutes
  • Verbal reasoning – 45–50 minutes
  • Non-verbal reasoning (including spatial reasoning) – 45–50 minutes 

CEM

These are paper-based and combine different subject areas into individual tests. They can also include multiple-choice and standard answers in the same paper.

The timing of these tests is extremely challenging. The vocabulary used in the verbal reasoning content is also more advanced than would be expected of a child of standard ability, though the logic required to solve the problems is likely to be more challenging in the GL Assessment papers.

Here are the main characteristics of a CEM test:

  • 2x 45-minute papers
  • Each paper is split into short sections of different subjects with a time assigned to each section
  • Each paper can contain a varied mix of subjects
  • Subjects included are…
    • Verbal reasoning (which also includes English comprehension and cloze procedure – working out a missing word/s in a sentence or passage)
    • Numerical reasoning (which involves either short mental maths questions or longer problem-solving maths questions)
    • Non-verbal reasoning (this includes standard non-verbal reasoning questions as well as spatial reasoning problems)

Bespoke 11+ entrance exams created for individual schools

Since these papers are often commissioned from a company such as GL Assessment or CEM the format can follow either of the above formats or be completely different, especially if the school has created the tests themselves.

The likelihood is that the tests will be paper-based and more challenging than standard tests. Sometimes past papers can be obtained by contacting the school, or downloaded from the school’s website.

Stage 3: Making the journey

How long this journey may take and help we can give you along the way.

When the tests take place

Test dates varied in 2020 because of the pandemic. The following dates indicate the usual timing of these tests.

  • ISEB Pre-Tests are taken in Year 6 or 7 between 1 October and 30 June as agreed by the school (tests are usually taken in your child’s current school).
  • ISEB 11+ Common Entrance is taken in one of the two available sessions in November or January.
  • GL Assessment tests generally take place in September.
  • CEM tests generally take place in September.
  • Dates for bespoke entrance exams are decided by individual schools.

Deciding when to begin revision work

Typical advice is to begin revision work at least one year ahead. Conversely, organisations setting the tests work hard to change them each year to assess the natural ability of children, regardless of coaching.

If your child is doing well in school and has a good grasp of basic maths and English skills, they should have enough knowledge to sit the Pre-Test or 11+ entrance exam. However, training will almost always improve scores and increase their chances of success.

Top private schools are looking for higher attainment levels including a wide-ranging vocabulary appropriate to a reading age 18 months ahead of the school year.

Six months before a test is perfectly adequate to boost your child’s chances in the assessments although more time will help to develop their confidence and improve areas such as vocabulary, mental maths and problem-solving skills.

Short revision sessions of 30–40 minutes two–three times a week are far more helpful than spending half a day at the weekend or in the holidays.

How Galore Park can help

The Galore Park 11+ series has been created to support your child on this learning journey.

The Curriculum Framework ensures all the content your child will need to know is covered. A wide variety of styles in verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests are included (both common and randomly introduced) to help children cope with the different styles they will inevitably come across.

The Galore Park 11+ and Pre-Test Revision Guides (available for maths, English, verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and science) are the best place to begin.

They cover all content that may occur in the test to help in…

  • Areas where your child feels they need a little extra support
  • Step-by-step examples in maths that involve problem-solving
  • Step-by-step explanation in English covering grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • How to answer comprehension questions in both fiction and non-fiction   
  • Step-by-step explanations for the range of verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions your child may encounter

Each spread concludes with review questions to check your child has understood the content, with the last three questions being typical of those they might encounter in the tests (the final question is the most challenging and typical of expectations of the top schools).

All books work in 2- to 4-page sections which concentrate on each topic for quick revision sessions and cover the curriculum to the end of Year 6 plus extra content from the ISEB curriculum.

The Galore Park 11+ Workbooks (available for maths, English, verbalnon-verbal reasoning and science) with up to 220 questions in each book.

These books are designed to…

  • Increase familiarity with the various question styles
  • Provide different techniques to improve speed, accuracy and vocabulary
  • Help develop pace through practice

The Galore Park 11+ Practice Papers – books 1 and 2 (available for maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and science). These papers are designed to improve accuracy, speed and your child’s ability to deal with different question styles under pressure.

They contain…

  • Four training tests
  • 14 model exam papers, replicating the different Pre-test and 11+ exams
  • Realistic test timings
  • Fully-explained answers for final test preparation

In addition the Galore Park Practice Papers for CEM 11+ and GL 11+ in English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning give specific exam practice for these tests.

For further revision support, and to help your children hone exam technique, ISEB past papers are also available to buy exclusively from Galore Park for all subjects tested at 11+ Common Entrance. 

For those children preparing for the Pre-Test, Atom Learning is a great online platform with a mock test area featuring more than 50,000 teacher-made practice questions. Adaptive technology personalise questions to each individual pupil keeping them engaged. 

Sarah Collins is an expert in all things 11+ and Pre-Test and is the author of our verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning study and revision guides. Learn more about Sarah here.

Tags: 11+, 11+ Revision, 11 plus, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, independent schools, learning ladder, Parents, revision, revision prep, Revision Tips, Sarah Collins, school entrance exams

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