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If you are unfamiliar with the 11+ testing process, read more about selective schools, the different types of test and the process itself.
The Purpose of the 11+ Tests
11+ Tests (also called the 11 Plus) are examinations used by selective state secondary schools in England.
These schools only have limited places available each year and they use the results of the tests to select the highest quality candidates to fill those places.
Children applying to these schools sit the tests in Year 6.
The 11+ Tests were officially discontinued in Northern Ireland, but many of the grammar schools still use English and maths tests as part of their admissions process.
A selective school admits students on the basis of some sort of selection criteria.
There are 164 grammar schools in England that are fully selective.
There are eight bilateral schools, which operate two streams: a comprehensive stream and a grammar stream (which is selective).
There are also a small number of partially selective schools, who use selection criteria to fill a proportion of their available places.
The 11+ Tests and the Selection Process
Some schools will base selection entirely on the results of tests. However, many make their final allocation of places based on a combination of criteria, including performance in tests, other assessments and an individual interview.
You should be able to find out about the admissions procedures and section criteria of individual schools from their own website or the Local Authority to which they belong.
Most 11+ Tests now take place in September of Year 6. However, it is important to check application dates and test dates well ahead of time.
Once your child has taken the tests, the marking and admissions process begins.
Results for the 11+ tests do not come quickly! You should be prepared to wait between 10 and 16 weeks. Check with the school or your Local Authority when results will be made available.
Understanding the Results
The pass mark is determined by how many places are available at the school. Consequently, these often vary from year to year.
In order to make testing fair, scores are standardised by age: this means that some allowances are made for younger children within each year group.
The success rate for the 11+ tests varies greatly by region. For example, some grammar schools will attract several thousand applicants for less than 200 places, so the success rate is relatively low. However in other areas, where there are far more grammar school places available, there are fewer applicants per available place and so the success rate is significantly higher.
Some schools will ask you child to take tests in English, maths, verbal-reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Others will only test a few of these subject areas.
English is tested to determine whether a child has attained the required standard of English skills, including reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
There is no standardised form of writing task and schools often create their own.
Mathematics is tested to determine whether a child has attained the required standard of mathematical skills, reasoning and problem-solving.
Calculators are generally NOT allowed for maths questions.
Some schools will also set their own mental maths tests (where the questions are read out to the child, rather than being in a written format).
Verbal reasoning questions are used to assess a child’s ability to use, understand and analyse language. They often involve careful analysis of word structures, patterns and spellings and require logical thought and reasoning, including the ability to look for patterns and identify relationships between words.
Verbal reasoning questions give schools an insight into a child’s ability to interpret, understand, use and manipulate words. These skills are fundamental to learning and so give an indication of a child’s potential for learning across the curriculum.
Verbal reasoning measures one aspect of a child’s cognitive ability and should not be confused with IQ.
Non-verbal reasoning assesses a child’s ability to see patterns and relationships independently of language. The questions feature shapes, pictures and patterns and allow children to demonstrate their ability to analyse, deduce and infer from close observation.
The tests are particularly helpful for children who may have specific difficulties with literacy or for whom English is not their first language.
Non-verbal reasoning questions provide schools with an indication of a child’s potential to work successfully with abstract concepts. The results are good indicators of future learning and success in a number of subject areas.
Find out as much information as possible about the schools your child is applying to well in advance
- Check the Ofsted inspection reports for your chosen schools online
- Read the prospectus and check the website for each school.
- Arrange to visit the schools during a normal working school day.
- Before you visit, prepare a list of questions.
Although most tests now take place in September, closing dates for applications and test dates vary, so make sure you check when they are.
The Different Types of 11+ Test
In most cases, the 11+ selection tests are set by either:
- GL Assessment (NFER)
- CEM (The University of Durham)
- The individual school.
You should be able to find out which tests your child will be taking on the website of the school they are applying to or from the local authority.
Until recently GL Assessment (NFER) were the main provider of 11+ Tests to schools and LAs. Depending on the individual LAs’ requirements, they provided ‘off the peg’ or bespoke tests.
Both schools and GL claim that the purpose of the tests is to assess natural aptitude and that they cannot / should not be revised for. However, the style of the GL test papers has not changed for many years, so the formats and question types are well established, allowing publishers to produce revision and practice materials matched to them and tutors to drill pupils in the type of questions that will come up.
GL set separate, subject specific papers and schools choose whether to use the tests for all four subjects or just two or three of them:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Non-verbal Reasoning
The tests are available in two formats: standard or multiple-choice.
For the multiple-choice tests, pupils are given several answer options for each question, and they must indicate the correct one by marking it on a separate answer grid.
The concept of standard papers (as opposed to multiple-choice) can be a bit misleading as, in practice, pupils are given several answer options for each question in these tests to. The main difference is that they must indicate the correct option on the question paper itself, rather than on a separate grid.
It is worth noting, that for one LA (Kent), GL has now started producing bespoke tests, which will feature a different mixture of questions from all the main disciplines each year. This type of test is closer in style to those set by CEM (see below).
CEM (The Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University)
This GL monopoly was broken a few years ago when some LAs opted to start using tests provided by CEM (The Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University).
This is seen as a move to return to tests that assess natural ability and away from the culture of tutoring / extensive preparation in a very narrow skill set.
CEM claim that their tests are accurate and fair and are designed to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without the need for excessive preparation. To make them ‘resistant to prepping’, the format of the CEM papers, the subject coverage and the type of questions featured is varied each year.
CEM release ‘familiarisation materials’ prior to the tests. These materials give information about the format of the assessment and include some example questions.
The CEM tests have wider scope than the GL tests, but the skills are grouped into just three broad subject areas:
- Literacy & Verbal Reasoning (which includes Comprehension)
- Numeracy & Numerical Reasoning
- Non-Verbal Reasoning.
The CEM Tests
A CEM 11+ Tests consists of two papers. Each paper is divided into timed sections, which focus on what particular skill / area of knowledge.
The papers are invigilated using an audio CD, which divides the test into timed sections. This ensures fair invigilation for all candidates, but also puts additional pressure on children taking the tests.
The CEM tests are more bespoke than the GL tests, so there is greater variation in level of difficulty by region. These tests seem to adhere more closely to the National Curriculum than the GL Assessment papers.
For pupils to do well in the CEM tests:
- They must have strong arithmetic skills
- They must have strong reasoning and problem-solving skills
- They must have a strong core vocabulary
- They must be flexible and able to understand and respond to a wide range of question types and formats, without being panicked by unfamiliar question types
- They must be able to work under time pressure.
Northern Ireland and the 11+ Tests
The 11+ Tests were officially discontinued in Northern Ireland in a bid to introduce fully comprehensive (non-selective) education.
However the grammar schools still tests pupils in English and maths as part of their selection process.
There are two main consortia of grammar schools:
- AQE (Association for Quality Education) – using tests produced by CEA (Common Entrance Assessment)
- PPTC (Post Primary Transfer Consortium) – using tests set by GL Assessment.