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All the information you need about 11 Plus Exam setup, exam philosophy and application procedures



11 Plus Facts and Figures

Facts and Figures

What are the application procedures?

There are many 11 Plus regions and application procedures vary from region to region. As far as 11 Plus exams are concerned, the applications are handled either by LEAs, consortiums or individual grammar schools. You need to contact your local LEA to make sure you have the correct information. You can use our ‘Useful Links’ pages to access their web sites.

What forms do I have to fill?

Generally speaking, there are two separate forms you need to fill in. Common Application Form provided by the Education Department of the Local Authority, LEA and the 11 Plus Selection Test Application Form. Some Grammar Schools may also require further forms to be submitted. You need to list your preferences. Both the 11 Plus Selection Test Application Form and the Local Authority Common Application Form should be send to you by your primary school or by the LEA in September of year five. In some cases though there may be exceptions to the general rule and you may need to make enquiries (especially if your list includes a grammar school not in your 11 Plus region) to obtain the forms.

How do I list my secondary school preferences?

You can put at least 3 schools in the list including state and grammar schools. Some local authorities will permit more than three choices. If you are not applying for grammar schools, your list should reflect your choices in the order of your preferences. If you are trying for a place in a grammar school, deciding in what order you should list your preferences is a little more complicated. Your order of preference must be carefully considered against all eventualities. Generally speaking your list of schools should reflect your preferences in a descending order. However, at least one of your choices should be a catchment-area comprehensive school to make sure your child does not end up without a school to go to, if not successful in 11+ Exams. Furthermore, the list should also reflect the general popularity order of the schools to be selected. In other words, there is no point in placing the school with highest popularity second or third, as your child will not gain admission to that school even if his/her score is above that school's cut-off mark.


First, select the schools of your choice (including at least one comp). Then, list the selective schools of your choice in the order of their popularity ranking. Finally, putting the comprehensive school(s) last. Here is an example for Essex:

Essex allows 4 choices. You opted for 3 selective and one catchment area secondary schools. Let's say that your 3 chosen selective schools in the order of your preference were: 1- Westcliff High School for Boys, 2- Colchester Royal Grammar School and 3- Southend High School or Boys. Let us also assume that this in fact was also the order you placed them in the application form, with the local comp last. Your child's results came through in May and the average score is 81%. That means your child has almost certainly scored high enough to gain admission to any one of those schools. Your son would now be admitted to your first choice Westcliff High for Boys, which you had always wanted anyway. But, you could have actually wasted one of your choices: Colchester Royal Grammar School. Should you have subsequently changed your mind in favour of your second choice school, it could have been too late. If, on the other hand, you had put Colchester Royal Grammar first and Westcliff as second, you could have always rejected Colchester Royal Grammar and opted for your second choice, as you would still have had a high enough score amongst the second choice candidates to gain admission to Westcliff.

What are the pass marks?

There is no such a thing as a general 11+ Exam pass mark. After the test papers are marked, scores are calculated and a ranking order is established. Pass marks or cut-off points are then complied on the basis of individual grammar schools. The cut-off points for entry into any given grammar school is subject to number of places offered by the school versus number of exam sitters applying for that school. You need to be ranked within the magic number of places offered. However, cut-off points are not entirely static and certain movement will occur depending on various factors. (Please see further questions on this category.)

How well my child needs to do to secure a place in a grammar school?

Depending on the region, every year 10-20% of the year 5 primary school children take the 11 Plus Exams. The places offered by the grammar schools only accommodate anything between 10% to 25% of the total exam sitters, again depending on the region. In other words, your child's average 11+ score should be high enough to be ranked within the first 1 to 5 per cent of the total number of pupils eligible for secondary school to secure a place in a grammar school. However, the actual admission process is not as simple as that. Outcome also depends on the breakdown of the preferences list on the Local Authority Common Application form. There is also a third dimension to this, affected by the two-tier admission system adopted by some of the schools (i.e. Some schools split their intake into two groups of pupils - catchment area and non-catchment area). In which case, allowances are made for a predetermined number of catchment area kids to enable some proportion of catchment area presence.

When you browse the Internet you will often come across sources quoting 80% as the total average score needed to gain admission to one of the top grammar schools. The cut-off points vary every year, but this figure is given as the minimum required to ensure entry in all circumstances and therefore represents the ceiling. However, the pass marks can fluctuate considerably from year to year and region to region. Candidates with about 72% average score for example (In 2006 exams in Essex) were able to gain admission to any one of the available grammar schools in the area, provided that their English score was above the average. Obviously, there have been occasions when you did actually need that 80%. Basically, there are two factors effecting where the cut-off points are set each year for each grammar school. Contrary to general belief, one of these factors is created by the yearly fluctuations in the general ability level of the exam sitters. It is not quite clear why this should be the case, but changing education policies, occasional measures implemented by LEAs, slight periodical variations in the numbers opting for 11 Plus, changing aspirations of different generation of parents and even yearly climate changes, if you like, could be considered to be contributing to the reasons. The second and more prominent factor is the average level of attainment articulated by the degree of difficulty set for each subject area for that particular year for a given region.

The admission criteria is further complicated by those second choice candidates achieving very high scores and opting to reject their first choice schools. This is a bit of a grey area and it will not serve a useful purpose to dwell upon this too deeply at this stage.

How will the results be conveyed to us?

Again, when you will receive the results depends on the region your child is taking the exams. Many regions, with exams set in the second part of November, would post their results in the beginning of May. If you have the option to make your application online, you could obtain the results a few days earlier.

Please bear in mind that when you actually receive the results, they will not be set out in percentages. You will have the ratio of correct answers/total number of questions for each subject. Then, you will have the total standardized score (see the relevant question) and finally your ranking for your choice of schools against the total number of applicants for that school. The list will include all the schools up to and including the school your child is accepted to. Also, do not be surprised if your child's ranking for the school he/she is accepted to falls outside the admission capacity for that school. This is due to the fact that the initial rankings include all applicants, whether first choice or otherwise, and the list for that school will be further adjusted in terms of first choice candidates only. In other words, for your first choice school you will have priority over the second or third choice candidates even though their scores may be equal to or slightly higher than your child's.

What formats are the tests in?

The format and scope of tests vary according to regions. Some regions just set tests for Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning, while others may also include English and Maths tests. Some other regions on the other hand, do not test the Non-Verbal Reasoning skills. Actual formats and durations of the test may also vary in different areas. Tests in all or some of the subject areas may be in multiple choice format or standard format. (Whether the multiple choice format is used or not, we would still recommend that most of the revision is done on standard versions of practice papers. Please see our relevant ‘revision techniques’ FAQ section for more information.) There are also some variations on the number of questions set and time allowed per subject area. Most English tests last for about 40 minutes and carry a total of 50 marks, while Maths may be roughly 35-40 minutes and have 35 to 45 marks.

Our region has 3 test; English, Maths and Verbal reasoning. What weight each test would carry?

With that combination of subjects the usual breakdown is approximately 25% for Maths, 25% for English and 50% for Verbal Reasoning. However, the weights are not precise and could vary slightly according to the circumstances of each year. This is explained in more detail in the ‘standardised scores’ section.

What schools are there in my region?

Please visit our ‘Useful Links’ pages to access the web sites of 11 Plus regions’ LEAs and the grammar schools of the corresponding areas.

What are standardised scores?

The scores your child achieves are called the raw scores. Raw scores show the ratio between number of marks obtained and the maximum possible number of marks available for the test in question. You can work out your child’s percentage score from this. However, the raw score or percentage score obtained by your child in any test will not quite be reflected one to one in the final score. The raw scores are then further adjusted according to average scores of all candidates and, in some areas, according to children’s dates of birth to ensure the younger children are not disadvantages. The end product is what is termed as ‘standardised score’.

How are standardised scores are calculated?

Standardising raw scores for age is done by a scale that takes into account how young or old your child is in his/her age group. For example, if your child was born at the youngest end of the age group, her/his score could increase by as much as 2-3 percentage points equivalent over all in comparison to a child born at the other extreme. Standardising scores according to age is not a policy adopted by all 11 Plus regions, so please check with your LEA or consortium. You could actually obtain the age standardisation scales table by visiting web site of nferNELSON.

Second side of the standardisation coin is the adjustment of scores according to average scores obtained by all candidates in that region. Average weights of each component of the 11+ exams are fixed for each region.  However, these figures are not absolute as the weights are further adjusted relative to the general success rate in each subject area attained for the year. In other words, the average score of all the participants for each topic is first calculated and serves as the benchmark for that component. Then, where a child's score stand relative to that average figure determines the 'standard deviation' value for that child. Standard deviation figure could be + or - depending on whether that child's score for the topic is above or below the average mark. Finally, using the standard deviation values, all the scores for that topic are standardized. Why, you may ask, go to all this trouble of complicating the issue, when you can simply use the percentage figures to arrive at the total score. This system is used to ensure that children's rankings fairly reflect their levels of attainment, not only for that year, but also in historical terms. As degree of difficulty varies for each subject area from year to year and overall comparable ability of a child is intended to be measured, it is difficult to argue against the need to employ this procedure. Let’s take a hypothetical case as an example:  Let us say that Maths test was quite easy, the Verbal Reasoning was fair and English was extremely difficult. Subsequently, high marks in English would be reflected more favourably in the overall score than its allocated fixed weight and could have increased the raw total by as much as 2 equivalent percentage points if your child did exceptionally well in English.

What is actually measured by these 11 Plus exams?

In the regions where English and Maths are included in the tests, general comprehension, grammar and spelling capabilities, problem solving abilities and reasoning skills as well as cognitive faculties are measured. Regions restricted to Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning only, tend to measure children’s logical abilities, rationality and analytical capacities. The verbal and non-verbal reasoning test are sometimes equated with IQ tests. While this line of thinking can somewhat be justified for non-verbal reasoning tests, it would be gross injustice to treat the verbal reasoning tests in a similar fashion. Verbal reasoning tests not only measure children’s cognitive and logical abilities, but they are also designed to include comprehension and problem solving dimensions and are heavily vocabulary dependent.

Is there an underlying policy determining how questions are set each year?

Sometimes literary content and vocabulary seems to be stamping their authority on the whole exam, while other years show bias towards mathematical content and reasoning. It does not take a genius to realise that this is actually done to maintain a balanced composition in these schools relative to academico-cultural  background, subject based ability and logical skills. Of course, in all scenarios certain standards must be achieved in all areas to reach the cut-off marks.

Do the question types change yearly?

There are a certain number of question categories and the tests contain combinations of questions from that pool every year. If you cover all possible categories in your child’s revision then you would not be caught unawares. (see ‘Subject specific’ section.)

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