11+ Exams|Exam Preparation|Insights

We help families to navigate the transition to secondary school. From school choices and applications, all the way through 11+ and 13+ exams and interviews, our team of qualified teachers provide expert guidance every step of the way. In consultations, we’ve found that parents often share the same concerns and ask similar questions. Below is a list of 11+ questions we are frequently asked and some general advice for parents.

1. How many schools should we apply to?

The average number of schools our families apply to is six. We help families to find schools which are the right fit for their child – taking into consideration their academic reputation, extracurricular offering, location, size, facilities, and school’s ‘personality’.

Although there is no limit on the number of independent schools that a child can apply to, it’s important to remember that the 11+ process usually involves three stages: pre-tests/ online tests, written papers, and interviews. Children who are taking exams all through the Autumn Term can experience testing fatigue and may not perform at their best, so there’s a real benefit (for test scores and your child’s wellbeing) to narrowing down your options if you have a 10+ schools in mind!

We recommend prioritising your favourite schools and focusing on targeted preparation for these exams. Attend open days, speak to current parents, and (ideally!) select schools which streamline the exam process for your child.

2. What is the format of 11+ exams?

Over the last five years, schools have diversified the 11+ assessment process. Schools typically use an adaptive online test/s for the first round of their assessment in October or November. This could be the ISEB Pretest, now developed by CenturyTech, or a bespoke Atom Learning assessment, which assesses English, Maths, Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning skills. The second round usually involves written papers in English and Maths. Some schools also set Reasoning or Critical Thinking papers (e.g. the General Paper at Merchant Taylors’ School).

Students who have a strong performance on these tests are invited to interviews and/or group tasks in January. When parents shortlist schools, we suggest listing the specific requirements of each school and expected dates of the exams to help you tailor your child’s study programme accordingly.

3. What can we do at home to help my child prepare for exams?

We recommend all our 11+ students begin by taking the Academic Profiling Test. This is a comprehensive aptitude test that compares a child’s performance against UK national standards and identifies their strengths and learning gaps. Parents receive a detailed report and 30 minute consultation to discuss their child’s results and next steps. If you think this could be helpful, please get in touch for more information.

Start early, but don’t overwhelm. Begin preparing at least a year in advance, ideally in Year 4. As a guide, most of our 11+ students have 1 x 1.5 hour lesson per week from Year 4 until the exam. Regardless of whether you plan to enlist the support of a professional tutor, or provide this support yourself, some effective preparation strategies for each assessment stage are listed below.

Online assessments

If your child will be taking the ISEB Pretest, subscribe to the CenturyTech/ Bond practice platform and support your child to practice little but often.

Use Atom Learning to fill knowledge gaps, practice specific skills and questions, and sit mock tests. The parent dashboard will provide you with an overview of your child’s performance in each subject relative to their peers and track progress.

Written papers

Use Bond 11+ books to practice 10 minute multiple choice exercises and longer written papers. Use a progress tracker to record scores and times taken.

Encourage your child to attempt one full written paper each week. Marking it and providing constructive feedback will help them to improve. Past papers may be available on the school’s website or you can use school-specific mock papers from Exam Papers Plus.

Group tasks

Group exercises assess the following skills: teamwork, leadership, problem solving, critical thinking and communication. Our teachers role play group exercises with students, however this could be led by a parent, older sibling or other trusted adult.

Interviews

Schools are looking for students who are articulate, intellectually curious, and enthusiastic. Interviews often include a handful of questions from each of the following categories:

  • About you
  • Extra-curricular interests
  • Academic questions
  • Brain teasers

Read our insights post How To Prepare For An 11+ Interview for more information.

We run mock interviews with our students. We don’t draft model answers, but we do help students to think about and discuss their responses to specific types of questions. This helps them to feel more confident and prepared on the day.

If you are delivering the practice interviews yourself, we recommend purchasing the Exam Papers Plus Complete Guide to 11+ Interviews for a comprehensive list of interview questions.

4. What is involved in school interviews?

Some competitive schools use interviews to again assess academic ability, problem solving and critical thinking skills (rather than to discuss a child’s hobbies or interests). Encouraging your child to explain a newspaper article, answer mental arithmetic questions, and answer questions about unfamiliar objects (e.g. a shell or fossil) will help them to prepare for this. Supporting your child to read extensively will improve their vocabulary, comprehension skills and critical thinking ability. Try to set aside 15 minutes a day for reading and to discuss books with your child.

5. How can my child prepare for group tasks?

A handful of competitive London schools (e.g. KCS Wimbledon, JAGS) use group tasks to assess students. They are looking for children who are naturally inquisitive and keen to learn, but also children who can listen, discuss ideas, and make a positive contribution to the classroom. To perform well and stand out in a group task, applicants need to be enthusiastic, ready to listen, and able to collaborate with others.

Team activities (sports, drama, and music) is a great way to help your child to develop these skills over time. We recommend masterclasses by Role Models as a fun way to mindfully improve their communication and teamwork skills. Giving your child a team building task (e.g. putting up a tent) to complete with siblings or friends can also be a fun way to put these skills into practice.

Preparing for 11+ exams in London involves strategic planning and parental support. By understanding the exam format, starting early, seeking professional guidance where necessary, and practicing the written and verbal skills which are assessed, you can help your child to perform at their best. Remember that success is not solely determined by the exam outcome. Supporting your child’s growth and nurturing their interests are equally important aspects of their educational journey. We wish you the best of luck with your child’s school applications!