An Overview of UK 11+ Exam


This article gives an insight on 11+ exam currently administered to some students who are planning to attend grammar schools or selective schools for Year 7 onwards in England and Northern Ireland.


The 11+ is a selective entrance examination for some secondary schools based on academic selection. With the Tripartite System established in early 1940s, the 11+ exam was used to determine which type of school the student should attend after primary education: a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school. In the base idea of the Tripartite System, a testing is an effective way to discover a child’s ability for best suited so that the result of the exam would be used to match children’s secondary schools to their abilities and future career needs.

While the Tripartite System was phased out in most parts of the UK in 1976, the 11+ exam is still currently used in 22 counties and boroughs in England that offer selective schools instead of non-selective comprehensive schools. In Northern Ireland the 11+ exam was conducted up till 2008 and replaced by a similar system known as transfer test, which is still in practice nowadays.


The 11+ is now not a compulsory test. The admission of grammar schools and some selective independent schools use the test result to identify academic ability and potential of a student. Parents and students can decide to take the test for the admission application of these schools. Besides in some areas, such as Buckinghamshire, all students are automatically registered for the 11+ and parents can however choose to opt out their children from sitting in the exam.


The 11+ exam usually takes place in September of the final primary school year and the exam results in the form of a “standardized score” are available in October. Parents will have until the end of October to apply for secondary schools and school places will be allocated in the beginning of March in the following year.


The 11+ exam focuses on a combination of the following four subjects:

  • English – creative writing skills to show students’ ability to plan, structure and write a piece of work

  • Math – mathematics concepts and skills to solve problems in multiple stages

  • Verbal reasoning – understanding and reasoning of concepts constructed from English grammar and vocabulary

  • Non-verbal reasoning – thinking and processing through visual and spatial learning through diagrams and pictures

The English and maths tests tend to follow the National Curriculum, and the verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests are not school-based subjects. Additional support and practice are suggested to get familiar with these reasoning tests for students.

All tests will be conducted in multiple choice answers except English which requires students to write a piece of work. Each test paper is timed and usually last between 45-60 minutes. Students can practice with mock test papers as well as non-timed question practices to prepare for the exam.


As education authorities of different areas in the country choose which subjects to include in their 11+, the exact content of the test varies depending on where the test is taken. As an example, the test includes all four subjects in Kent while students sit in for verbal reasoning only in Buckinghamshire. The best way to find out the test content is to check with the local authority and the chosen school to apply.


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