Getting through the eleven plus

When my son was in year 2 I noticed huddles of Mums talking at the school gates. It all looked very serious and being a nosey parker I asked them what they were talking about. One of the mums whispered “the 11 plus”. I knew the group had older children in year 6 and I’d vaguely heard that children had to sit an exam for local secondary schools but having a child so much younger I stepped away thankful I didn’t have to think about that yet.


However, shortly after this encounter with these alpha mummies, I began to worry that I should be doing things to prepare my son for secondary school – albeit in 4 years’ time. In my youth, we just went to the nearest school so the secondary transfer process that I now discovered I needed to get my head around was completely alien to me. With little (that’s being kind!) guidance from educational professionals, I soon realised that networking with other mums and sharing information was the key to being on top of this so over the next couple of years I slowly compiled snippets from the school gate, thinking I’d be ready when the time came.


I didn’t take any further action until the Summer term of Year 4 where I looked into the cost of a tutor to discover that to get in with a really good one I needed to have registered a couple of years ago! Why didn’t I know this? Luckily I managed to find a teacher at my son’s school looking for extra work who is excellent. In the next 17 months my son had to complete a verbal reasoning practice paper and a maths paper every week, together with attending an hour long weekly tutoring session.  As it got nearer to the exam the volume of practice papers increased and so did the gossip between Mums:


“What percentage is your child getting on the practice papers?”

“Verbal or non-verbal reasoning?”

“What pass mark you need to get into the local grammar school?”

What’s the difference between Standardized and Raw scores?”

“Cross sibling rule?”

“Distance criteria?”


Standing in a huddle of mums outside the school gate (!) I scribbled down the web address of a website, with forums for regions across the UK which has become a life-line for me. The moderator for my region has provided statistics for all my local schools including the distance criteria and lowest exam results for the last 5 years.  I now had an idea of what score my son needed. Finally feeling prepared, it was a blow when the local education authority brought the date of the exam forward from November to September, so my poor son spent most of his summer holidays revising for the exam.


When the morning finally arrived I felt sick. Had we completed enough practice papers? What happens if my son is not well or needs the loo?! There was an air of unrealistic calm in our house that morning which was unsettling and we arrived at the exam venue with half an hour to spare before he went off to sit an exam that could affect the rest of his life.


Fast forward to 6 weeks after the exam and results day. The only instructions I’d received from the local education authority is that I will receive an email with my son’s standardised results at some point during the day. This also coincided with a girlie holiday to Marbella… good or bad planning?! I checked my phone every 5 minutes from 9am til 3pm when the email finally arrived. I was shaking so much I couldn’t use my phone properly, but eventually I was able to open the email and to my delight my son scored very highly. All our hard work had paid off. I was a very proud mum!


We have now filled in our application form for secondary transfer and completed our supplementary information form and now playing the waiting game until March when we find out if our son has a place at his 1st ranked school. Lots of positive thinking needed and I’m keeping everything crossed!


Finally, here are my top 5 tips to give you a leg up:


  1. Start looking into tutors in year 3 at the latest and get your name down with a good one for the start of year 5.
  2. Research your local schools and find out about their entrance criteria.
  3. Visit your local schools opening evenings – usually in September/October – in Year 5
  4. Scour the internet for useful websites like this one.
  5. Network, seek out and share information with other mums who’ve been through the process and who are in the same boat as you.


So if you tap me on the shoulder at the school gates and ask me what I’m talking about and I whisper “the 11 plus”, let’s go for a coffee – and I’ll fill you in.


5 Responses to Getting through the eleven plus

  1. Charles Jones says:

    check out – they have some 11 plus questions and free past sats papers which may help – if you don’t want to go the tutor route, check out – they have loads of 11 plus workbooks from age 7-8 onwards which can help get your child on the right track (or at least highlight areas they may need additional help…)

  2. Macbern says:

    We were ignorant to the length of time children are being tutored for the 11 plus and as a result only had tuition for my granddaughter for the summer term preceding the exam. She sat one mock exam which showed where there was weakness and allowed her to experience what the real thing would be like. I am pleased to say she passed her 11 plus with a qualifying score for each of the 3 grammar schools in the area. Result.

  3. Fantastic article for parents who are looking into a tutor for your child.

  4. Lindsey says:

    Nice article and congratulations! Parents should not feel they have to hire a tutor for their child. There’s a lot of good information on the web. I liked

  5. Martha Tait says:

    This is a great article. And congratulations on your son passing his exam. I’ve been researching alot about the 11-Plus exam for my daughter lately. The general advice seems to be start preparing young, so I’d agree with your timeline. It really is a very daunting experience! I found there were some useful articles posted here on the basic format and preparation for the exam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *