Atom Learning: Your Guide to 11+ Preparation

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Your Guide to 11 Plus Preparation

Is your child planning to apply to a grammar or independent school? Most likely, they will need to take the 11 plus. Students seeking admission to selective grammar or independent schools typically sit the 11 plus exam in Year 6 – but not without proper preparation first. 

Below, education experts from Atom Learning – an online learning platform that helps your child master key subjects and prepare for 11 plus and independent school exams – outline their recommended 11 plus prep journey.

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What is the 11 plus?

The 11 plus is an entrance exam taken by Year 6 students (usually ages 10 and 11) used for entry to selective independent schools and grammar schools in England. 

Grammar schools typically assess English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. There are two main exam boards that administer the 11 plus for grammar schools: CEM and GL. These two boards both have their own formatting of the exam, though the content is largely the same.

Independent schools, on the other hand, tend to use a wider variety of examination boards. Additionally, there can be multiple rounds of examinations followed by interviews and group assessment days. Admissions procedures and exams tend to vary school to school, so your best resource is always the school’s website if your child is looking at a particular set of schools. 

When should my child start preparing for the 11 plus?

If you are considering grammar or independent school entry for Year 7, you should begin 11 plus prep no later than the end of Year 4, and ideally earlier. By starting early, your child’s 11 plus readiness will build over time and in a few key phases.

Lower Key Stage 2: Master the Basics

Years 3 and 4 are the time to lay the groundwork to avoid later stress and ensure your child is on track to excel. At the beginning of Key Stage 2, your child can begin preparing by focusing on a fundamental and core understanding of English and maths. By the end of Year 3, the goal is that by building a solid foundation, your child is working above expectations in English and maths across topic and subject areas.

It is also a good idea to introduce your child to verbal and non-verbal reasoning topics as early as possible, as these subjects are not taught in most UK state schools and it can vary when they are taught at prep schools. As such, it is best to begin verbal and non-verbal practice by the end of Year 4. 

On the whole, it is also important to keep your child’s learning balanced, practising often in small time intervals while tackling different subject areas. You may also want to consider what motivates your child and incorporate this into the practice so that review becomes an enjoyable activity for them, rather than a purely intellectual exercise. 

At this stage, it is also meaningful to have your child read as much as possible. Reading is one of the best tools at their disposal for building their creative writing skills for written exams and expanding their vocabulary. Making reading a special moment in the day is a great family activity, creating a time to come together around a book or story. You may also want to consider subscribing to a young person’s newspaper to engage your child in current events and shape their reading around a wide variety of content. 

Encouraging your child to try writing themselves is another great way to engage their creativity. Entering children’s creative writing contests, such as Bright Light Education’s Creative Writing Competition, provides a fantastic opportunity for your child to hone their writing skills. Bright Light Education’s competition is open until 30th April, 2022. The submission is a 500 word story about the day your child’s character wakes up and discovers they have transformed into something. Read more about the competition challenge.

Upper Key Stage 2: Year 5

Year 5 is when your child will begin to prepare more seriously for the 11 plus exam. In Year 5, your child will want to be regularly practising verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning content. 20 to 30 minutes of review on school days is a consistent, strong approach to this kind of study, with a longer session over the weekend. 

If you are using Atom Nucleus to prepare online, you can view your child’s overall course progress. By reviewing this page, you can ensure all sub-topic areas have been covered by the end of the spring term of Year 5. Familiarity across all topics, rather than mastery, is the goal at this stage.

Upper Key Stage 2: Year 5 to Year 6

As your child transitions from Year 5 to Year 6, the focus of your child’s 11 plus preparation will shift from familiarity to mastery. 

You will want to see your child demonstrating an ability to excel in all the sub-topics covered on the 11 plus exam. Here, their prior foundational learning will allow them to scaffold their knowledge to more advanced levels of each topic. 

At this stage, you will also want your child to begin taking 11 plus mock tests. In Year 5, it is best for your child to complete a mock test once every term. In the summer term of Year 5, this can increase to one test per month. This will help them build exam confidence, as well as give a good sense of where your child needs to revise further throughout the academic year. Once your child is one month out from the exam, it is best to increase this to one test per week, providing your child with a strong level of exam fluency. 


With this plan, your child will enter test day with the knowledge and confidence they need to excel on the 11 plus and, hopefully, gain entry to their first choice school!

Is your child sitting the 11 plus in September?

Below is a map of how you and your child can use the next 6 months to prepare.

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Finally, if you are looking for 11 plus prep resources, use code BRIGHTLIGHT for 10% off your first purchase of Atom Learning, along with a five day free trial.

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