Flavia Belham
Chief Scientist @ Seneca Learning
July 09, 2019
Practical 11 plus Exam Guide for Parents

You want to help get your child into a school of their choice, but aren't fully sure what's the best way to assist him or her. We've therefore let our experienced tutors answer the most frequently asked questions from parents and provide access to our best preparatory courses for the 11+ exam.

Free interactive 11+ course access:

What is the competition like for the 11plus exam?

There's definitely competition among the selective schools. Grammar schools simply see more applicants than they have places available for, so you can expect a high level of competition here. This is one of the main reasons students and parents get a bit stressed, so it's key to take preparation for the exam serious. The admissions policies of the schools are generally listed on their website and evolve around the 11+ exam results. Is thus important to perform at your maximum potential as the pupils with the highest scores will receive an admission offer.

I'd would also recommend to apply to multiple schools, so that when you’re missing the boat for your favourite grammar school, there’s still a chance to get accepted by another grammar school. By stating your preference it doesn’t matter whether the school is within your catchment area or not. You might even have to do multiple 11+ exams when applying to multiple schools. The main take-away is that you don't want to end up in a scenario in which you applied to only one school and just didn't get in.

What is the best way to reduce stress in preparation for the 11+ exam?

The exam can be as stressful for you as for your child. This is very normal and tends to have an affect on the whole family. Working as a team with your child is a great way to reduce this stress. Plan, work and progress together towards the actual exam.

My first tip here would be to start on time so that you have sufficient room to change and improve your unique revision plan. The best approach is to continuously improve your revision schedule based on your child’s progress. Try not to pressure them to hit certain milestones too much, but instead always be supportive in reaching the milestones. Doing regular revision is a key to achieving this.

While revising you should remain realistic about your child’s potential. Have regular conversations about their progress and how they’re feeling about their own progress. Are you aligned with how it is going or not? Ask whether and how you can help them best. But keep in mind that continuously talking about the 11+ exam or secondary schools can get quite annoying.

So you and your child should both take it seriously. Within the revision schedule, try to plan test moments after which you mark your child’s work and sit down to reflect on their progress. Encourage and help them to tackle the areas that they’re struggling the most with. This starts by identifying these areas and as a parent you can really help in that. The mock exams are great way to do so and at the same time give your child several dates to which they can work towards.

After failing the 11+ exam are you allowed to retake it?

Unfortunately, every pupil only gets one attempt at an 11+ exam. There are scenarios in which the pupil takes multiple 11+ exams, but they will never be the same. For instance, you might need to take several exams when you’ve applied to multiple schools, especially schools outside of your area. However, you will never be able to take the exact same exam twice to avoid any unfair advantages.

Having only one attempt does add up to your stress levels. But keep in mind that this will be the same for everyone levelling out the playing field. Give it your best shot and don't think that the rest of your educational and professional career all hangs on this one exam. That's certainly not the case.

My child performs well at most subjects, but is struggling with the 11+ topics - what’s the best way to help him?

It's really all about rehearsing the problem sets. Practice makes perfect. The free Maths and English courses on Seneca are specifically designed for the 11plus exam. By using the courses you can quickly identify the weakest areas of your child and practice those topics more often. You can either do this on Seneca or use additional practice material such as paper revision guides.

The benefit of Seneca is that it covers all the 11+ topics in a highly engaging way. As a result your child will be more motivated to go through the material. it's truly a completely different experience than reading guides and might just be the advantage that your pupil needs.

My child has a learning difficulty. Does he have any special rights on the 11plus exam?

Yes, definitely. Nowadays, schools have policies in place to support children with specific learning difficulties. It is, however, important to inform the school about this to make sure your child can benefit from those policies. Schools generally needs a bit of time to arrange any special requests for the exams. There are several actions a school can take to provide your child with a fair attempt. Think for instance about extra time or large print. So if your child is facing a learning difficulty then definitely aim to benefit from those policies.

My child cannot yet work through the 11+ exam questions fast enough. What now?

It is indeed true that your child needs to have a certain processing speed in order to work through all the questions within the time frame of the 11+ exam.

Students generally start to complete questions faster once they’ve seen certain problem sets multiple times. Over time they will start remember the problem solving steps and be able to apply them in a variety of contexts. Again, it is thus important to practice a lot.

My child is making the same mistake over and over in his 11+ preparation. What now?

I really want to emphasise that that children don’t tend to perform better under pressure from their parents. Please keep this in mind as some parents can get very stressed themselves and start pushing their children into the wrong direction.

So try not to get upset with them as this can quickly affect them negatively. For instance, when they get stuck during the exam they will more likely think about your reaction than focus on solving the problem. This is certainly not something you want and should try to avoid at all times. Stay on their side no matter how well or bad it is going. Remember, you're a team and in this together.

So when you’re running into a particular topic that she struggling with over and over again, then you might have to take a step back. Start breaking the problem down into the smallest possible steps. Find similar problem sets and questions so that there’s a lot of material to cover. That way she can apply the same logic in different contexts and grasp the skill quicker. Try to explain the steps to him that went wrong as well. Then switch things around and let her explain the steps to answer the question to you. Teaching it to someone else really pushes you to a higher level.

Breaking down a question like that can become frustrating as it is generally a very slow process. But keep in mind that she will expand her set of problem solving skills this way. And if she understands the topic after a few days of work then I’m sure you will feel very accomplished afterwards as well.

What practice material should I use for the 11+ exam?

It can be quite frightening looking for the right practice material. There's so much out there and it's usually not clear how useful it will be. On top of that, the test that your child will take depends on the area and school that you’re applying to. This affects the style of the exam. The questions might be in a standard format or a multiple-choice format. Knowing this should effect your preparation. It is thus key to prepare for the right type of exam so do make sure to check with your preferred schools what exam style they’re using. And when you purchase and resources definitely check whether they match your schools exam criteria. And also don't forget to try out Seneca's revision courses - even though I'm promoting it myself.

How many grammar schools can you apply to?

For the private grammar schools your child can sit as many 11+ exams as you wish. For the state-funded grammar schools you will have to sit the exam in your primary school. In the case that your school isn’t in a Local Education Authority, then you will be able to sit multiple 11+ exams at selective schools.

When listing your preferred schools on the application form always make sure to fill in all the possible options and don’t list only one school. You might end up in a situation in which you won’t be able to get into your preferred school, so it is important to have thought of a plan B and C. Performing well on the 11plus exam is not equal to and certainly not a guarantee for getting accepted by your preferred school. So do take the preference form seriously and utilise all the possible options to avoid the scenario in which you only list one school, won’t get offered a placement, and will instead be offered a place at the local comprehensive school.

What makes the 11plus exam differ from standard school exams?

The 11+ exam is not a national exam. The test is solely part of the selection process for secondary schools that select their pupils based on academic ability. National exams such as the GCSEs and A Levels are different in the sense that they are taken by all students in the country whereas the 11+ exam is only taken by students applying for selective schools.

Why do I need to use Seneca for my 11+ preparation?

The four core components that comprise the 11plus exam are not all covered in the standard school syllabus. Although English and maths do form part of the in-class lessons, schools do not explicitly cover verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Going into the exam without any verbal and non-verbal reasoning practice is thus a big gamble. To help your child prepare we’ve composed multiple free courses covering all of the necessary topics for your child. These courses can be used fully as independent study alongside their regular homework and extracurricular activities.

On top of that we have dozens of additional English and Maths courses that are all also completely free to use.

We've completed all the 11+ courses earlier than planned? Is there anything else we can use.

I recommend revisiting courses even though you’ve already completed them. Students, especially at a younger age, have a hard time recalling 100% of the topic days or weeks after having studied a topic. It’s thus important to repeat sections and built up this revision towards the exam date. Completing the courses once is great, but the more often you can get your child go over the same topic the better they will get at it. Our algorithm is designed in a way to present fresh content and repeat the content that the student is struggling with. This means that the more you study, the better tailored the next question will be. That way you can really focus on your weaknesses without seeing the exact same question again and again.

On top of that, we offer a range of KS2 and KS3 courses for maths and English that you could use as well.

How do we stay on track with our 11+ revision schedule?

If your child works slower than expected then there are two things you should. Firstly, analyse the plan that you’ve created and have a look whether it isn't just too intense. For instance, several hours per day for multiple weeks in a row will most likely lead to exhaustion and demotivation causing your child to fall behind.

Secondly, have a look at their standard homework and extracurricular activities. Preparing for the 11+ exam should sync in nicely with their current lifestyle and shouldn't cause them to have to drop these other activities.

However, often times it turns out that parents simply want to move to more advanced topics too quickly. This will cause your child to fall behind when his or her foundation is not yet strong enough. In that case I recommend slowing down a bit on purpose. Take a few steps back and focus on the foundational problem sets.

Changing your planning like that is very common. There’s nothing wrong with creating just a weekly time-table and adjusting it every weekend for the next week. That way you can iterate the revision schedule quickly to your child’s specific progress and potential.

During mock exams my child scored poorly. Does this mean she won’t pass her 11+?

Her performance on the 11+ really depends on her individual capability. Try not to compare your child to siblings or friends as she is very unique. If she is not understanding a lot of core concepts in maths and English then that doesn’t mean she will per definition fail. It might be that she simply hasn’t been motivated at school and hasn’t put in the work required to build her problem solving skill set and topic understanding. If you can motivate her to put in the work and work towards her maximum potential it might turn out that this potential is way above the national average and she will easily pass the 11+.

It is impossible for me to tell what your child’s maximum potential is without working with her. But you will be able to test this out. Make sure you start working together with your child way in advance of the exam so that there’s plenty of time to shape her skills. There are numerous examples of students that simply weren’t motivated at school and performed fairly poor at mock exams and placements tests. However, when these students got motivated to prepare for the 11plus exam they quickly started improving their key skill areas. So there's definitely no need to drop the ball by just looking at placement tests.