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11+ Exams: How Best to Prepare Children

Sitting exams can be very stressful no matter what our age, and for children sitting 11+ exams these feelings can be exacerbated by factors such as the importance and ramifications of the results, and their inexperience when it comes to sitting formal exams. This can also be a difficult time for parents, who - while wanting their child to succeed - are conscious of the stress and anxiety that their child may be subjected to.

In response to any questions that parents might have, and in an attempt to help teachers refresh their knowledge of the 11+ exams, we’ve collated a range of commonly asked questions and helpful information below. You can also head over to The National College website and view all of our exam-related CPD webinars and resources.

What are 11+ exams?

Named after the age at which children start their secondary schooling, 11+ exams are selective assessments which inform a school’s decision to accept a pupil, should the school in question use academic selection. Understandably then, given what is at stake, sitting the 11+ exams can be a stressful time for children.

When are 11+ exams held?

The majority of schools open registration for applicants between April and May, with deadlines normally extending until June or July for parents to put forward their child for the tests. Following this, the exams themselves usually take place at the start of September when the child in question will have started Year 6. Results are processed a month later, leaving plenty of time for parents to make alternative arrangements should their child unfortunately be unsuccessful.

What do 11+ exams cover?

Depending on where you live and the exam board that subsequently administers the exams, the content may vary slightly. However, 11+ exams generally assess abilities in English and maths, alongside verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

While children’s experience of Year 6 will naturally be geared towards SATs in the summer, there is no formal preparation given for 11+ exams as part of standard primary schooling. For this reason, parents may wish to do their own research as to the topics their child may need to revise.

How are 11+ exams marked?

Given that 11+ exams were designed to give schools the ability to sort prospective students based on their academic performance, it’s perhaps not surprising that the mark required to pass is relatively high: often around 80%.

Though this may seem intimidating, it is achievable for many pupils. The exact marks needed and the number available vary depending on the board administering the exam, with papers being marked externally, not by teachers.

How can we help children prepare for the 11+ exam

As with any exams, preparation and revision are key to giving children the best chance of being successful. With these exams occurring before Year 6 SATS, for the children who take them, the 11+ exams will be their first taste of formal examination since Key Stage 1 SATS. It is worth noting however, that from the 2023-24 academic year, KS1 SATS will no longer be statutory.

Luckily, it’s never too early to help children get into good habits when it comes to preparing for examinations. Creating revision timetables are a great help, as well as studying past papers and potentially completing them under test conditions. Meanwhile, it’s also recommended that candidates get a good amount of sleep and stay hydrated.

Getting ready for, and taking, exams can be an incredibly anxiety-inducing time for students, as well as for the teachers and parents who are responsible for their wellbeing and care. Our webinar, ‘Research Focus: Understanding and Helping to Overcome Exam Anxiety’, draws on a 16-year programme of research.

This webinar will provide you with advice and practical guidance on addressing exam anxiety, explaining the reasons for and origins of the issue, its prevalence and the preventative measures schools can put in place.