11+ Entrance Exams

How to prepare for 11+ English entrance exams

Many grammar schools and independent schools use entrance testing – known as the 11+ or 13+ exams – to select which students join their school.

The exams are notoriously challenging and what makes it harder, is that there is no standard format across schools.

So, you must check the examination process for the school you are applying to.

Here are some schools I have prepared students for and a link to useful information:

If you want information about the exams and past papers, Exam Papers Plus is a good place to look.

I mentioned earlier that the format of exams is different for different schools. For instance, Tiffin (known to be one of the hardest) has a two-stage process. Stage 1 consists of an English and Maths exam. And Stage 2 consists of creative writing, English comprehension and Maths. Whereas Surbiton High operates on a one-stage process that includes an English paper, a Maths paper, and a 20 minute ‘About Me’ questionnaire.

This makes preparing for different entrance exams feel like an overwhelming task. But, here is some good news.

Although the exam formats might be different, the general skills being assessed are very similar.

Here is a broad guide on the skills you should focus on when preparing for the entrance exams.

This blog post focuses on English. I will be writing a similar one for Maths, so please follow, or ‘like’ my Facebook page to get an update when it is published.

Verbal Reasoning – although some of the English exams do not specifically have a verbal reasoning test, the skill itself is still useful when answering certain sections of the paper. Here are some useful online practice quizzes. YouTube is also a great place to find a variety of free lessons.

Expanding Vocabulary – success in English tests rely on having a great vocabulary. Activities like reading should be embedded in the student’s routine. But there are also exercises that help to keep the momentum going.

The need to have a wide vocabulary cannot be stressed enough. It is a skill that threads through most, if not all, of the English exams.

Comprehension – almost all of the English exams include comprehension. The only difference seems to be in the style the questions are being asked. For instance, some are multiple choice, while others are not.

In the comprehension section, students are given an extract to read. Based on this, they are asked questions.

Typically there are four different types of questions in the comprehension section:

  1. Words in context (this is where expanding your vocabulary kicks in since you have to know the meaning of words within the given extract)
  2. Retrieval questions (requiring you to refer directly to the text)
  3. Inference questions (you have to understand the text to answer these questions)
  4. Writer’s methods (identification of techniques e.g. metaphor, and its effect)

Sometimes there are questions that test the student’s wider knowledge e.g. Is this text fiction, non-fiction or a biography?

Grammar – in line with the National Curriculum students need to be familiar with the technicalities of the English language. I would suggest a three-pronged approach:

  1. Choose a grammar device e.g. modal verbs and understand what they are.
  2. Practice identifying them in texts.
  3. Craft sentences that include them.

Spelling & Punctuation – English paper almost always include sections that test these skills. For instance, you may need to identify an incorrectly spelt word or highlight a sentence where all the words are spelt correctly. The same goes for punctuation. The best way to develop and maintain this skill is through reading and writing (by hand).

There are also many online resources like these spelling exercises and games or punctuation exercises.

What about practising past papers?

This is, of course, something that shouldn’t be neglected. But, I have included it right at the end because it is often the only thing that students focus on.

Practising past papers help with:

  • Developing speed and accuracy
  • Getting used to the way to answer specific exam papers and questions
  • Testing knowledge

However, it is not enough to prepare thoroughly for the exams. This is because, no matter how many past papers you practice, you will never be able to prepare for all eventualities. So, the best way to prepare is by continually developing different skills.

Is tuition a ‘must’?


There is no reason why students and parents/guardians cannot work together (and independently) to prepare for the exams.

There are a lot of useful free and paid resources online and books that you can buy.

But of course sometimes there are challenges to this and sometimes, there is a reassurance in knowing that you are being taught by someone who knows the process and learning strategies.

I have a range of students who I teach both face-to-face and online. But, I know that tuition isn’t affordable for everyone so, I also create free articles and videos for people to use.

I hope that you have found this useful. Please do leave a comment below and get in touch if you would like to discuss whether I could be the right tutor for you.

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