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When should I start 11 plus preparation?

By Atom | Jun 20, 2023, 4:37 PM

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If your child will be sitting an 11 plus exam in Year 6, you may be wondering when is the best time to start with preparation.

We’ve asked our team of Education Experts for their advice on how to ensure your child goes into the exam feeling confident, well prepared and ready to excel.

The below is relevant for all children sitting 11 plus grammar exams, independent school exams (including the ISEB) and school-specific exams.


In this webinar, Gemma, Atom's Head of Customer Success will take you through when and how to begin 11 plus preparation, and also how prep should change throughout Key Stage 2 (click below to watch).

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Read on for our top tips for timing your 11 plus preparation.

Get started early

Slow and steady wins the race: the earlier you introduce your child to 11 plus preparation content, the better.

Grammar school and independent school admissions exams are extremely competitive, and your child will have the best chance of succeeding if they have built their English and maths subject mastery and reasoning ability over a longer period of time. Revising in a short burst closer to the examination, known as ‘cramming’, is overwhelming for children and doesn’t allow them to build the deep knowledge needed for academic success.

Why pupils should start 11 plus preparation early

  1. Content: there is a huge amount of content to cover in order to prepare for these exams - especially for any student applying to particularly competitive grammar schools in larger urban areas such as Birmingham, London and Manchester. Leaving preparation until the Easter of Year 5 is not advised, as it could put unnecessary strain on young children.

  2. Reasoning: many schools simply do not have the capacity to cover the skills required for the reasoning paper and it is not included in the English national curriculum. Learning how to answer reasoning questions takes time and practice - which is best spread out over a longer period to ensure real skill mastery.

  3. Ability: realistically, to get into top grammar schools, pupils need to be exceeding expectations in Maths and English. Those who are mastering top year 6 and top year 7 content will benefit.

  4. Routine: it's recommended to do little and often, rather than start in earnest in Easter. Starting early with exam preparation will encourage children to adapt to a routine, develop good revision habits and avoid 11 plus preparation fatigue

Know what’s on the 11 plus exam

Make sure you know which subjects will be included in your child’s exam. Most 11 plus exam assess:

Early and regular consolidation in English and maths will help to build a child’s subject mastery and just as importantly, their confidence. We’d recommend introducing ten minutes of English and maths practice at home on a regular basis from Year 3 onwards. Once your child is content with the idea of regular practice at home, you can increase their practice to up to 30 minutes a day and introduce verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

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Practising reasoning at home is important because, while you can be assured that your child is learning English and maths at school, it is less likely that they are being explicitly taught reasoning – especially if selective secondary education is not a common transfer option from your child's school.

Most grammar school and independent school entrance examinations include verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning in their 11 plus examinations. We’d recommend introducing your child to verbal and non-verbal reasoning topics from the end of Year 4 for increased chances of success.

At Atom Learning, our curriculum team have created content that is specifically designed to introduce younger pupils to reasoning. Once your child has mastered the basics, our adaptive algorithm will start to show them more challenging questions and activities to ensure they’re fully prepared by the time they sit their examination.

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Get into a good routine

11 plus preparation can be challenging for the whole family; we know that balancing your own work while supporting your child with their homework, extracurricular activities and exam preparation can be difficult.

Routine is also about getting your child invested in the 11 plus entry process. We recommend talking to your child about the value of success and establishing a routine that balances learning and revision with time for hobbies and relaxation. If your child understands and agrees to expectations and rewards early, you’re laying the foundations for a harmonious household and exam success!

15 to 30 minutes of 11 plus preparation three days a week and once over the weekend will be more than enough to ensure your child stays ahead in their preparation.

We can help

Whilst your child can make this time commitment, this may be a stretch for you! Atom Home is designed to encourage independent learning and your child can interact with over 90,000 questions, video tutorials and learning resources without the support of a parent or tutor.

Your child will begin their learning journey at an age-appropriate level and once they have demonstrated sufficient mastery, they will start to unlock more difficult content to keep them stretched and at the top of their class. Our platform ensures that children are always challenged, but never demotivated - this is essential when preparing for 11 plus examinations over a series of years.

To help your child with the best preparation for the 11 plus, start your 5-day free trial of Nucleus today for success in the classroom, entrance exams and beyond.

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