If your child is taking grammar school exams this year, you're probably wondering what kind of test they will be taking. GL is the main type of 11 plus exam and we've collated all the information you need to know here, including free resources to help your child prepare.
GL Assessment (Granada Learning) is a test provider that creates 11 plus exams. Their 11 plus entrance exams are used by most UK grammar schools, and some independent schools, to decide which students will be offered a place.
GL exams used by grammar schools tend to be paper-based and non-adaptive, meaning that the difficulty does not adjust depending on the answers your child gives.
GL papers assess four subjects:
Not all schools and regions choose to use all four subjects and they can combine any of the papers with their own test content.
The test covers all Key Stage 2 national curriculum objectives in English and maths. This includes Year 6 objectives that children have not yet encountered at school, as they sit the 11 plus at the very start of Year 6.
The GL English paper structure varies, but the most common arrangement is:
A reading comprehension text with 20 questions, followed by
Three spelling, punctuation and grammar sections with 12 questions each
In the reading comprehension section, your child will see a text of around two sides of A4 in length. They are asked questions about the text to assess their inference, deduction, and understanding of vocabulary in context. The text may be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, traditional or contemporary, so familiarity with vocabulary across many genres is helpful.
Depending on the format of answers chosen by your school, your child will be given multiple choice options (most common), or standard format answer boxes for written answers.
There are two types of spelling, punctuation and grammar questions on the GL test:
Complete the sentence
Spot the mistake
This can be a combination of 24 spot the mistake and 12 complete the sentence questions, or vice versa.
Almost all GL 11 plus tests contain a maths paper comprised of 50 questions in 50 minutes. Rapid recall of number facts will help your child to excel in this section. Learn how to prepare for 11 plus maths here.
GL Assessment 11 plus maths questions are aligned with Key Stage 2 national curriculum content. They cover:
The ‘number’ questions come up most often – there tends to be about five number questions for every question on the other topics.
The maths questions are in a multiple-choice format. They occasionally have a small standard format box for a written answer, but this is uncommon as most are marked by computer.
Some worded problems are included, for example:
The GL verbal reasoning paper assesses a child’s ability to connect, spot patterns with, and manipulate verbal information. There are typically 80 questions.
Verbal reasoning relies on a broad vocabulary base and understanding of word meanings both in and out of context. It can identify pupils whose strengths lie in English, history, languages and the arts.
Verbal reasoning question structures can be confusing and time-consuming for children who aren’t used to them. It’s a good idea to familiarise your child with the different types of verbal reasoning questions early on.
Strong knowledge of synonyms and antonyms is helpful in this section – find free worksheets to support this here.
Linked with maths and problem-solving skills, the non-verbal and spatial reasoning section tests children's ability to problem-solve using visual information. It includes puzzles of pattern continuation and rule finding which assess logical thinking. It can identify pupils with strengths in STEM subjects (maths, sciences).
GL non-verbal reasoning papers often contain 80 questions, split into four sections of 20 questions each. These sections are separately timed, meaning students must stop when told, before moving to the next section at the same time as everyone else.
All marks from each paper are combined to give a total score. Subjects may be weighted differently depending on the school. The score is usually age standardised to remove any disadvantage for children who were born later in the year.
Atom Mock Tests provide your child with a standardised age score (SAS) equivalent to the scoring used in real 11 plus exams. We recommend that students aim for a SAS of at least 120 when practising for grammar school entry.
However, there is no single pass mark, as scoring cut-offs will depend on the admissions criteria of the school. Grammar school entry is more competitive in some regions than others. We can provide estimates for your target schools – please email us at [email protected] stating the schools you're interested in.
The 11 plus is designed to test children’s potential to thrive in an academically demanding grammar school environment. It’s intended to challenge the top 25% of a cohort, with a number of questions covering academic content not yet taught in the classroom, under stringent time constraints.
The number of questions and the timings are decided by the local authority, consortium, or school itself. Some schools also combine multiple subjects into a single paper.
Aside from these school-specific variations, the ‘standard’ GL formats as found in their official practice papers are:
English: 49–56 questions in 50 minutes
Maths: 50 questions in 50 minutes
Verbal reasoning: 80 questions in 60 minutes
Non-verbal reasoning: 80 questions in 60 minutes
Until recently, another provider often used for 11 plus exams was CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring). In late 2022, CEM announced they were switching to online exams and no longer providing standard 11 plus papers. GL has once again become the main provider of admissions testing for UK grammar schools.
Both exam providers assessed similar skills, but the key differences were:
GL publishes practice materials, while CEM did not.
Timings and structure – GL papers are separated by subject, while CEM integrated all subjects in shorter timed sections.
GL content is less closely mapped to the national curriculum and places more emphasis on logical reasoning and spelling.
The ideal time to start preparing for the 11 plus is in the summer term of Year 4 or early autumn term of Year 5. Starting early and practising often in bitesize chunks will minimise stress and pressure.
When preparing for an exam it can be tempting to jump straight into using past papers. However, this is not an effective way to learn, and can cause children to feel demotivated. Learners should build a secure understanding of the 11 plus content before being tested under exam conditions.
Once your child is confident with the 11 plus curriculum, begin to introduce practice tests to help them get used to GL question formats and timings. They will develop essential time management skills, and become familiar with what to expect on exam day.
To keep motivation high, be sure to celebrate each milestone in your child's revision, no matter how minor! Small rewards and plenty of breaks help young learners to stay engaged.
Wondering how to make sure your child covers the depth and breadth of the entire 11 plus curriculum, stays on track with their progress, and gets help when they're stuck? Online learning is a particularly efficient, cost-effective (and fun) way to do this!
Atom Nucleus is an online learning platform that gives your child everything they need to prepare for grammar school exams.
Children work independently through over 90,000 interactive practice questions in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Teacher-created helpsheets and videos help them discover new concepts and consolidate their learning.
Atom's algorithm keeps children on their ideal learning path, tailored to their unique learning style and pace to keep them challenged and motivated.
Atom Nucleus gives children access to unlimited Mock Tests tailored to your target schools. They're designed to mirror the format and style of real 11 plus questions, so your child will go into the exam knowing exactly what to expect.
And what's more, everything is automatically marked for you.
Atom’s Parent Portal gives you at-a-glance progress reports and detailed transcripts.
You can see how your child is performing in each subtopic compared to their peers, making it easy to celebrate those milestones together.
Here are the answers to the example questions we shared in this article. We’d love to know how you got on – let us know on Facebook @WeAreAtomLearning!
C. At night
A (chime) & E (spike)
B (confine) & E (release)
We understand how important this next step is for them, and for you. Our Education Experts are on hand to support you over email or Live Chat. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions you may have about the 11 plus or your target schools.
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