5 things parents hate about the 11+ Exams

As the academic year moves into the Summer Term and we look towards the upcoming school year, many a coffee morning chat will be focused on senior school admissions, school choices and the topic that we love to hate but in London find almost impossible to avoid, 11 Plus Exams.

It can be intimidating to start preparing to send your child out to senior school, especially when it feels like just yesterday we found the perfect prep/primary school environment for our children.

From finding the best fit for your child, weighing up the pros and cons amongst the overwhelming number of school options, to negotiating school admissions and figuring out how best to support your child (and yourself!) during the 11+ examination process, it is no wonder why 11+ parents frequently dread the experience.
David McCarthy, former Head of Senior School and Director of Education at Sophia, has put together a list of the top 5 things parents hate about the 11+, and advice on how to tackle these challenges:

1/ The pressure parents and students are put under:

Both parents and students are put under tremendous pressure before, during and after the tests. As one parent put it:
“Instead of putting her first, I was a horrible slaving mother who should be reported to the police for child labour…And this was not communicated to me through the simplicity of words, but with stomping, slamming doors and plenty of shouting: ‘You are working me too much!! I hate you!!’…Should I engage in daily battles where for hours on end we have stressful arguments until my child gives in?”

2/ Having to explain why your child(ren) need(s) to do extra work outside of school

Although parents understand the importance of the 11+ exam and getting their child to a Private or Grammar School (the top 100 schools based on GCSE and A-Level results are dominated by private and grammar schools), students often do not. Parents often feel guilty about this.

3/ Having to pay for 11+ Tuition (“When I was a child, I did not need extra tuition”):

Things have changed quite a bit with 11+ exams over the last few years, and certain topics come up that are not covered at school during key Stage 2. As one parent put it:
“As my eldest approached Year Five, I looked into the new test, and was shocked by my findings. The test seemed to be a GCSE English literature exam in places and the vast majority of content was from the Year 7 curriculum. How could a child pass this without tutoring, I wondered? Well, they cannot. If you have never been taught algebra, for example, then you cannot answer a question on it, no matter how intelligent you are.”

4/ The competitiveness of the 11+

There is no avoiding the fact that the 11-plus is a competitive exam. There aren’t enough school places in the borough, let alone a grammar place for every child. One parent compared it to an arms race:
“An arms race ensues. No matter what anyone says, if you take two children of the same ability, and give one plenty of practice and send the other one in the cold, the practiced child will do better. The biggest wallets and the sharpest elbows will win the day.”
“Digging further, I found that the 11-plus pass rate for private school children is nearly three times the pass rate for state school children. I do understand the pressure to tutor. Everyone is doing it, so if you don’t – you put your child at a disadvantage.”

5/ Is the 11+ system even fair?

Many people believe that it is totally naive to think that the 11+ system does not have an impact on the self-esteem of entire families, or that secondary modern schools can provide the same level of experience as grammar/private schools.
“Our young people continue to be categorised into haves and have-nots by means of a test at a point in time, which makes no allowance for the benefits of learning and the natural development of maturity and ability to learn. No-one can say that this is a fair system, or a system that encourages social advancement for all.”

There are many parents who understand and agree with the above statements. If I was being totally honest, life is not fair.
You may be against tuition in principle, however, when you start to see the rest of your child’s year group being prepped for a test that your child will also be taking, of course it is natural to want your own child to have a fair chance too. Students who have spent time getting used to how the test is structured, doing practice papers and answering questions under pressure, will always have an advantage over those who have received no tutoring.

This is where Sophia comes in. As parents ourselves, we understand what you are going through and the misgivings you may have. We went through this same process ourselves with our own children.

Sophia provides specialist 11+ Examination tutors who have considerable experience in preparing children for entry into grammar and private schools. All of our 11+ tutors are qualified and experienced teachers who have thorough knowledge and experience of the 11+ process. More importantly, they have been hand-picked by the Sophia Educational Team which has over 48 years of educational and leadership experience.

We pick tutors who are kind and encouraging, and who could persuade any child to sit down and become familiar with what the 11+ questions look like; tutors with a good sense of humour, who could make any student believe that the questions posed in the 11+ exams are something that they are more than capable of understanding.

To find your 11+ tutor, head over to

What is the 11+?

The 11+ is a selective entrance examination for secondary school, used by many independent private schools and by state-funded grammar schools, to identify the most academically able children.

The exam is taken towards the end of Year 5 during Year 6, Year 6 throughout the Autumn and early part of the Spring Term. The Admission pages of Senior Schools provide parents with an overview of each school’s 11+ entrance process, as schools can vary in their assessment procedures.

It is important to check with your chosen schools, what exam they are using as it will affect how you prepare your child:
Generally, Schools will either follow their own independent assessment system or follow one of three examination boards for the 11+ exam; ISEB, CEM (Durham University) or the GL Assessment. The content and structure of the 11+ exam generally focuses on a combination of: English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning, with some schools requiring children to take part in taster days and interviews with senior members of staff.

Our Sophia 11+ Guides for Parents provides a great overview of Senior School Admissions for the London and Greater London Areas.

Download a free copy today!