11+ Entry: Are senior schools moving away from school-specific entrance assessments?

Words by Quintessentially Education

26 October 2023


Instead of issuing their own exams, many schools introduce independent multipurpose assessments to ease stress on students.

11+ exams are taken by students in the autumn of Year 6, usually at the age of 10 or 11. They are a series of educational assessments that determine eligibility for admission to selective UK senior schools. They typically include English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests.

The primary purpose of the 11+ admissions assessments is to assess a student's academic ability and aptitude to determine their readiness to study in an academically rigorous environment. However, it is essential to note that many schools place equal emphasis on a candidate’s performance at interview, and the reference given by the child’s current Head Teacher. The admissions considerations aim to be holistic in nature, to ensure that successful candidates are well suited to the senior school environment that they eventually enrol for.

Variations of 11+ assessments

Historically, schools have run their own variations of the 11+ exam, requiring candidates to sit separate school-specific entrance assessments – resulting in students sitting multiple exams at different schools. This can sometimes be overwhelming and fatigue-inducing for children preparing rigorously for each sitting. To make the assessment process more accessible and less stressful for candidates, many schools are now opting to use independent multipurpose assessments instead. The ISEB Pre-Test and the 11+ London Consortium Assessment are two such examples that have been adopted by nearly 100 schools in combination. So, what exactly do these tests involve?

What is the difference between 11+ Consortium Assessment and ISEB Common Pre-Test?

The ISEB Common Pre-Test and 11+ Consortium Assessment are online, adaptive assessments that cover English, Maths, Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning. For both, parents register for the tests and then the schools they would like to apply to. The assessment results are then sent on directly to the schools they are registered for to be reviewed – forgoing the need for multiple different assessments. So, what else do we need to know about these tests, and which schools use them?

The ISEB Common Pre-Test is currently used by 75 highly competitive single-sex and co-ed schools in the UK, to assess pupils at 11+ and 13+ entry. This includes Eton College, St Paul’s, James Allen's Girls' School, Downside, and Brighton College. Students sit one exam in either year 6 or year 7 (dependent on the senior school goal), lasting 135 minutes (in total) at their prep or primary school. The exam is split into four sections, which can be taken at different times.

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The London 11+ Consortium Assessment applies to all the London Consortium schools; a group of 14 independent day schools for girls, including Francis Holland, Godolphin and Latymer, and Notting Hill and Ealing, located across North, West and Central London. Students sit one exam in the autumn of year 6, lasting 100 minutes in total, at their prep or primary school. In 2022, the Consortium introduced a new assessment process, impacting students applying to schools for September 2023 entry and beyond. As well as being assessed in English, Maths, Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning, the new assessment has two new sections: Puzzles and problem-solving and Creative comprehension, which seeks to discover a child’s potential in creative and critical thinking, analysis, synthesis and problem-solving – skills that are deemed essential in today’s society.

Changes to 2023 entry and beyond

Given the trend that schools are moving away from school specific assessments in favour of one test that can be used for multiple school applications, we asked Lauren Williams, Super tutor and Educationalist, to dive deeper into these assessments and consider the future of 11+ exams.

Have the changes to the 11 Plus Consortium Assessment been well received by parents and students?

‘The new online, adaptive assessment was born out of concern for candidates facing considerable pressure in sitting multiple exams, so most parents are naturally in support of any move towards reducing stress and lessening the burden on pupils.

‘When the new assessment was first introduced, there was a little uncertainty around some of the material, namely, the new problem-solving and creative comprehension sections [for the London Consortium Assessment], designed by Atom to assess deeper thinking. Now that we are in the assessment’s second year, there is less concern; last year’s cohort managed just fine (even reporting that they enjoyed the questions!), and the benefits of this sort of testing are clear.

Additionally, Atom is very familiar to most, making the test far less intimidating; many candidates have used the platform for years before sitting the assessment. In my experience, this means that pupils and parents alike are grateful for an assessment which does not require sourcing hard-to-find past papers or guessing at format and content, and which does not call for a stressful ‘exam day’ at a prospective school.’

Do you think the ISEB Pre-Test will become more popular with schools?

‘The Pre-Test works similarly to the Consortium assessment: it is online, adaptive, sat at the pupil’s current school and its results can be used to support various applications. It is a versatile and simple tool already used by 75 UK schools, and it looks set to be adopted by even more in the future to help manage and streamline admissions processes.

‘At some schools, the Pre-Test forms the sole academic assessment for new entrants (there is usually also an interview). For others, it serves as a first round to ensure that only the most suitable candidates are selected for further written examinations. As well as being useful for schools, this is also a blessing for pupils who are therefore spared from sitting unnecessary exams for a school which is unlikely to be the right fit.

‘The Pre-Test covers the four traditional test subjects – English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning – and is a straightforward and thorough assessment of both attainment and potential. It can be used at various entry-points and is convenient, easily administered and accessible to all. For these reasons, I do believe that its popularity will continue to grow.’

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Do you think the schools are becoming more competitive?

‘In a word – yes! The Independent Schools Council reports that, in 2023, the number of pupils attending British independent schools is at its highest since records began. Global demand continues to grow, with increasing numbers of international pupils travelling to the UK for their education. Still, the largest category of new entrants to the private sector is in fact children moving from state schools, comprising 30% of all new pupils.

‘British schools are renowned for their academic excellence, extracurricular provision and pastoral care, which has immense global and domestic appeal. The result is inevitable: the more pupils who apply, the harder it is to gain a place for each individual applicant. At academically selective schools, this also means that the required standards for entry continue to rise.’

What can parents be doing to best prepare their children for the assessments?

‘Whilst this can all seem overwhelming, innovations in digital, adaptive testing show that schools are just as keen as parents to improve and simplify their admissions processes. An obvious piece of advice is to become familiar with these online testing platforms early on so that computerised tests become second nature. Do start preparation as early as possible; the 11+ (or an entrance exam at any age) cannot be prepared for all in a rush.

‘For pupils whose exams are approaching this year, ensure they have completed any sample material – perhaps even twice. Consortium familiarisation questions are available via Atom, and ISEB provides a Pre-Test walkthrough. These are not full-length tests but show pupils exactly how their assessments will look and feel on the day.

‘Additionally, do bear in mind that the exams are only one part of the application process; a child with excellent school reports and recommendations, proven commitment to their studies and extracurricular activities and a mature, engaging manner in their interview will always impress at any school.’

If you would like to speak to a school's consultant to find out more information about the 11+ entry process, or if you would like to book lessons with a specialist exam entrance tutor, please email [email protected] or phone +44 (0)20 3073 6839. For more top tips from Lauren Williams, about the 11+, read our article ‘How to Prepare for the 11+’.


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