Everything You Need To Know About 11+ in 2021

March 30, 2021 by Minerva Tutors,


This year, the 11+ exam – like everything else – has had to change and adapt to the shifting pressures put on parents, teachers and kids due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. 

Here, we lay out everything you need to know about these important exams in 2021: what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and how to do the best you can do.

We’ll be covering the basics about the 11+ exams, as well as discussing why they are important, what’s different this year and what you as a parent or guardian can do to get your child as ready as possible.

To finish, Jack – one of our Pro Tutors at Minerva – has given us some expert insight on the 11+ exams and what it’s like for students to work with a tutor in order to prepare for them.

What is 11 Plus?

An 11 Plus exam is an admissions test carried out by private or grammar secondary schools for pupils at the end of their primary education. They’re called “11+” because children are usually aged between 11 and 12 when they sit the exam. 

Because these schools are private, they generally tend to have different, individual exams, tailored to highlight the qualities they’re seeking in potential pupils. The 11+ exams take place throughout the academic year for Year 6 pupils, with many occurring in the Spring Term between January – February.

Why is the 11 Plus Important?

Secondary school is one of the most formative times in a child’s development, and helping your kid get into the right one for them will prove invaluable in their academic and general development. 

Though these 11+ exams risk being stressful for pupils so young, it’s perfectly possible, with the right know-how and preparation, to help your child through these important exams in a relaxed and enjoyable way. After all, the more they’re enjoying it, the more likely they are to be themselves, and this is ultimately what a school wants to see. 

Susie West, former headmistress and 11+ entrance exam specialist at Minerva, says schools tend to look for ‘self-knowledge, self-awareness, confidence and the ability to think on one’s feet’. 

These qualities will be particularly valuable in 2021’s 11+ exams due to the shake-up that lockdown has given their format. It’s these kinds of qualities that best shine through when a child is well-prepared and relaxed, so it’s worth the parents being prepped in an exam’s format, to help put any fears about what’s coming to rest in advance.

2021: What’s Different?

11 Plus exams traditionally consist of a written examination and an in-person interview with the candidate. The key ways in which 2021 has changed the 11+ format are:

  • The entirety of the process – exam and interview – has moved online
  • There is a new, increased focus on the interview 
  • The interview may now involve academic examination, and is not only reserved for getting a sense of the character of the candidate
  • Written assessments, where applicable, will take place online and live over Zoom (or similar)

For a detailed look at what your child might face in 2021’s 11 Plus, and a breakdown of the different ways schools are formatting their exams, check out our blog: What is Happening with 11 Plus Exams in 2021? 

How do I prepare for the 11 Plus Exams?

Identify the key areas that need work

Finding out what areas your child is weakest in is key: there’s no point plying them with maths papers if they’re already a maths whizz! 

Talk to them about what they feel the most nervous about – check their homework marks, and talk to teachers or hire a tutor to help you further if you need.

Practice past papers

An obvious one, but can’t be said enough: getting your child familiar with various types of past paper is crucial. You can find endless 11+ resources and past papers online and in places like Waterstones and WHSmith, but a good place to start is always Galore Park.

If motivation is an issue with your child, especially when trying to get them to revise and work at home, check out our blog How To Motivate Children at Home using Expert Techniques

Practice interviewing and build confidence

It’s useful to explain to an 11 Plus candidate how to thrive in an interview and, as is true of all of us, the more relaxed and able to be themselves they are, the better chance they’ll stand. 

Practice talking with your child about their work and their school life. Gently testing them with questions about why a certain subject is their favourite, or how they want to get better at the things they like less, or why they think school is important, can be invaluable.

Interviewers look for confidence, enthusiasm, self-awareness and quick-thinking – so it’s always worth throwing in a few curveball questions, even if they seem outlandish, to keep your child on their toes and not overly ‘drilled’ with the same responses. It’s all about thinking on one’s feet.

Build excitement, not anxiety

Helping your child to see how exciting it might be to go to this or that particular school is a great way to build the natural enthusiasm that interviewers love to see. 

As well as the friends they’ll make, talk with them about the particular facilities or opportunities this school might offer to them, be that music, sport, science or arts-based.

Work with a tutor

Hiring a tutor for a short or longer period of time to help prepare for the 11 Plus can be a great way to help with all of the above. 

As well as quickly identifying the key areas your child might need support with, a tutor can help de-stress the process for a pupil (not to mention a parent) and make the whole thing fun, exciting and manageable. 

From revision timetables to confidence-building, a tutor can give the student that extra boost they need to do and be the best they can in their work and in themselves.

Hiring a Tutor: When, Where, Why, How?


There are many reasons why hiring a tutor for 11 Plus help can prove invaluable, some of which are: 

  • Efficiency – a tutor can quickly held to identify the key areas a student needs the extra help with
  • Peace of mind – the 11 Plus can be an anxious-making time for parents as well as students, and knowing you’ve got a professional on your side that will cover all the bases can be very gratifying and relaxing. A relaxed parent equals a happier student most of the time, too!
  • Past Papers – a tutor often has access to past papers that a school might not
  • Confidence – building your child’s confidence is crucial to their ability to perform on the big day, and one-on-one time with a tutor means a student gets all the focus and affirmation they need to thrive
  • Complacency – a tutor is also a great way to ensure a child doesn’t ease off the gas: they can help keep focus right up to the finish line
  • Appraisal – tutors will have worked – and be working with – many other 11 Plus students, and they’ll be able to give a good appraisal and a sense of how your kid is doing, what kinds of schools they might be suited to, and what’s realistic to work toward. This prevents undue stress, disappointment and negativity towards a child’s academic career.


Tutors are often drafted in around September/October time to get a steady few months preparation in, but January/February are also popular months when tutors get called for a blitz, a focused three or four week run of preparation.


Private tuition can take place online or at home, in person, depending on the circumstances and preferences of the client. Needless to say, 2020/21 has given tutors plenty of practice in online tutoring, and teaching over Zoom, Skype or other such platforms has proved to be efficient, gratifying and as useful as ever.


Get in touch with any details, questions or conundrums via our Contact Page. We’re happy to talk things through and give any further advice we can.

11 Plus Case Study with Pro Tutor, Jack

We asked one of our Pro 11 Plus Tutors to tell us a little bit more about the trials, tribulations and benefits of 11 Plus tuition to offer some key insight into top techniques and tips, as well as the reasons why tuition at this stage can prove invaluable.

Jack told us about the process of working with two of his students, Robin and Lewis. Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

11+ tutoring
Jack , Minerva Pro Tutor

On tutoring online 

Working with Robin was a relatively novel experience as, beginning our tutoring dynamic towards the end of March last year and concluding upon receipt of a successful offer from Westminster in January, he was the first 11+ student I’d navigated an entire tutoring cycle with but never actually met in person owing to the coronavirus pandemic. I found myself having to teach myself about the best way to negotiate the particular travails of virtual tutoring as I went through my time with Robin.

Though the fundamental process of tutoring Robin was broadly straightforward, the challenges posed by the pandemic ultimately proved invaluable in honing my own tutoring methodology. Working with young students in what is generally their first experience of tuition and being extensively prepared for a formal exam, keeping focus and engagement at a consistently high level is of paramount importance. While this is the case at the best of times, ensuring that a student is attuned to the rhythms of the lesson is especially important when the lessons in question are being delivered virtually. Competing for attention with whatever may be occurring on a student’s screen on the other end of a virtual call, I had to be especially meticulous in my planning and subsequent delivery of each lesson. 

I was able to hold his focus by breaking up our lessons into shorter, 15-20 minute bursts, oscillating between creative writing tips and reading exercises to ensure that both elements of the 11+ English paper retained an element of freshness. Additionally, the majority of the exercises in question were filtered through the prism of what I felt Robin would find of interest, often beyond the scope of what he might typically encounter at school. 

Whether using a Haruki Murakami short story as the basis for our own work or doing light research into an Italian town in order to better reflect it in a descriptive writing task, I always strove to expand Robin’s horizons while simultaneously seeking to equip him with the skills necessary to negotiate a form of assessment which can often feel quite prescriptive. 

On parental peace of mind

From the outside looking in, Robin seemed remarkably unfazed by the entire process of being tutored for exams which could prove crucial in deciding the entire trajectory of his educational career. In fact, Robin’s mother probably wouldn’t mind me mentioning that the majority of the emotional jittering emanating from the other end of the Skype call radiated squarely from her!  

Sometimes, however, in person tuition is still the best and only way forward. In my establishing phone conversation with Lewis’s mother, she was very keen to ensure we would be able to work together in person as she believed he’d be far more likely to be engaged by a physical teaching presence, as opposed to a face on a screen. In any case, Lewis’s mother was entirely vindicated as my first lesson with him, delivered towards the end of July 2020 as the lockdown eased, was one of the most productive and enjoyable I’ve ever delivered as a tutor of English.

On interview practice and confidence building vs structure provision

As we moved towards the end of our time together towards the turn of the New Year, Robin and I turned our attention to interview practice. With Robin’s mother understandably anxious about the way in which the nature of the 11+ had unprecedentedly shifted to place greater emphasis on interview performance as a result of the pandemic, further sessions were pencilled in specifically to supplement Robin’s development in this respect. 

In helping him to prepare, I took the opportunity to ask him questions that touched on his thoughts on the wider world, as well as his own particular ten-year-old world. This proved to be a refreshing conclusion to our time working together as I had always felt that, possibly owing to the fact that we’d never met in person, a very light accent of relative impersonality characterised our lessons. 

Upon reflection, I almost feel as if this reflected the singular confidence Robin had in his own ability. In being tutored, he never needed a pastoral figure or mentor/mentee dynamic to provide a level of emotional support or bolster his confidence. Instead, Robin needed somebody who was prepared to provide him with a structure and the necessary instruction to hone his considerable talent in a way that would allow him to perform within the set parameters of the 11+ English exam. 

Though his Westminster offer is evidence that this objective was met, I hope he’ll find lots of other creative outlets for his creative talents in English as he navigates his way through his educational career. 

On complacency and motivation

With Eton in his sights, Lewis immediately proved to be an extremely able student who, according to his mother, had become complacent in his studying following the praise that all his work was garlanded with by his state school teachers. In this regard, his mother was keen for me to combat any sense that laurels should be rested on. 

Even though Lewis’ enthusiasm and positive demeanour meant he was a pleasure to teach, I also felt that he held his ability in rather high regard and so this proved an interesting challenge in contrast to the way that my work is often characterised by a need to build confidence in struggling students. Though he was often capable of turning in spectacular pieces of work from across the 13+ syllabus, whether in English, RS or Geography, Lewis’ intellectual freewheeling often prevented him from scoring the top marks as he found it difficult to work within the scope of a rigid mark scheme. 

Having to instil an exam-focused pragmatism in Lewis wasn’t the most joyous educational experience of my career but certainly a necessary one. In collaboration with his mother, we successfully convinced Lewis that the exam was merely fleeting arduousness that had to be negotiated in an especially exacting way. 

Fortunately, Lewis’ willingness to improve ensured that we still had opportunities to indulge his creative predilections within the lesson. The experience of working with such a naturally gifted student such as Lewis confirmed to me that preternatural aptitude for a subject is only half the battle with regard to common entrance and that coupling this with exam know-how is invaluable.

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