Understanding the 11 Plus Exam Maze: Grammar School Selection Tests vs. Independent School Entrance Exams

Student writing final exam in classroom.

Every parent wants the best education for their child, but the UK education system, with its myriad of exams and pathways, can be overwhelming.

Let’s compare and contrast two pivotal examinations: grammar school selection tests and independent school entrance exams.

Understanding the 11 Plus Exam Maze: Grammar School Selection Tests vs. Independent School Entrance Exams

Grammar School Selection Tests: An Overview

What are they?

These tests are the gateway into state-funded grammar schools. For example, the Kent Test is a well-known selection test for 11+ students wishing to attend one of Kent’s grammar schools.

Subjects Covered:

Most assess English, mathematics, and occasionally, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Buckinghamshire, for instance, has a combined paper which tests both verbal skills and mathematical reasoning.

Mythbuster: “All grammar school tests are the same.”

Reality: Each region can have its nuances. For instance, the Bexley Selection Test might differ in content and structure from the Wirral 11+.

Student doing the test exam

Independent School Entrance Exams: A Closer Look

What are they?

These are bespoke exams set by individual independent schools. For instance, the Eton College King’s Scholarship exam is specific to Eton and reflects its academic expectations.

Subjects Covered:

Typically maths, English, and potentially other subjects such as verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and cognitive ability tests (CAT tests). St. Paul’s School, for instance, tests English, maths, and science at 13+.

Mythbuster: “Independent schools are always more demanding than grammar schools.”

Reality: The challenge varies. While Harrow School might have a rigorous selection process, another independent school may focus more on the interview or a student’s all-round abilities.

Key Differences About Grammar and Independent Schools to Note:

1. Funding:

While grammar schools (like Chelmsford County High School for Girls) are state-funded and free, independent schools (like Winchester College) require tuition, which can be substantial.

2. Selection Process:

Grammar schools, like those in the Gloucestershire region, focus heavily on test results. In contrast, schools like Wellington College might give equal weight to interviews, extracurricular achievements, and references.

3. Cost:

A critical difference between grammar and independent schools is that grammar schools are free – they are state secondary schools, which are academically selective. This means they are schools that admit students who have passed their exams (selection tests).

Independent (private) schools are not free. We will go into more detail about the fees you can expect to pay and how you can get financial assistance for your child’s education at these prestigious schools.

Grammar Schools:

• Tuition: Grammar schools, such as Queen Elizabeth’s School Barnet, are state-funded, making them tuition-free for students. However, there might be some ancillary costs related to uniforms, trips, and extracurricular activities, but these are generally minimal compared to independent school fees.

Independent Schools:

• Tuition: Independent schools, like Harrow or Eton, can have annual fees that range substantially, often running from £10,000 to over £40,000 per annum, depending on the school’s prestige, location, and facilities. This fee typically covers tuition, certain extracurricular activities, and sometimes boarding costs.

• Additional Costs: Beyond tuition, there can be extra charges for items such as uniforms, trips abroad, specialised training or courses, and boarding-related expenses for those schools offering boarding facilities.

• Bursaries: Many independent schools offer bursaries, which are means-tested financial support to help families who might not otherwise afford the fees. The amount awarded can vary, with some bursaries covering up to 100% of the tuition. For instance, schools like Westminster School have been known for their generous bursary schemes.

• Scholarships: Scholarships are typically merit-based and can be awarded for academic prowess or talents in music, sports, or the arts. While they can offer a reduction in fees, it’s worth noting that a scholarship might not cover as much as a bursary. Schools like The King’s School Canterbury, for example, offer various scholarships in diverse fields.

Advice About the 11 Plus Exams for Interested Parents:

Expert advice

Research is Key: Whether you’re considering Manchester Grammar School or Marlborough College, each school will have its own deadlines and requirements. It’s essential to understand each school’s fee structure and financial support options if you are considering an independent (private) school. Many schools have dedicated pages on their websites outlining bursaries, scholarships, and application processes, usually under the ‘admissions’ section.

Open Conversations: Don’t be afraid to discuss financial matters with the admissions team. They can provide guidance on available support and payment plans.

Preparation Matters: Some parents recommend long-standing books like the CGP 11+ series for grammar school prep and for schools like Dulwich College. We have a fantastic range of resources to help your child’s English comprehension, creative writing and vocabulary in the Geek School Shop.

Visit Schools: Nothing beats the firsthand experience of an open day, whether at Tonbridge Grammar School or Christ’s Hospital.

Whether you’re navigating the specifics of the Medway 11+ or understanding the nuances of a private school entrance exam, knowledge is power. Please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss your child’s 11 Plus exam preparation – we are here to help!

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