The Definitive Guide to Choosing an 11 Plus Tutor for Entrance Exams

September 17th, 2015 by Anita Lee

Around about now, many of you will be pondering whether to engage an 11 plus private tutor, or whether you can / should prepare your child for the entrance exam yourself. At FirstTutors.com, we've taken a look through our data, asked for views from tutors and parents and collated it all here to help you make that decision. Our guide will show you:

  • what to look for if you do proceed with an 11 plus tutor, including costs and duration of tutoring.
  • how to prepare for teaching the 11 plus yourself
  • where to find 11 plus exam papers

11+ Student being helped by a tutor

Are all 11+ tests the same?

Three broad groups of parents seek assistance for the 11 plus exam:

1. Those seeking entrance exams preparation for secondary schools (grammars).

The schools themselves will usually advise on their websites broadly what kind of tests to expect (some even provide some free exam papers). Often the 11 plus exam papers will be set at local authority level. A typical mix might be:

  • Verbal reasoning exam
  • Non-verbal reasoning exam
  • Maths exam
  • English exam

The first two are particularly designed to assess aptitude rather than knowledge and this is where there is most debate around whether there is benefit in tutoring (beyond familiarising the candidate with the paper so that it doesn't come as a complete shock to the system in the exam hall!).

The latter two ought to build on what's been learned at school, but as some teachers acknowledge, These are subjects that our school doesn't even teach. According to The Guardian, the regular curriculum does not align chronologically as useful preparation for the exams.

Typical 11 plus Question Formats

Here's a few typical question formats:

Verbal Reasoning Practice Question

11+ Verbal Reasoning Practice Question

Non-verbal reasoning practice question

11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Practice Question

11+ Maths practice question

11+ Maths Practice Question

11 plus English practice question

11+ English Practice Question

All courtesy of MW Educational, which specialises in papers for the 11+ exam in Essex. For sale here.

2. Those seeking entrance exams preparation for independent schools (private / public / boarding schools).

It is worth noting that by their very independent nature, different schools in this sector may have slightly different entrance exam requirements (they don't all use ISEB) - so as with state schools, first port of call should be the school's website to see what's on the menu.

In the private sector there is the possibility to switch school at different points with lots of different exams: 7+, 8+, 11+ and 13+ (and that's before we get into the scholarship exams!). More pragmatic about whether it is right to prepare for the exams, ISEB, the board that sets these exams says simply, Parents and tutors of pupils who are not in schools which regularly enter candidates for Common Entrance examinations will want to familiarise their children with the syllabuses and examination papers in their excellent introductory guide for parents (where you can also find lists to indicate which schools run exams for which age groups).

3. Those seeking entrance exams preparation to British international schools.

Some do use entrance tests to check a pupil's ability (particularly in level of English comprehension) prior to admittance. As online tuition becomes more accessible via Skype and similar platforms, we're seeing a greater number of parents seeking help to prepare children for entering British schools abroad.

Is an 11 plus tutor really necessary?

This is a highly personal decision. The removal of pressure is the most common motivation we see cited for seeking a tutor, as explained by one of our 11 plus tutors, This is the first time a child has had to revise for exams that truly mean something. Ben stresses that, Tutoring at this level is a three way relationship. So always seek to boost their confidence and never talk in terms of "if you don't pass this exam..." which alarmingly some school teachers seem to do.

Ben, 11+ tutor

So contrary to popular belief, 11 plus tutoring tends to be less about applying pressure to pass the exam and more about building confidence to alleviate it. Whether or not you bring in a tutor, Ben certainly recommends some preparation: Past papers are the most crucial resource available. Although many schools say their 11 plus is "tutor proof" it most certainly is not. The sooner you get a child used to seeing an 11 plus paper, noticing the patterns in the questions and learning the structure needed to answer them, the better. His comments appear to be borne out at least for the 11 plus exams in Buckinghamshire where the new "tutor-proof" test designed to increase social mobility hasn't worked out quite as planned.

When should I look for 11 plus tuition?

From our data, we've found:

  • Those preparing for grammar school 11 plus entry typically look for tutors at the beginning of Year 5. A few parents seek private tuition from Year 4, but may find themselves turned down by tutors. As one of our tutors puts it, I do not take students until the summer before year 5 as I believe students still need to concentrate on socialising and reading and handwriting and basic maths skills like the times tables before they start on the more complex skills preparing for the 11 plus.
  • Those preparing for independent schools entry (winter exams), typically look for tutors from September onwards and often expect tutoring to take place for a few months at the most.

The other extremely popular time to seek an entrance exams tutor is January/February. In this respect, our top tip would be to get ahead of the curve by booking a tutor in the diary in November/December with a view to commencing lessons after the New Year - and make sure you have your trial lesson straight away so you know you're happy with the tutor.

In both cases, the norm is a regular weekly slot of one hour. Ben stresses, If you're going to get help, do it early. I cannot stress this enough. Children of this age really struggle to cram. They suffer from mental fatigue, especially as tuition is more intense than school. An hour a week for a year is far kinder on your child than 6 hours a week for the final 2 months. It will produce better results. It also allows a tutor time to build a relationship, and to make the pace of the lessons more sustainable, with some fun elements.

How much does an 11 plus tutor cost?

Our tutors set their own rates. On average across the country, for academic year 2014/15, our tutors were charging £27.99 per hour for 11 plus tuition. There is however, considerable regional variation as shown here (use the map, or find your local grammar school in the expandable table below):

How much does an 11+ tutor cost?

Area Average Cost Of Tuition Grammar Schools
London Borough of Bexley £27.46 Beths Grammar School, Bexley (boys), Bexley Grammar School, Welling (mixed), Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School, Sidcup (mixed), Townley Grammar School, Bexleyheath (girls)
London Borough of Bromley £27.84 Newstead Wood School, Orpington (girls), Orpington (boys), St Olave's & St Saviour's Grammar School
Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames £34.61 Tiffin Girls' School, Kingston upon Thames (girls), Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames (boys)
London Borough of Redbridge £26.71 Ilford County High School, Barkingside (boys), Woodford County High School, Woodford Green (girls)
London Borough of Sutton £31.13 Nonsuch High School for Girls, Cheam (girls), Sutton Grammar School for Boys, Sutton (boys), Wallington County Grammar School, Wallington (boys), Wallington High School for Girls, Wallington (girls), Wilson's School, Wallington (boys)
Birmingham £24.32 Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield (boys), Handsworth Grammar School, Handsworth (boys), King Edward VI Aston School, Aston (boys), King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Kings Heath (boys), King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, Kings Heath (girls), King Edward VI Five Ways School, Bartley Green (mixed), King Edward VI Handsworth School, Handsworth (girls), Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls, Sutton Coldfield (girls)
Bournemouth £29.01 Bournemouth School, Bournemouth (boys), Bournemouth School for Girls, Bournemouth (girls)
Bradford £22.01 Bradford Grammar School
Buckinghamshire £30.48 Aylesbury Grammar School, Aylesbury (boys), Aylesbury High School, Aylesbury (girls), Beaconsfield High School, Beaconsfield (girls), Burnham Grammar School, Burnham (mixed), Chesham Grammar School, Chesham (mixed), Dr Challoner's Grammar School, Amersham (boys), Dr Challoner's High School, Little Chalfont (girls), John Hampden Grammar School, High Wycombe (boys), Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe (boys), Royal Latin School, Buckingham (mixed), Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School, Aylesbury (mixed), Sir William Borlase's Grammar School, Marlow (mixed), Wycombe High School, High Wycombe (girls)
Calderdale £23.05 The Crossley Heath School, Halifax (mixed), North Halifax Grammar School, Halifax (mixed)
Cumbria £25.60 Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith (mixed)
Derbyshire £24.67 Bradford Grammar School, Derby Grammar School, Risley Lower Grammar Primary School, Repton School
Essex £26.42 Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Chelmsford (girls), Colchester County High School for Girls, Colchester (girls), Colchester Royal Grammar School, Colchester (boys), King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford (boys)
Exeter £27.09 Colyton Grammar School, Colyford (mixed)
Gloucestershire £25.54 The Crypt School, Gloucester (boys), High School for Girls, Gloucester (girls), Marling School, Stroud (boys), Pate's Grammar School, Cheltenham (mixed), Ribston Hall High School, Gloucester (girls), Sir Thomas Rich's School, Longlevens, Gloucester (boys), Stroud High School, Stroud (girls)
Hertfordshire £29.73 Watford Grammar School, Parmiter's School, Queen Elizabeth School, Saint Albans School, Hitchin Boys' School
Kent £27.89 Barton Court Grammar School, Canterbury (mixed), Borden Grammar School, Sittingbourne (boys), Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate (boys), Clarendon House Grammar School, Ramsgate (girls), Cranbrook School, Cranbrook (mixed), Dane Court Grammar School, Broadstairs (mixed), Dartford Grammar School, Dartford (boys), Dartford Grammar School for Girls, Dartford, Dover Grammar School for Boys, Dover (boys), Dover Grammar School for Girls, Dover (girls), Folkestone School for Girls, Folkestone (girls), Gravesend Grammar School, Gravesend (boys), Gravesend Grammar School for Girls, Gravesend (girls), Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone (boys), Highsted Grammar School, Sittingbourne (girls), Highworth Grammar School for Girls, Ashford (girls), Invicta Grammar School, Maidstone (girls), The Judd School, Tonbridge (boys), Maidstone Grammar School, Maidstone (boys), Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, Maidstone (girls), The Norton Knatchbull School, Ashford (boys), Oakwood Park Grammar School, Maidstone (boys), Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Faversham (mixed), Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Canterbury (boys), Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls, Canterbury (girls), Sir Roger Manwood's School, Sandwich (mixed), The Skinners' School, Tunbridge Wells (boys), Tonbridge Grammar School, Tonbridge (girls), Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School, Tunbridge Wells (girls), Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, Tunbridge Wells (boys), Weald of Kent Grammar School, Tonbridge (girls), Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, Wilmington (boys), Wilmington Grammar School for Girls, Wilmington (girls)
Kirklees Heckmondwike Grammar School, Heckmondwike (mixed)
Lancashire £23.27 Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School, Waterfoot (mixed), Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, Clitheroe (mixed), Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, Lancaster (girls), Lancaster Royal Grammar School, Lancaster (boys)
Lincolnshire £27.97 Boston Grammar School, Boston (boys), Boston High School, Boston (girls), Bourne Grammar School, Bourne (mixed), Caistor Grammar School, Caistor (mixed), Carre's Grammar School, Sleaford (boys), Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School, Grantham (girls), Kesteven and Sleaford High School, Sleaford (girls), King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth (mixed), The King's School, Grantham (boys), Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Alford (mixed), Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Horncastle (mixed), Queen Elizabeth's High School, Gainsborough (mixed), Skegness Grammar School, Skegness (mixed), Spalding Grammar School, Spalding (boys), Spalding High School, Spalding (girls)
Liverpool £21.96 Liverpool Blue Coat School, Wavertree (mixed)
Medway £26.87 Chatham Grammar School for Boys, Chatham (boys), Chatham Grammar School for Girls, Chatham (girls), Fort Pitt Grammar School, Chatham (girls), Rainham Mark Grammar School, Rainham (mixed), Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, Rochester (boys), Rochester Grammar School, Rochester (girls)
North Yorkshire £28.62 Ermysted's Grammar School, Skipton (boys), Ripon Grammar School, Ripon (mixed), Skipton Girls' High School, Skipton (girls)
Plymouth £23.38 Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (boys), Devonport High School for Girls, Plymouth (girls), Plymouth High School for Girls, Plymouth (girls)
Poole £29.01 Parkstone Grammar School, Poole (girls), Poole Grammar School, Poole (boys)
Reading £29.40 Kendrick Girls' Grammar School, Reading (girls), Reading School, Reading (boys)
Slough £31.01 Herschel Grammar School, Slough (mixed), Langley Grammar School, Langley (mixed), Upton Court Grammar School, Slough (mixed), St Bernard's Catholic Grammar School, Langley (mixed)
Stoke on Trent £25.89 St. Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent (mixed)
Southend on Sea £25.50 Southend High School for Boys, Southend-on-Sea (boys), Southend High School for Girls, Southend-on-Sea (girls), Westcliff High School for Boys, Westcliff-on-Sea (boys), Westcliff High School for Girls, Westcliff-on-Sea (girls)
Telford and Wrekin £23.51 Adams' Grammar School, Newport (boys), Newport Girls High School, Newport (girls)
Torbay £25.57 Churston Ferrers Grammar School, Galmpton (mixed), Torquay Boys' Grammar School, Torquay (boys), Torquay Grammar School for Girls, Torquay (girls)
Trafford £24.51 Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, Bowdon (boys), Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, Bowdon (girls), Loreto Grammar School, Altrincham (girls), Sale Grammar School, Sale (mixed), St. Ambrose College, Hale Barns (boys), Stretford Grammar School, Stretford (mixed), Urmston Grammar School, Urmston (mixed)
Walsall £22.43 Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall (boys), Queen Mary's High School, Walsall (girls)
Warwickshire £23.58 Alcester Grammar School, Alcester (mixed), King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon (boys), Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby (boys), Rugby High School for Girls, Rugby (girls), Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls, Stratford-upon-Avon (girls)
Wiltshire £25.67 Bishop Wordsworth's School, Salisbury (boys), South Wilts Grammar School for Girls, Salisbury (girls)
Wirral £22.81 Calday Grange Grammar School, West Kirby (boys), St Anselm's College, Birkenhead (boys), Upton Hall School FCJ, Upton (girls), West Kirby Grammar School, West Kirby (girls), Wirral Grammar School for Boys, Bebington (boys), Wirral Grammar School for Girls, Bebington (girls)
Wolverhampton £22.12 Wolverhampton Girls' High School, Newbridge (girls)

Our second tip would be to therefore consider also searching for well reviewed tutors of Maths and English and seeing if they would consider preparation for verbal and non-verbal reasoning as part of a tuition programme.In areas such as South West London the range is between £20 and £120 per hour! Tutors of English at primary level were cheaper at £22.52 on average nationwide, with Maths tutors charging £21.31.

Our tutors are primarily educationalists not marketers - so whilst they may not have promoted themselves for these opportunities, it does not mean they would not be open to them. The other obvious advantage of this approach (beyond cost) is that you'll be securing additional education for your child in core subjects rather than merely focusing on passing a test. The 11 plus in Kent is already reported to be moving in this direction according to recent lecture by Peter Read, a specialist in school admissions and appeals.

What are the signs of a good 11 plus tutor?

Tutoring is one of the few professions in the UK which does not have significant financial barriers to entry - there is no trade body that tutors must pay subscriptions to, nor are they forced to undertake expensive post-graduate qualifications in tutoring specifically.The upside of that is the enormous choice available to parents, with quality driven up by competition. The potential downside is of course, that you need to be careful in picking a good one!

This is what FirstTutors.com was set up for primarily - we are the only tuition firm in the UK to invite every client to publish a review of their tutor (just search and see).

Here are our suggestions for finding a good 11 plus tutor:

1. Excellent client feedback- the first sign of a good tutor is excellent feedback from previous clients.

2. Excellent references- All tuition agencies are supposed to take up references, so ask to see them if they are not offered (we send parents ours with the tutor's contact details). If you've found your tutor through word-of-mouth, make sure you hear good things from at least a few other mouths.

3. Good communication- As Ben explains, As parents you will understandably be very worried. It is crucial for us as tutors to keep you updated, so that you don't have to pump your child for information after a session. This also means providing a revision schedule. A tutor who is reluctant to discuss how the tutoring is progressing or who is secretive of their methods or intended approach may be a tutor who does not have any methodology or indeed clue as to how things will progress!

4.Lesson planning- Look for signs of personalisation in lesson planning. Susan, another of our tutors gives an example, Gear writing tasks to the pupil's own interests when appropriate.

Susan, 11+ tutor

Ben goes further in expounding on the virtues of a good tutor, They are teaching your child and your child alone and so will tailor their approach to them. A different explanation is often all that is needed for a child to grasp difficult concepts. This combined with the fact 1-1 learning produces faster results, and detailed regular feedback to parents is why a tutor can be the difference between a pass and fail.

What does that mean practically?

I quite often break up my lessons and ask about their hobbies, weekend, aspirations and such like. A good tutor can always find a link between one of these subjects and the material they are using.

So if the lesson feels a bit cookie-cutter it might be appropriate to query whether you're getting your money's worth.

5. Listen to your child - Most importantly, your child is the best barometer of whether it's working. When it is, the feedback we receive from parents looks like this:

  • My 9 year old daughter looks forward to her sessions each week. In a short time my daughter's confidence, understanding and organisation has improved. Barjis is an intelligent and professional tutor who works in partnership with me to prepare my daughter for her 11 plus entrance exams.
  • I am very pleased with Savil. He has helped my son to build his confidence and has helped him to do well in the 11 plus he has made my son get into a grammar school. Savil is kind and friendly and has a positive attitude when it comes to teaching children.
  • My son really enjoys each tutor session with Jon. He is gaining confidence with literacy and is eager to keep learning.

If your child isn't keen for the tutor to visit next week you might like to reconsider the arrangement.

How essential is it that the 11 plus tutor can prove experience of successful entry into a particular school?

So you've got your heart set on, for example, the Eton or Westminster 13 plus scholarship exams, now how do you find the right specialist? Some parents take a practical approach and choose tutors from our database who have either been to those schools, or schools with very similar entrance formats. You may feel this means the tutor will instinctively understand the format and empathise with your goal.

Others insist that the tutor in question has proven experience of getting children into said school. There are three issues with this:

  1. Your tutor may have unwittingly tutored a future Nobel prize winner into St. Paul's, giving them an easy ride!
  2. Some agencies and tutors aren't going to rush to tell you about all the candidates they didn't get in! (we can relax on this front at FirstTutors.com because we invite published client reviews in all cases)
  3. Some tutors (much like some of the schools they're preparing pupils for entry to) may weed out those who won't make the grade to avoid any blemish on their pass record! (Though to be fair to them, better to advise families when it is a bridge too far than to ruthlessly take their money and pretend all is well).

So what can a parent do?

  1. Observe for evidence of skills. Can your tutor demonstrate that they can conceptually break down an exam question effectively in a trial session? Watch and see.
  2. Listen for honesty. Ask the tutor how they approach things when they feel a child is struggling. Perhaps even ask to speak to some of their clients with children who failed or were recommended to withdraw, as well as those with children who passed.
  3. Can the tutor adapt? A tutor may say they don't know a specific school's format but they've tutored for entrance to another which is similar and that they'd be willing to adapt their resources and find the right papers.

How do I teach the 11 plus myself?

We appreciate that bringing in a tutor isn't for all parents and we've put together these tips for those of you engaging in 11 plus preparation yourselves:

  • From Susan, Encourage the development of speaking and listening skills as there is an essential link between these and writing skills. Some pupils have good speaking and listening skills but weaker writing skills. Practising their speaking and listening skills can help to improve their writing skills.
  • From Ben, Resist the temptation to make the 11 plus the be all and end all. If this exam is all the child hears about for months and months this is not good and, Fear Is pretty much the only weapon an 11 plus paper has, fear of the questions, fear of failure and such like. If you can remove that the knowledge and structure needed are actually fairly basic. If you child does not fear the exam they will pass it. That's why I strive to instil confidence as much as knowledge.
  • From The Parent Practice, remember that, Children want to do well - it's in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and what we think about them, even when it may not seem that way!

Where can I find 11 plus practice papers?

  • Start with the school's website. There are normally a few freebies to be found there.
  • This blog has direct links to free downloadable 11plus past papers for a range of schools (scroll to bottom)
  • Various educational publishers sell papers which gives examples of typical questions (and answers!). CGP, Letts, Bond and Eureka are all popular.
  • We sell a few ourselves and also have a few freebie example questions from Galore Park on the blog.

If you have suggestions for where to find 11 plus practice papers, please do comment below to share your resources!

This mum also has some advice on bulk buying books and teaming up with other parents to share resources.

As a parent, how can I get support?

To find an 11 plus tutor or common entrance exams tutor, please use our search function.

If you're finding it all a bit overwhelming, or just need some practical pointers, this forum is specifically for parents with children taking the 11 plus .

Categories: entrance exams