The online 11 Plus exam: trends and implications

Louise Lang, Director of Exam Papers Plus, talks to ET about the implications of an online 11 Plus exam

In recent years, the 11 Plus exam has been moving increasingly towards a digital format. A number of schools are already using online pre-tests and more are switching over this year. 

A brief introduction to the 11 plus exam

The 11 Plus exam is used by schools as part of their assessment process for entry into Year 7. There is no nationally standardised assessment, though some counties and schools now use the same test. Most schools will assess English and maths whilst some also test verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

Besides numerous independent schools throughout the country, there are currently 164 grammar schools and some partially selective schools that use some form of the 11 Plus. Competition for places can be fierce, with up to 14 students applying for every place in certain areas.

The trend of online pre-testing for the 11 Plus

The 11 Plus system first showed signs of becoming digitised with the introduction of online pretesting for independent schools. The ISEB Common pre-test provides independent senior schools with an early indication of a student’s attainment levels. It enables schools to qualify students rather than inviting all candidates for interview.  

The ISEB Common pre-test is taken entirely online, either at the student’s current prep school, or at their preferred senior school. The test is in multiple-choice format and can only be taken once per year.

Some other schools use a Cognitive Ability Test(CAT). This online test focuses on assessing developed reasoning ability and can be taken online in a multiple-choice format.

The implications of a fully digitised 11 Plus process

With the increasing trend towards online testing comes the question of whether the 11 Plus exam process will soon become fully digitised. Most grammar and independent schools already require parents to register their child online and an online exam would certainly have its benefits in terms of efficiency. 

The 11 Plus system first showed signs of becoming digitised with the introduction of online pretesting for independent schools.

The ISEB pre-test was introduced partially as a response to the growing number of applications. Schools simply did not have the capacity to assess all students on site and so a form of pre-qualifying was needed.

However, an online 11 Plus exam would require most schools to invest significantly in additional technology and software. They would need to handle the whole process from registration to scoring and provide computers for all students. To protect the integrity of the exam, they would need all students to take it at the same time and this would be a huge undertaking in terms of hardware and logistics.The London Consortium recently decided against using an online test for this reason.

An online 11 Plus test would theoretically allow for students to take the test at their respective primary schools. However, this would require a great deal more coordination and would be harder to monitor for fairness.

For parents preparing their child for the exam, a more digitally-focused approach would likely be required, making use of online guides and resources. Certainly, some level of familiarisation with the online exam format and layout would be helpful.

From a student perspective, online assessments tend to be easier to prepare for as they are usually multiple-choice. This reduces the number of question types that can be asked. For example, creative writing is difficult to assess in an online format. As such, this would reduce the burden of preparation on students, and perhaps also reduce stress levels too.

In summary

We’re beginning to see a move towards digitisation of the 11 Plus exam. In my opinion, all assessments, including the 11 Plus, will eventually move to an online format to reflect the changing nature and role of technology in every aspect of our lives. However, I think there are a number of obstacles that need to be overcome first and so this change may not happen that soon! 

Louise Lang is Director of Exam Papers Plus and Pretest Plus, two companies that specialise in helping students successfully prepare for entrance exams through the use of specialist practice resources.


The Role of Testing within Digital Transformations

Wednesday, January 26, 11AM (GMT)