Parents often ask teachers or tutors if good handwriting matters in the 11+ exams. Clear, tidy handwriting makes a good first impression and enables examiners to read what is on the page. There are also many other benefits which are outlined below.

What is the 11+ exam?

The 11 + is a selective entrance examination administered for entry to secondary school, by identifying the most academically able children. It governs admission to grammar schools and other secondary schools that use academic selection.

When does is the 11+ exam take place?

Eleven-plus tests usually take place in September of children’s final primary school year with results provided to parents in October (not in all places, in some places information comes out later) and for private school’s exams take place any time between November and January to allow application for secondary schools. However, this year, due to Covid-19, some of the dates may have changes for the year academic year 2020-21. Please see the school website for date confirmation.

11 plus examination paper

What does the 11+ exam consist of?

The 11+ exam typically tests a student’s ability to solve problems using a test of verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, with most tests now also offering papers in mathematics and English and tests measures aptitude for schoolwork.

The way the examination is presented varies from school to school. Some schools require multiple choice answers, except English, which is a written piece of work and some schools only have reasoning papers. Some have a full English comprehension and not multiple choice such as The Latymer School, Edmonton. Some do not have verbal reasoning but just present non- verbal reasoning papers.

11 plus exam practise worksheet

Example of an 11+ worksheet from Learning Well™ tuition centre

Does my child have to take the 11+?

No. The 11 plus is not a compulsory test and it is completely up to you to decide if you want your child to apply to a grammar school.

However, in some areas, such as Buckinghamshire, children are still automatically registered for the 11+ and you need to opt out if you don’t want your child to sit the exam.

Can you retake this exam?

No – this is the ONLY exam that cannot be retaken. GCSE’s and A-Levels can be retaken but this is the only exam you have one chance at passing.

Good, clear handwriting

Why good handwriting matters?

English skills are tested through comprehension of a text: for example, this might be a fictional extract from a poem or a play script or a factual extract from a journal or a newspaper article or an excerpt from an encyclopaedia or textbook. The test may require full written responses or the selection of an option from a multiple choice.

Spelling tasks such as filling in letters to complete a word may also be required. Many schools also set a writing task. This might be to continue the passage used for the comprehension; an independent creative task stimulated by some titles or visual images; or a persuasive or an argumentative piece. Timing for these tasks can vary from as little as 20 minutes up to 45 minutes.

Nicola Garcia, CEO of Learning Well™, says that “Legible handwriting and neat presentation are so important in making a good first impression but that is not the only reason why tidiness is important”. Nicola adds, “Fluent handwriting also enables the student to write neatly at speed and then be able to proof-read effectively in the limited time available when they are likely to feel under pressure.”

English skills are also tested through exercises where words have been omitted and correct words needs to be inserted to complete the passage Nicola states “Learning Well pupils who have used Magic Link handwriting show real improvement in their neatness, speed and fluency, all of which are critical for a strong exam performance”

Clear handwriting is not merely relevant for the English papers. In the Maths and Numerical Reasoning tasks, digits clearly written and calculations neatly laid out will eliminate careless errors. Additionally, upper-case or lower-case letters written neatly can ensure accuracy in response to many Verbal Reasoning exercises such as coding and decoding, letter sequences and anagrams.

Nicola Garcia advises all parents to ensure that their child is writing neatly and fluently as this is a significant step in the preparation for 11+ and many Learning Well pupils have really benefited when they used the Magic Link Handwriting Programme.

We can therefore see that good handwriting matters in the 11 + exam and this skill can be taught easily and simply to children of all ages.


Nicola Garcia has an MA from UCL and PGCE from Downing College, Cambridge. She has written educational resources for many leading publishers including Hachette UK. In 2001, she set up Learning Well™ as a bespoke tuition service to target each child’s specific needs and with a focus on preparing children for school tests from 7-13+