12 Plus Exam Made Easy: All You Need To Know About The 12+ And 13+

Father and son sat at the table studying.

Keeping up with class tests, weekly quizzes and end of term exams is not easy, you think you’re getting the hang of it, until you’re asked, “Is your child taking 12+ exams?’’ and once again, you’re lost.

Fear not! By the end of this, all will become clear, as we answer 12+ and 13+ queries, breaking down important details so that you'll be bewildered no more.

Together, we will go through what the 12 plus exams are, who can take them, necessary preparation and finally, how to apply.  

What Are 12 Plus Exams?

Girl sat at a desk smiling, studying in front of the computer.

12 and 13 plus exams are entrance exams you must take to gain a place at grammar school (a.k.a, Independent schools). The tests are academically focused with questions on core subjects (Maths, English etc.). They determine whether a child is suited to the school where they'll complete their secondary education.

You may have heard of 11 plus exams, particularly if your kids are in key stage 3 and have already been through that hectic secondary school application process. For those who haven’t, children in Year 6 wanting to gain entry into a Grammar school after primary education take the 11 plus entrance exams to secure their place in Year 7.

Unfortunately, many children miss out on this entry spot. Primarily, this is because their 11 plus results don't hit the pass mark, but it may also be that, at the time, the family simply hadn’t considered independent schools as an option. Either way, 12 plus tests are the perfect second chance to gain your place.

Which Year Groups Take 12+ And 13+?

12+ - taken by children currently in Year 7, to join grammar school from Year 8 onwards.  

13+ - taken by children currently in Year 8, to join grammar school from Year 9 onwards.

If your sights are set on an independent school, this is great news! You still have a chance despite being in secondary education. The option to join mid-way through the academic year (a.k.a late transfer) does depend on school policy, local authority, and individual situations.

What Parents Need To Know

Mum helps her daughter study for twelve plus exams.

Firstly, not all grammar schools hold 12+ and 13+ exams. Exams are offered when there's space in the year group for children to join (eg if children leave the school, a spot will come free). Therefore, if the school you want doesn't currently offer 12+, take comfort in the knowledge that this won't be the case permanently. School situations could change in time for 13+ exams, don't lose faith just yet.

What Do The Exam Papers Consist Of?

Generally, the tests combine English, Maths, Verbal and Non-verbal Reasoning, with many schools' papers also including a language and sometimes a humanity. With such variation, the test may involve up to 3 exam papers ( eg one Maths, one English). The key note here is that the combo changes per school, find out exactly what subjects your preferred school test. Their submissions website page should have specific information, if not, call to ask for details.

A bookshelf containing lots of colourful books.

So, Should My Kids Revise?

Yes, it's better to be prepared.

With spaces few and far between, studying helps give your child the best chance possible. Starting revision early means you uncover subjects which your child needs to improve with plenty of time to work on them. Learn subjects' core content, then practice past papers to get comfortable with exam technique.

Two external examination boards, CEM and GL, commission the exams; find past papers and specimen papers online. Some independent schools also make their own exam papers available. If these aren't found on their website, call them to inquire. These resources reflect the exam style and content, allowing kids to confidently tackle different papers, knowing that there shouldn’t be too many surprises.  

Exam papers scoring above 70 usually secure a pass but aim to score mid 80’s to be truly comfortable. These tests are about taking what you know and using it effectively, it’s about thinking rather than memorising. So, whilst revision is important, don't worry that your child can't concentrate on maths homework for longer than 30 minutes, it's completely normal!

Boy studying for his thirteen plus exam using a tablet.

(Passing 12+ papers doesn’t guarantee entrance, factors such as home vs school location also come into play).

How to apply for 12+ / 13+ exam?

Checking the school submission page on their website is the first course of action. Here, you should find their admissions policy, also details of their application and exam process, to guide your next steps. Call the school directly if you can't find what you need.

Key Information:

  1. Exam papers are taken the academic year before you wish to join, usually from January onwards (eg to join Year 8 in September 2020, exam taken in February 2020).
  2. Applications open much earlier than the exam itself, sometimes as early as May the year before. Contact the school directly to confirm.  
  3. Check the application submission deadline. Many are closed by Christmas. Again, this varies depending on the school’s timetable. Call or search online, just make sure to find that deadline date!
  4. Pupils on school waiting lists are likely to be given the opportunity to apply first. The local authority commonly controls these lists, contact them to register your child on the list.
  5. In some areas, children can only sit the entrance exams once per calendar year. A second application, submitted within the same year as the previous test, will probably be rejected. (If you’re child sat an 11+  in January 2020, they can’t sit the 12+ until January 2021)

When applications have been accepted, you'll be told the date and location of the test, likely to be at a local grammar school or test centre.

Once all of this is done, all that’s left is to wait for those results. Time taken to receive results varies, the school should let you know when to expect them. For example, looking at Bexley Grammar School admissions page (a London based Independent School), it says results of exam papers will be sent within 2 weeks of taking the test. Whilst results are available to parents, your child’s completed papers are not, unless an appeal is made.

Mother helps her daughter study on a laptop.

Hopefully, you’ve now got to grips with these exams and together with your child you can decide, with confidence, whether taking the test is right for them. Remember, sitting these papers is not the best choice for everyone and that’s just fine, kids achieve success following all sorts of paths.

Good luck!



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