2020 entry testing issues

Can you explain what it means if the test is ‘reliable’?

‘Reliability’ is a standard statistical term that is frequently used to describe tests. It refers to the extent to which scores produced by a test are consistent, dependable and replicable.

In relation to the reliability of this year’s Secondary Transfer Test to determine whether or not a child is suited to a grammar school in Buckinghamshire, our analysis has found that the overall reliability of the test has not been compromised.

The results indicate that both the Verbal Reasoning and English sections score well above 0.80 reliability, which is considered to be very good. (The maximum reliability score is 1.0.) For comparison, in 2019, GCSE English Literature and Language exams had a reliability of 0.52.


What are completion rates?

Completion rates show the proportion of children who reach a specific question in the test, and/or who complete the test as a whole. 


In a normal, timed administration of a test, not all children will complete the test. We have therefore been able to look at how completion rates differ to investigate how children may have been affected by the errors.

As highlighted in GL Assessment’s letter to parents on 1 October, the analysis of this year’s test found that, while the test reliability and completion rates as a whole remain statistically sound, there was evidence that completion rates started to drop during the last six questions of the VR section of the paper. The solution has therefore been based on this evidence.

Does the qualifying score remain the same?

Yes. The qualifying score remains 121.

If you are removing six questions from the Verbal Reasoning section, how can you still have a qualifying score of 121?

A child’s final score is an age-standardised score rather than a raw score. (A raw score is just the total of the correct marks on the papers.) The standardisation process has taken into account the removal of the last six Verbal Reasoning questions in order to maintain the qualifying score at 121.


Standardisation is described on the Buckinghamshire Council website.

Won’t the solution penalise children whose strength is Verbal Reasoning?

No, both because there are a high number of VR questions within the paper so each child will still be able to demonstrate their strengths in VR, and because the weightings of the sections of the test will not be changed. Verbal Skills will continue to have a weighting of 50%.


It is important to reiterate that the independent statistician has looked in detail at how children performed in the Verbal Reasoning section of the paper, taking into account the different conditions under which the children sat the paper (i.e. the children who were advised not to attempt the questions, children who were told part-way through the paper, and children who were not informed). The independent statistician has verified that the outcome of the test, without those questions, is still fair for all children, highly reliable and above the accepted conventions for admissions tests.

How are the different sections of the test weighted?

Each of the three sections within the Transfer Test is standardised separately. The overall standardised score is used to determine which children are deemed suitable for grammar school and is based on the sum of the following:  

  • 50% of the standardised score for the Verbal Skills section

  • 25% of the standardised score for the Mathematical section

  • 25% of the standardised score for the Non-verbal section

Will we still receive the results on Friday 18 October?

Yes, results will still be sent to parents, as planned, on Friday 18 October.

Can I appeal if my child doesn’t reach the qualifying score of 121?

When results are released on 18 October, as in all previous years, you have the option of going to Selection Review or Appeal if your child has not qualified with the score of 121.

The process for review will be exactly the same as in previous years and therefore please note that success at Selection Review or Appeal requires strong academic evidence of grammar school suitability and not just details of extenuating circumstances.

We understand that you may focus upon the testing error. However, with the statistical analysis and solution implementation this will not be sufficient grounds for reviews or appeals on their own. Academic evidence supported by your primary school will be the first port of call in any request for appeal or review.

Could you please explain the process that I would need to go through in order to appeal the decision for my child?

If you feel that there are exceptional reasons for your child not qualifying, the next steps to take following receipt of your child’s results are detailed on the Bucks Council website.


What are the key dates for 2021 entry?

5 May 2020, 3pm - registration opens for parents of children who do not attend a Buckinghamshire LA primary school

25 June 2020, 3pm - registration closes

8 September 2020 - practice test

10 September 2020 - Secondary Transfer Test

16 October 2020 - Secondary Transfer Test results

31 October 2020, 3pm - deadline for secondary school applications

1 March 2021 - National Offer Day

What are the key dates for 2020 entry?

1 May 2019 - registration opens for parents of children who do not attend a Buckinghamshire LA primary school

27 June 2019, 3pm - registration closes

10 September 2019 - practice test

12 September 2019 - Secondary Transfer Test

18 October 2019 - Secondary Transfer Test results

31 October 2019, 3pm - deadline for secondary school applications

1 March 2020 - National Offer Day


What sort of child would be best placed in a grammar school?


The children who are most likely to thrive at grammar are those who:

  • are self-motivated and independent learners

  • display a genuine love of learning, e.g. read avidly for pleasure and choose to read to deepen their understanding of newly acquired knowledge

  • are able to grasp new concepts quickly and can link learning across the curriculum without being prompted

  • have a healthy sense of competition and are resilient enough to make progress alongside other high achieving pupils

  • thrive on high expectations and challenge.

When do parents need to register their children to take the test?

Children attending Buckinghamshire primary schools do not need to be registered. Details of how and when to register are available on the Buckinghamshire Council website along with other useful information for parents about moving up to secondary school in Buckinghamshire and the secondary transfer testing process.


Are children in Buckinghamshire primary schools automatically entered for the test no matter where they live?

Yes, unless parents notify their child’s head teacher that they do not wish their child to take the test.

How many test papers are there?
The Secondary Transfer Test comprises two test papers. One paper includes comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning questions. The other paper includes non-verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning and maths questions. This will be the same each year, although the questions will be different. Children answer questions on separate answer sheets.

​How long does each test paper take?
Each Secondary Transfer Test paper takes about 45 minutes. This means that it can be administered in approximately an hour including the introduction and practice examples.

When is the Secondary Transfer Test taken?
The Secondary Transfer Test is taken in the September of Year 6 and all children sit the test on the same day no matter where they live or go to school.

Are the test papers taken on the same day?

Yes. Both Secondary Transfer Test papers are taken on the same day with a short gap in between.

When do children not attending Buckinghamshire primary schools take the test?

Children not attending Buckinghamshire primary or partner schools take the practice and Secondary Transfer Tests on the same days as children at Buckinghamshire schools.

Where do children attending out-of-county schools take the test?

Children attending out-of-county primary schools take the test at one of the Buckinghamshire grammar schools or at another central location.

How are the tests administered?

Pupils are supervised by a teacher or invigilator. Each child has a question booklet and a separate answer sheet for each test paper. The question booklet contains all the necessary instructions about taking the test and all the test questions. The teacher or invigilator uses a supplied audio file to take the children through the initial example questions and to play the instructions about starting and finishing the test and to time all the sub-sections of the test.

How does TBGS make sure that all schools administer the test in the same way?

In collaboration with Buckinghamshire primary school headteachers, a protocol has been prepared so that all headteachers (Buckinghamshire primary and partner schools) have an agreed standard set of procedures for administering the tests. The use of audio files to administer the test is another way of standardising practice.

What happens if a child is ill on the day of the test or during a test?

Schools have clear instructions about how to deal with such circumstances. If children are unable to take the test, they will be able to do so on a later occasion.

What does the test assess?

Children are tested on verbal, mathematical and non-verbal skills. Verbal skills are tested in the first test paper and include English comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning questions. In the second paper children answer non-verbal, spatial reasoning and maths skills questions. All the questions are multiple-choice.

What is meant by technical English?

Technical English covers English grammar, punctuation and spelling and in the STT children are assessed on the sorts of things they are familiar with from national curriculum work and testing.

Are all test questions equally rated and are all the sections equally weighted?

All the test questions are equally rated (i.e. every correct answer will gain one raw mark). The sections are not equally weighted. The verbal skills section has a weighting of 50%. The mathematical and non-verbal sections each have a weighting of 25%.

What is the rationale behind the weightings in the test?

The Secondary Transfer Test assesses a range of verbal, mathematical and non-verbal skills. The verbal skills areas tested are English comprehension, technical English and verbal reasoning. Non-verbal, spatial reasoning and maths skills are assessed as well. The weightings of the three sections that  make up the Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) are as follows: verbal – 50%; mathematical – 25%; non-verbal – 25%. The weightings indicate the proportion of the test devoted to that skill, and also provide a balanced view of a child’s developed ability.

What allowances are made for children with special educational needs?
Headteachers are able to apply to a Special Access Panel for special arrangements for specific children with special educational needs. For example, there is the opportunity for certain children to be given up to 25% extra time and large print question booklets and answer sheets are available for children with visual impairments.

How can you tell that the test selects the right pupils for grammar school entry?

Tests such as the ones being used for selecting students for entry into Buckinghamshire grammar schools are in common usage across England. As per the Schools Admissions Code, grammar schools select their pupils on the basis of high academic ability, and the tests are designed to achieve this purpose.

Can a child’s performance in other tests such as CATs be compared with the outcomes of the STT?

No. Tests are designed for different purposes and therefore how a child performs in one test does not necessarily correlate or predict similar performance in another different test.

Is the test age appropriate?

The Buckinghamshire STT is designed to be taken at the beginning of the Autumn term when children move in to Year 6.  Literacy levels in the test are kept as low as possible to ensure that the test assesses reasoning ability rather than levels of literacy. Additionally maths or English content in the test does not go beyond what the national curriculum expects children to know and be able to do by the end of Year 5.

Are children able to practise for the test?
Yes. Before taking the Secondary Transfer Test pupils take two practice test papers each lasting about 25-30 minutes containing questions that are similar to those they will encounter in the Secondary Transfer Test. The practice test gives children experience of test-taking conditions as well as giving them the opportunity to work through example test material. The practice test papers are not be marked or taken home from the school. The Secondary Transfer Test includes instructions given aurally and the practice test also familiarises children with listening to instructions from an audio file.

How can parents best help their children to prepare for the test?
There are a number of things that parents can do to help their children. They can:

  • ensure that they have experience of working quietly on their own, uninterrupted by noise or distractions;

  • ensure that they do any homework that is set;

  • help their children to read with understanding, for example by asking them what certain words mean and what is happening in the passage or book that they are reading;

  • encourage them to solve problems by themselves or to look up things for themselves;

  • work through the familiarisation materials that will be available in the summer term of Year 5 with their children as these will show what the test papers and answer sheets look like;

  • use the free familiarisation materials available on the GL Assessment website.

Are tutoring and coaching required?

The Secondary Transfer Test is designed to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without the need for coaching or excessive preparation. Primary and partner schools that undertake testing on behalf of the grammar schools are asked not to tutor or coach children in their school prior to the test over and above enabling the children to follow the national curriculum relevant for their age.

In order to be able to prepare children appropriately for the STT, parents of children in Year 5 are provided with a familiarisation booklet in the summer term so that they can familiarise children with how the test papers will look. All children are also encouraged to prepare by taking the practice test so that they have the experience of taking a test under similar conditions to the STT. Additional free familiarisation materials are also available on GL Assessment’s website should parents wish to use them.

How much preparation do children need to do?

TBGS supports the view of GL Assessment that all children should have the opportunity to experience sample questions as part of the familiarisation process and that this is an essential element of a fair testing process. This is why we provide familiarisation materials for parents and children ahead of the STT and also have a practice test.

To support this process, GL Assessment has also published a series of free 11+ familiarisation materials, which parents are welcome to download from the GL Assessment website. The familiarisation papers cover verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and maths. GL Assessment has also published free parents’ guides for both VR and NVR, which you can also download from their website.

Views about the amount of preparation needed vary considerably, however we believe that the materials highlighted above will provide a useful degree of familiarisation for all children.

How representative of the Bucks test are the free materials available on GL Assessment's website?

The types of question used in the Bucks STT will vary each year and will include a range of question types including some that may be included in the free materials.  Parents of Year 5 children are provided with familiarisation materials specific to the Buckinghamshire test in the summer term and should use those with their children. There is no requirement to use the free materials provided by GL Assessment which comprise a selection of question types that appear in tests that they provide for various grammar schools and local authorities around the country not all of which may be included in the Buckinghamshire test.

Why does GL Assessment sell practice tests if they are not a necessary part of test preparation?

In addition to the free familiarisation materials mentioned above, GL Assessment has developed a comprehensive range of further practice papers, in case parents/children would like to do more.


How are the tests marked?
Children answer questions on separate answer sheets which are then machine-marked (scanned).

Do children have marks deducted for incorrect answers?

No. Children are awarded marks for correct answers. Marks are not deducted for incorrect answers.

What is the pass mark?
The test does not have a pass mark. Instead there is a qualifying score for admission to grammar school. The qualifying score for Buckinghamshire grammar schools is a Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) of 121 or above. The STTS is calculated by age-standardising the three section scores and then adding them using the following weightings:  verbal – 50%; mathematical – 25%; non-verbal – 25%.  The total is the STTS.

Why is age standardisation needed?

The purpose of the age standardisation process is to eradicate age differences among the children to ensure younger children are not disadvantaged.

Does it matter what score a child gets?

To qualify in the Buckinghamshire Secondary Transfer Test a child needs to achieve a Secondary Transfer Test Score (STTS) of 121 or above.When applying their admission rules grammar schools do not use STTS scores to rank order children so children with higher scores are not at an advantage for entry to grammar school. Grammar school entry is entirely dependent on whether or not a score of 121 has been achieved. Beyond requiring a qualification score of 121 or above each grammar school sets its own criteria for admissions (please refer to each individual grammar school’s admission policy for details).

Must a child achieve the qualifying score of 121 in both test papers or just one?

A child’s final Secondary Transfer Test score (STTS) takes account of the marks from both test papers.

Is a child’s score from the Buckinghamshire Secondary Transfer Test transferable to another authority?


When are results available?

Results are communicated to parents before they have to submit their child’s secondary school application, i.e. before 31 October. The exact date will be published in advance each year.

Where do parents go for further information?


Further information about the testing arrangements is available on the Buckinghamshire Council website.

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