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Entrance to grammar schools in Northern Ireland is via an 11+ exam called the transfer test. There are two types – known as the AQE and the GL.

These two separate tests have been in place since the state-run 11+ exam came to an end in 2008. The AQE’s test is called the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) but is commonly referred to as the AQE. This is used mostly by the controlled (non-denominational) grammar schools. The PPTC’s test is called the GL and is mostly used by Catholic maintained grammar schools.

Some grammar schools (currently seven) accept either test, but most use one or the other (currently 29 for AQE and 27 for GL) so many children take both. Scores use a standardised age score with 100 as the average. There is no catchment area.

AQE – what is it?

This test consists of three assessment papers, taken over three Saturdays, which include both maths and English based questions. Children can sit two or all three papers. In the latter case, the best two scores count. Most children take all three to increase their chances of a higher score. There is a fee to register for the assessment, around £50 (or free if the child is eligible for free school meals).

GL – what is it?

This test consists of two multiple choice maths and English papers, both taken on the same Saturday. Both scores count. There is also a supplementary test paper which can be taken on a separate Saturday. There is no fee to register for the assessment.

Why isn’t there just one test?

In June 2018, BBC News NI reported (link here that proposals for a common transfer test have been agreed by the two organisations, AQE and PPTC. A consultation will now take place, but even if there is agreement, a single test is unlikely to be in operation until at lest 2020 or 2021.

Do all primary school children take the test?

No. Primary school children aged 10 and 11 can choose to sit either test, both tests, or decide not to sit them at all. Every year about 2,000 pupils sit both tests, which can mean they sit five transfer tests on five successive Saturdays.

How can I prepare my child?

It may help to talk to your child’s teacher and you can also get revision booklets and past papers.

What are the key dates?

Registration opens in May and closes in September. Assessments take place in November and December. Results come out at the end of January and the remarking request form submission deadline is around two weeks later. Pupils then use their results to apply to schools in February/March. School allocation happens in May. Check here for exact dates for this year.

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