City Of London School For Boys: Admissions & Entrance Exam Advice (10+ & 11+)

How To Get Into City Boys’

City of London School For Boys entrance exam, 11+ & 10+
Robert Lomax
Robert is a teacher and educational author. His books and online materials are popular in the UK and internationally. For a full biography, click here.
PLEASE NOTE: This article is a few years old and needs updating, so it may contain some inaccurate information.

City of London School For Boys is unusual because the first entry point is in Year 6 (“Old Grammar”, as they call it), with children taking a 10-plus entrance exam and interview in Year 5. Around 40 boys join at this stage. Most of the rest start in Year 7, after sitting 11-plus papers. In this article I’ll give my advice for the exams and interviews at both levels, setting out everything you need to know in order to give your child the best chance of success.

Although I won’t discuss 13-plus specifically here, my recommendations are still very relevant.

The entry processes at 10-plus and 11-plus are very similar, as are the exams. Almost all my advice for one level will also apply to the other.

Please bear in mind that admissions information such as key dates can change. What’s more, my knowledge of the entrance exams is based on past years’ papers, and I cannot predict the future. A broad, skills-based 10+/11+ preparation is always the wisest approach – rather than cramming for a specific style of exam.



The deadline for applications is in November of Year 5. There is a registration fee. You can apply online here.

English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning exams are held in early January.

High-performing candidates are called for an interview in late January.


The deadline for applications is in November of Year 6. There is a registration fee. Be aware that applications for bursaries (financially supported places) have a slightly earlier deadline. You can apply online here.

Only bursary applicants take a computerised pre-test in late November.

English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning exams are held in mid January.

High-performing candidates are called for an interview in mid February.

At both levels, City will seek written references from your child’s current school.


Scholarships for academic, musical and sporting ability are offered at both 10+ and 11+ entry points.

The amounts of money involved are small: the awards are offered as a badge of achievement, and of potential. (They are also a way in which City Boys’ can incentivise the most outstanding applicants to join them, rather than another school!)

Having said that, music scholars also receive free instrumental tuition. This can add up to a considerable sum of money across a student’s school career.

Academic scholarships are based on performance in the ordinary entrance exam and interview.

Music scholarships are based on an audition.

Sports scholarships are assessed through trial sessions.

The Entrance Exams

The exams at 10-plus and 11-plus have historically been very similar in style. I’ll talk about them together, and only refer to one exam or the other when there is a specific difference which needs explaining.

The 10+ exam is at a similar level to many independent school 11+ exams. The 11+ exam sits somewhere between an orthodox 11+ and 13+.

The fact that the comprehension exams are multiple-choice means that they lie slightly outside the independent school norm.

The City Boys’ English Exams

As I’ve already mentioned, the 10-plus and 11-plus exams for City of London Boys’ are very similar, and this is especially true for the English exam. Everything I write here applies to both levels, except where I say otherwise.

You can find a 10-plus English past paper here, and an 11-plus paper here.

Reading Comprehension

This is a tricky multiple-choice paper, based on a text which (at least in the 11+ paper) is more challenging than those set by many schools.

In particular, the passage is often quite long, containing lengthy paragraphs and complex sentences and involving vocabulary which is likely to be unfamiliar.

However, there is quite a lot of time available: 25 questions in 30 minutes in the past papers linked above.

This means that the first stage is to read the text very carefully. The first time they read it, the student should underline anything which they don’t fully understand. Then they should review these underlined phrases: now that they have an overall knowledge of the text, they will be in a position to work out what many of them mean.

I strongly advise that students do not read the questions before they read the passage. If they already have the questions in mind, they will be drawn to the obvious answers in the text … which may not be the right ones!

It’s only through a careful reading of the whole text that a student will be able to avoid the pitfall traps which lurk beneath many multiple-choice questions.

A good example is in Question 1 of the 11+ specimen paper.

If a student has already read the question, in which options A and D use the word “boasting”, their heart will start thumping with elation when they see the word “boasting” in the first sentence of the passage: they are likely to choose A or D.

However, by reading the rest of the paragraph carefully, they will realise that the correct answer is in fact B, which does not mention boasting at all.

Another important piece of advice for multiple-choice English work is that students should return to the passage before answering each question. They should never rely on their memory of the text! Waltzing through the questions without re-checking the passage often causes very capable children to screw up badly in this style of 11+ exam.

Beyond this, the most important skill is elimination of wrong answers. This way, students can focus on the responses which are at least possible. By narrowing their search, they will be able to analyse the relevant part of the text more closely, with fewer options to bear in mind as they do so. If they end up having to guess, their odds will be significantly better with two options left than with four!

For example, the first question of the 10+ specimen asks whether the children are excited, confused, afraid or bored at the start of the passage.

“Bored” is clearly wrong and can be crossed out immediately. “Afraid” needs a bit of thought because it isn’t implausible; but there is no evidence to support it, so it too can be crossed out. After this, the student is able to focus properly on “excited” and “confused”, reaching a judgement about which word matches the situation most closely.

A useful extra strategy for multiple-choice comes from the fact that every question is worth the same number of marks. This means that there is no point spending five minutes on a single 1-mark question, and missing 10 marks elsewhere in the exam because you run out of time. Children need to be ruthless about skipping questions which are likely to waste time, and returning to them at the end of the exam.

11 Plus Lifeline includes many papers in the City of London style, and includes fully explained solutions which teach multiple-choice technique step by step. It also covers the creative writing and maths skills discussed later in this article.

Manchester Grammar school has a good number of multiple-choice papers on their website, which are helpful for the City of London Boys’ School exams because they are difficult and well constructed. There are some differences in format, but they still offer useful practice.

Creative Writing

Both papers typically ask you to continue the story in the comprehension passage.

This kind of task requires a particular thought process, which it is worth your child practising in their writing:

Who are the main characters? What are their traits and their habits of speech? These need to be continued from the text into your child’s writing, so that there is no sense that a stranger has occupied a character’s body!

Similarly, what is the style and mood of the passage? For example, what sort of vocabulary is used, how is speech written (and how much), and how are sentences structured? These things are a little less crucial than my points about character: there is nothing wrong with the student taking their own approach, but within sensible limits. Their writing style should make sense as a continuation of the text, even if it is clearly a continuation by a slightly different hand.

What direction was the plot taking at the point where the passage ended? There is no reason to continue in line with a reader’s expectation; but on the other hand, expectations shouldn’t be overturned in ways which don’t fit with the tone of the story, and which may accidentally be comical. For instance, an alien landing in a Dickens novel would be no more likely to persuade a marker than would a mafia drive-by shooting in Jane Austen. (If these examples seem ridiculous to you, they will have a ring of familiarity to anybody who has marked as many children’s stories as I have!)

It’s always important to read the rubric on an exam paper carefully, because it gives information about how the task will be marked.

The City of London School For Boys past papers for 10-plus and 11-plus have the same wording:

You should spend around 30 minutes on this section. 

You do not have to finish the story: quality over quantity is preferred. 

You are being assessed on your ability to: 

Write using accurate sentences, spelling and punctuation; 

Develop a realistic, well‐paced story; 

Write engagingly to interest the reader. 

The most useful thing I can do here is discuss each of the points above in turn.

1) “You should spend about 30 minutes on this section”

This is typical for an 11-plus or 10-plus writing test.

Bearing in mind that it is wise to spend up to 5 minutes planning an answer, and a similar time checking it at the end, this leaves around 20 minutes of actual writing time.

Planning time shouldn’t be neglected.

It may seem that planning eats up exam time which could be spent writing an excellent answer. However, without a good plan a student will have to stop and think about their plot after each paragraph, and perhaps after each sentence. A plan tells you where to go, allowing you to keep writing. 5 minutes spent planning can be equivalent to saving 10 minutes of time in the exam.

However, this is not an invitation to create a complex and detailed plan!

The best plans are extremely simple. A good exam story will have one significant plot event. Really, just one.

In the time available, there is only space – if a student is describing effectively – to build tension and interest towards a single event, do justice to it, and give a sense of the aftermath.

Exam stories with multiple plot points almost always score badly.

When reviewing their work, students need to read as though out loud: they are most likely to spot errors and things to improve if they can hear the story in their head.

In the exam, they will have to read silently. However, the best way to train this style of reading is always to read their work out loud when they practise at home.

2) “You do not have to finish the story – quality over quantity is preferred.”

Of course, an 11+ story which is excellent and has an effective ending will score better than a similarly excellent piece of writing which is incomplete.

However, the examiners are giving a clear indication here that their intention is to find the best writers – those children who can use English as a tool to interest and influence their readers.

The implication of this statement (a lesson which, by the way, applies to any 11+ or 10+ creative writing exam) is that the markers are looking to reward effective decriptive writing, which uses powerful images and intelligently chosen vocabulary, which shows insight about characters’ personalities, and which is well punctuated.

For some advice about how to do this, please see the relevant sections in my articles about St Paul’s Girls’, Dulwich College and King Edward’s School Birmingham, and my overview of important 11+ creative writing techniques.

3) “Write using accurate sentences, spelling and punctuation” 

This is important, but it is worth bearing in mind that a completely accurate piece of writing which doesn’t interest or impress the examiner will not score highly.

On the other hand, an intelligent and imaginative story will score well – even if it contains a fair number of English mistakes.

In other words, a certain amount of risk-taking is worth it.

The most important thing is that any mistakes don’t make the story hard to read: that they don’t distract from the quality of your child’s writing.

For this reason, punctuation is often more important than spelling.

Spelling mistakes will lose marks, but it is easy for an examiner to look at them separately: “This sentence is excellent, although the spelling mistake may reduce the candidate’s overall score”.

On the other hand, poorly structured sentences with weak punctuation are profoundly distracting. A reader is less likely to notice the quality of the ideas in a sentence if they are badly arranged.

For this reason, significant errors in punctuation tend to lose more than just grammar marks at 11+: they detract from every aspect of the writing.

If this is a weak area for your child, it is something to focus on now.

4) “Develop a realistic, well‐paced story”

I’ve already said a few things about this above.

Without covering the same ground in detail again:

Make sure that the story is developed in a way which naturally continues the original text;

Focus on one plot point, and give it the attention it merits;

Leave the gunslinging aliens at home.

5) “Write engagingly to interest the reader” 

This is the most important instruction.

For advice about how to write engagingly, please see the links to my other creative writing articles, listed a few paragraphs above. But above all else, practise!

This video shows how to use my 11+ exam preparation resources most effectively.

I recommend watching it with the sound on. You can also choose to view it in fullscreen mode.

There’s more information about my resources on the 11 Plus Lifeline page. 

The City Boys’ Maths Exams

The City Boys’ School maths exams for 10-plus and 11-plus are similar to many 11-plus maths papers for independent schools, but in different ways.

The 10-Plus Maths Paper

You can view a past paper here.

The 10-plus exam is likely to be 45 minutes long. Its level is equivalent to many ‘standard’ 11-plus papers. In other words, it is similar to the ISEB exams and to those set by schools such as The Queen’s School, Chester and The Royal Grammar School, Newcastle (to name only two of many).

The important things here are to have a strong knowledge of the primary school maths curriculum, with a focus on core skills (paper calculation methods, fractions, averages, simple probability, and so on), and to be familiar with the common 11-plus maths exam question styles.

Rather than repeating advice which I have given elsewhere, I recommend having a look at the maths advice in my other school guides where the exams are close to this level – particularly those linked just above.

The 11-Plus Maths Paper

The 11-plus exam is trickier (a past paper is here). It is difficult, compared to most other maths papers at this level.

The papers published by St Paul’s Girls’ School and Habs’ Boys’ have some similarities.

The reason why this test is hard is that, although still based on the primary (KS2) curriculum, it sometimes requires children to apply their knowledge logically and creatively, in contexts which may be unfamiliar.

The first half (roughly) of the paper is fairly standard, testing core skills, but then it becomes more thought-provoking.

Sometimes the added difficulty is only slight. For example, Question 11 in the sample paper is a fairly standard question about the areas of two rectangles, but part (ii) requires you to add the areas and then subtract the overlapping area once. The logic is simple, but it isn’t likely to be something which a child has studied specifically.

On the other hand, questions such as 19 and 22 are likely not to have been covered by your child’s school. The student needs to take their knowledge of prime numbers (for Question 19) or of multiples/fractions (Question 22) and find a way to apply it efficiently.

A saving grace is that the paper is not unduly long. An hour is allowed, and this is a reasonable length of time to complete the tasks without rushing (although it isn’t enough to linger on any one question).

I could go into a lot of detail about the sort of thought processes required here, and how they can be developed. However, I’m not sure that this sort of theorising is especially helpful.

The most useful thing your child can do is to practise with this style of paper. The materials available through 11 Plus Lifeline are ideally matched to the City Boys’ maths test, and cover a wide range of similar questions.

Verbal Reasoning & Non-Verbal Reasoning

There isn’t an enormous amount to be said about Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning preparation. 11 Plus Lifeline offers possibly the most comprehensive reasoning course available. Do regular (but not time-consuming) work, not rushing, and focus on developing exam technique as much as on the questions themselves.

Because I have written about this elsewhere, I recommend having a look at this article, this one and this one, which go through some of the key ideas for VR preparation.

At the time of writing, Non-Verbal Reasoning is only set for the City 11+ exam: not the 10+.

The schools don’t publish past papers for these topics, but don’t let that worry you: if you practise steadily with my resources, your child will have covered all the main question types which are likely to come up.

The Interview

The school’s website says that “no specific preparation is required or expected for the interview”. This is very carefully worded. It suggests that, unlike many other schools, City of London School For Boys recognise that a degree of general preparation can be valuable for some children.

If children receive no help before an interview, confident talkers flourish, and others lose out. This isn’t desirable for your child, or for the school.

What you absolutely must not do is help your child to prepare ‘ready-made’ answers to certain likely questions. Some adults can do this effectively before job interviews, but 10 or 11-year old children are extremely likely to give themselves away – with very damaging consequences for their chances.

Instead, there are a few things you can focus on talking through (and possibly practising a little) with your child, which will help them to show themselves at their best.

1) It’s very helpful if your son has a clear idea of what he likes about the school, with ideas which go beyond the generic “it’s very academic” or “I like sports”.

What are the specific qualities of City Boys’ which make it more attractive to him than any other school? It can be useful to talk through the open day you attended, and perhaps sit down together and rummage the school’s website, so that he has a clear sense of what most excites him.

2) Step 1 may well also turn up some questions which your child would like to ask in the interview. I wouldn’t invent these artificially, but if he is curious to know more about something, the interviewer will be delighted to discuss it with him.

What’s more, this is a good opportunity for candidates to demostrate that they have an enquiring mind.

If your child asks a question, they should ideally be prepared to ask a follow-up if appropriate, engaging in a short conversation.

3) Many children believe that their task is simply to give correct answers: they feel that they have done their job if a question can be accurately dispatched with a “yes” or a “no”.

However, a good interview is a discussion – a conversation – rather than a list of questions and answers. It’s an opportunity for your child to talk. They need to get into the habit of giving examples to back up their points, so that they explain them fully.

4) Your son will help himself give a good impression if he can get used to sitting confidently with both feet on the floor, and without fiddling. This is easier said than done, especially under the pressure of a real interview! While it is worth practising, it isn’t something to worry about unduly.

5) A very popular 11-plus (and 10-plus) interview question is about a child’s recent reading. Don’t make them read Flaubert in the week before the interview. Do encourage them to think intelligently about what they have really read, even if it’s Harry Potter!

In particular, it’s always impressive when people can create comparisons with other books, films, songs etc., rather than talking about a thing in isolation. It’s also useful if they have some thoughts about the characters, themes and setting of the books they have read.

6) If they are given a maths question or a short text to talk about in the interview, this should be nothing to worry about. They passed the exam, so they have already demonstrated that they are intelligent enough for City of London Boys’. Instead, the question is there so that they can show their thought processes.

In other words, they need to take the interviewer through their reasoning – even if they get stuck, or don’t end up at the right answer. What they mustn’t do is sit in silent thought, then blurt out their answer after a minute!

If you found this post useful or have a question, please leave a comment below! I’d love to have your feedback. (Tick the “Receive email updates” box to receive an email when I reply.)

For the most comprehensive range of resources to help with preparation for the City Of London School For Boys 10+ and 11+ exams, you might like to try 11 Plus Lifeline (with a money-back guarantee in the first month). Every practice paper has full example solutions, with a detailed discussion and explanation for every question – like being taught by an excellent private tutor.

According to Tutorful, it’s “the gold standard for independent and grammar school 11-plus preparation”.

If you’d like further advice about DIY 11-plus preparation, my free video series gives some helpful pointers, and comes with an extensive set of free RSL practice papers, example answers and solutions:


  1. rashmita

    Great information and advice.

    • Robert

      Thank you! I’m very glad to hear that it’s useful.

      • KRajora

        Thank you so much for sharing this article full of suggestions and advice.

        • Robert

          I’m glad it’s useful!

  2. Yasmin

    This article is very useful and informative. Thank you

    • Robert

      Thank you for taking the time to say so! The best of luck to you and your child.

  3. ML

    Thank you Robert, fab tips! your creative writing tips are the best I have come across. Every 11+ family needs RSL.

    • Robert

      Thank you!

  4. Paola

    Very useful advice.
    We have your RSL 11+ Comprehension papers: they are very good, extremely useful, with excellent explanations. My son loves working with them!

    • Robert

      Thank you for your kind words about my book. I’m also glad that the article has helped.

  5. Marielle

    Thank you so much for such comprehensive and concise information. It’s hugely appreciated at the start of trying to navigate this process

    • Robert

      Thanks for commenting. I’m very glad to hear that the article was useful!

  6. Yewande Abiola

    I really found this useful, the 10+ exam is a few weeks away and I am much more nervous than my child.

    Ultimately, what I have come to realise is even if he doesn’t score highly on the exam and get into that “perfect” school, the process in itself has been invaluable.

    • Robert

      I’m delighted to hear it. That’s exactly the message I want to communicate to parents and their children: that 11+/10+ preparation can be an enormously valuable experience in its own right. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Celine

    Good evening Robert,

    I am so glad to find this wed site and it’s very useful! Can I ask a question, if we apply for 10+ and he did not get in , can we still able to apply for 11+?

    Many thanks !

      • Bhavina patel

        I really found this useful, the 10+ exam is a few weeks away and I am much more nervous than my child.
        Ultimately, what I have come to realise is even if he doesn’t score highly on the exam and get into that “perfect” school, the process in itself has .

        I ask a question, if we apply for 10+ and he did not get in , can we still able to apply for 11+?

        Many Thanks.

        • Robert

          Hi Bhavina. Schools’ policies will differ on this. The best thing is to get in touch with the school you are interested in and ask them directly. Good luck! Robert

  8. Vimal S

    Hi Robert,
    Very interesting and useful info. My son is preparing for 10+. Approximately, what is the pass percentage to clear the tests? And does CLS have group discussion?
    Thanks for your help.

    • Robert

      I don’t know what percentages will be needed, but this is partly because there is no set percentage. They have a certain number of places available, and depending on how hard the exam is in a given year, it will take a lower or higher percentage score to be part of this group.

      In general, a child should probably be getting over 80% in practice tests of exam-equivalent difficulty (when the exam is near) to have some chance, and marks nearer to 85 or 90% will give a stronger likelihood of success.

      • Vimal s

        Thanks Robert.

  9. Lyndall Davey

    Thanks for your invaluable advice (which has led me to modify my methods as an English teacher/tutor in various constructive ways). Using a slightly edited version as an example of an “advice text” for students to analyse and summarize could kill several birds with one stone . Are you happy for me to do this?

    • Robert

      Do you mean an edited version of this article? If so, yes, go ahead – but please include a clear statement of where the original text came from. Thank you for asking.

  10. Anastasia

    Amazing!!!! Thank you very much!!!

    • Robert


  11. Rebecca Taub

    Thank you for being generous with your knowledge, experience and insight.

    • Robert

      Thank you for such a kind comment!


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