What to expect from private school entrance exams at different stages of education

What to expect from private school entrance exams at different stages of education

When it comes to entrance exams, most parents have heard of the 11+. But did you know there are entrance exams for other age groups, too? For schools that start in year 9, there’s a 13+ exam, and for some prep schools, children could even be expected to sit a 7+ or 8+ exam.

In this blog post, we’re looking at what entrance exams are like for each age group so you can discover how to prepare your child and give them the best support.

7+ entrance exams for private schools

If you want to enrol your child into a prep school, they might need to sit a 7+ exam before they’re offered a place. These exams usually take place in the January of year 2 for your child, so they’re ready to begin their new school in year 3.

7+ exams are usually focused on maths and English, but schools sometimes look at reasoning skills, too, setting verbal reasoning (sometimes shortened to ‘VR’) and non-verbal reasoning (also known as NVR) tests.

For this age group, think of verbal reasoning tests as word games – crosswords, word ladders and other puzzles will make up the exam. Non-verbal reasoning involves looking for patterns, figuring out logical puzzles, or imagining 3D objects.

A private tutor helping a young child with school work.

How to prepare your child for the 7+

Preparation for the 7+ exam can begin while your child is in year 1. With children at such a young age, it’s important they don’t feel under pressure from exams, so focus on enjoying word games and number puzzles together each day. These will build your child’s confidence and familiarity with the kinds of questions they’ll see in an exam situation so they can feel relaxed and comfortable when they come to sit the test in real life.

To give your child the best chance of passing an entrance exam for prep school 7+ exam papers are available to buy. You could even consider investing in a tutor to help your child achieve their potential in prep school entrance exams.

11+ entrance exams for selective private schools

The 11+ is the most well-known entrance exam because it’s used not only by many private schools, but also by state grammar schools. It’s taken by children in year 6, ready for a school’s intake in year 7 the following Autumn. Depending on the school, exams may take place any time between September and January, so check dates for sign-up with your chosen school early.

The 11+ is not just one exam, but a set of exams. Many private schools use the Common Entrance Exam (CE), but other private schools decide on their own criteria. Typically, children will be tested on a selection of maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, with CE assessments also including a science paper.

In case you’re not familiar with verbal and non-verbal reasoning, take a look at these example papers to get a feel for the kinds of questions your child will be facing. Reasoning papers like these allow the school to find out how your child approaches and address problems – they’re said to be a measure of your child’s potential, rather than what they’ve been taught so far.

It’s worth knowing that some private schools team up in groups by region to hold one common set of exams, sharing the results and offering places to successful applicants accordingly. It means your child doesn’t have to sit a separate set of entrance exams for every school they might like to apply for. Check out the schools in your local area to find out whether they have formed a consortium for entrance exams.

A notebook on a table in an empty classroom.

How to prepare your child for the 11+

If your child goes to a school that naturally feeds into a selective private school, they may get exam practice at their primary school. But for children who are changing school systems by moving from the state to the private education sector, they’re likely to be unfamiliar with this form of testing. If this is the case for your child, it’s helpful to get them some practice papers so they can be prepared and confident when they sit the tests.

Many parents also like to provide their child with private tutoring to make sure they’re ready to prove their potential. Tutoring typically begins up to a year before your child would sit the 11+, and the best tutors get booked up early. Canny parents do their research early and reserve a space for their child in advance.

13+ entrance exams for independent schools

The 13+ exam is sat for private schools whose intake is from year 9. 13+ exams take place when a child is in year 8 and usually include English, maths, science, verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

Since children entering school in year 9 are so close to choosing subjects to study for national exams (GCSEs and equivalent), 13+ entrance exams may also include the independent school’s choice of other subjects. These could include, for example, languages and humanities.

How to prepare your child for the 13+

As with the 11+, it’s important to prepare your child properly for the 13+ exams so they have the best chance of being offered a place at their chosen private school. You can do this by supporting them with practice papers or engaging a private tutor, so they’re familiar with the tests and ready to perform at their best.

What about 8+, 9+, 12+ and 14+ exams?

Aside from the most common 7+, 11+ and 13+ tests, entrance exams for other age groups also exist. These cater for schools that start at a different academic year, or for children wishing to transfer to a school part way through. The 8+ exam, for example, is often used for children who didn’t pass the 7+, but who would like another try at getting into the school of their choice.

Contact your prospective school to find out what additional points they can offer entry into a school, and what to expect from the entrance exam so that your child is well-prepared.

A pupil's hand holding a pencil and filling in a multiple choice exam answer sheet.

Choosing a private school for your child: test results aren’t everything

Preparing a child for entrance exams can be an anxious time for some parents. It can put pressure on children, too. The important thing to remember – and to share with your child – is those entrance exams aren’t about being branded as a success or a failure. Instead, they’re part of finding the right private school to help your child achieve their potential.

If you’re concerned that an entrance exam may not be the best option for your child, there are plenty of excellent independent schools that are not academically selective. These schools focus on the child as a whole, rather than only their academic abilities. As a result, they still help your child to reach their learning potential.

Of course, if you’re considering a private education for your child, a major consideration is whether your family can afford the fees. It would be a shame to invest in tutoring, and put your child under the pressure of sitting an entrance exam, only to find that the cost of the school is out of your family’s reach.

Some parents even assume that they can’t afford independent school fees without having properly understood their financial position. Unfortunately, this means their academically-able child misses out on a top-flight education because of fears or misconceptions.

To make the best decision about your child’s future, we advise parents to undertake thorough financial preparation before making a decision about applying to an independent school. Give us a call to find out how we can help you work out whether a private school is the right choice for your child and your future.