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This article was written by a parent whose children gained 7+ and 11+ entry to St. Paul’s Juniors (formerly Colet Court) and King’s College Wimbledon. It’s packed with honest and valuable insight into the preparation, examination and interview process, and contains plenty of practical wisdom and advice. If you are planning for your child to sit a competitive entrance exam, this article should prove beneficial.
Our family has made it through two fairly onerous Christmas periods preparing for the arduous 7+, 10+ and 11+ exams, and with a measure of sanity intact! I wanted to share our experiences and hopefully help other parents in a similar position. The positive news is all that time and effort invested is worthwhile; however, it requires commitment and focus from willing participants. I aim to be very detailed in this article as I benefited a lot from hearing about other people’s experiences. Some parts may not be relevant to you, so can be glossed over. However, I hope you will find something in my ‘thesis’ valuable for you and your child if embarking on this journey.
With the 7+ (and 8+ exams), I would recommend making a rational judgement as to whether your child is truly ready for the experience. I’ve seen and heard about boys in these age groups panicking, crying, even vomiting before or during these exams. Even more worrying is seeing worked up parents actually pushing kids into examination classrooms; it’s heart-breaking.
My older son, Ned, was definitely not ready for either the 7+ or 8+ selection process and as he was at a school that finished at eleven, we felt no rush. On the other hand, my younger son, George, has a very different personality; he is quite mature for his age, confident, pretty resilient and very competitive. He was 100% ready and super keen.
George was at the same school as Ned, where they don’t prepare for the 7+, unlike many other schools, where a significant pool of boys taking these very competitive exams come from, did. George’s teacher was supportive and set him some more advanced work and homework.
However, as candidates are required to be at least a year (I’d heard even two years) ahead of the National Curriculum, we decided to find a tutor for George who was experienced in understanding exactly what he needed to learn. She understood the 7+ process across many key schools which was invaluable. We didn’t want to overdo it, but wanted to make him confident and secure in his abilities.
So for about nine months George had an hour of tutoring a week during term-time before the 7+ exams. This was definitely helpful. It kept him focused, engaged and provided us with feedback, but I knew as the exam dates started to loom, we needed to do more on the weekends and during the holidays too. I’d heard of children having tutoring several nights during the week for two hour sessions or doing three hours on a Saturday morning in small targeted groups…and some of these kids were at schools that DID prepare for 7+. We didn’t want to do that.
There is a plethora of 7+ materials out there, it can be daunting. My saviour was stumbling across the Exam Papers Plus website. They know exactly what these schools’ expectations are and the type of questions that candidates will come up against in maths, literacy and reasoning. Their practice papers are spot on. In the beginning it can be overwhelming as there is a lot of material to work through. I’d recommend commencing the papers around four to six months before D-Day. I didn’t worry about timing him at the start, we worked up to this. Having the answers is also an extra bonus for parents!
George did every single EPP 7+ paper available as well as Bond papers at home for extra VR and NVR practice. Maths was his strength, so I focused more on literacy and reasoning. The objective was not to overdo it on weekends and in the school holidays, so I made up a plan of attack based on what I knew he could deal with, ensuring we’d cover off the necessary areas over a reasonable timeframe. George is conscientious, quite disciplined and very competitive, traits that come in handy for 7+ preparation. He was keen to see his marks progress on an upward trajectory and for the most part buckled down when required. He was still a little boy though who had a life outside of this, so I had to be realistic. Some days he just wasn’t in the mood and we’d skip that day. Time was on our side and I didn’t want him to burn-out.
The other key aspect behind his success, other than the EPP papers, was the EPP mock exams.I cannot recommend these highly enough. George did a few other mocks during the year but they were not challenging or relevant enough (for the schools he was going for). The EPP 7+ mock exams were well timed, starting in the latter part of the year. They best simulate the actual exams these schools will dish up on the day, not just in terms of the content, but more importantly, in the disciplined exam environment and timings.
Doing an exam for the first time, and at such a young age can be unnerving, so this experience was great preparation. If possible I’d recommend doing as many as there are available. George did three mocks sprinkled between late November and early January. I discovered they book up quickly so you need to get onto it fast to secure a place. Feedback from the mocks is provided very quickly, is detailed and highly valuable. With George’s current school situation I didn’t have a true indication of where he sat amongst the fierce competition, so this was useful as a benchmark.
The calibre of children sitting EPP mocks is generally high (these are obviously families in the know), so as the feedback included not only George’s scores but the average and range of the group across each subject, we could build a realistic picture of where he actually sat. The highly personalised feedback pinpointed areas he needed to work on. His scores improved with each mock, which further built his confidence and gave me comfort that we weren’t being delusional. Time and money well spent!
George only did two 7+ exams, Kings College School (KCS) and Colet Court (now St Paul’s Juniors). Logistics, perceived fit and a bit of gut feel helped shape these choices. He originally preferred KCS but after a second visit to St. Paul’s Juniors (SPJ) this switched; maybe it was the green space, the close proximity to home and a bit of an instinct for him.
When it came to the first step for KCS exam and interview in late October, George was as ready as he could be. We had done some prep at home, all the basics (eg about hobbies, why KCS, his favourite book etc.) They did the interview in pairs, and he was with a boy from Squirrels. George is good at downloading details of interviews, exams and so on to me afterwards. We could never have predicted the type of material they covered. It included a lot of hypothetical questions with no right or wrong answer. A few examples included:
“Would you rather be born with an elephant trunk or a giraffe’s neck?”“From now on would you rather be able to shout or to whisper?”, “Would you rather be three foot tall or eight foot tall”? Not any we prepared for at home! Clearly the boys needed to have a rational response they could back-up, there was no right or wrong answer. He was also shown a picture of a family getting ready to go on holiday and asked questions requiring inference. The favourite book question did come up however, but as a twist, he was asked to describe it using only three adjectives. They asked the boys what their parents did for a living. (Not sure why George mentioned my frequent visits to Starbucks!?)
George enjoyed the activity day at KCS in November following the interview. I know there were some cutting exercises using scissors and some maths games. KCS was his first 7+ exam in early January. (This exam now takes place in December). My take-away was they were focused on literacy with a fair amount of inference required. The composition was a picture of a small boy by a railway station with a scooter, on which the boys had to base their story. Through our storywriting prep at home, we had a checklist of what George needed to include eg lots of description, adverbs, use of dialogue, similes, strong endings, mix of short and longer sentences, and NOT to use the ‘s’ word, ie ‘said’. I had made up cards for adjectives, adverbs, alternatives to the word ‘said’, similes, type of punctuation to use. These were gold. George told me he wrote a full page for his story (the boys were told they weren’t allowed to go over a page).
One of EPP’s 7+ literacy packs I’d bought provided a whole range of essay topics which was great, as it meant he could write a variety of stories, whilst putting to use everything we’d talked about that needed to go into a story…..back to the cards. Children sometimes regurgitate stories in an exam even if not completely relevant to the topic. I believe variety and creativity is key so they are prepared to answer any question that comes up.
George’s experience at St Paul’s Junior was different. There was no activity day and after the exam, interviews were only offered to 80 boys who scored highly enough in the written papers. George found the exam easier than KCS, especially the literacy part, which included a multiple-choice comprehension. The story was also based on a picture, a box. George came out of the SPJ exam absolutely buzzing. A good sign!
We received a phone call the next day, a Saturday, to say he had an interview which was exciting. That interview was with four other boys and the Headmaster. He involved them all in the questions. He asked what they liked to do outside of school and if they had seen anything in the news recently that interested them. George jumped at that thanks to my older son mentioning only the day before some news about Tim Peake and his trip to the International Space Station.
The group of boys then disappeared for about an hour with two teachers to do some maths and literacy activities. I’m sure their interaction in a group situation was observed. Whilst that went on, parents were either in a meeting with the Headmaster or sitting in the conference room with the other parents and a few older SPJ boys to answer any questions we might have. My meeting (husband was away) with the Headmaster was very casual and I found him and the experience encouraging. Despite having only about 15 minutes with George and the four other boys, he seemed to have him pegged, in a good way. So all in all, it was a positive experience.
His hard work and determination paid off. George was offered places at both King’s and St. Paul’s Juniors. We loved both schools but due to logistics, the green space, his preference and our overall gut feel, we chose St. Paul’s Juniors It wasn’t easy giving up a place at KCS, but he could only go to one school. We were and are immensely proud of him and all his efforts!
George started SPJ last September and is absolutely thriving. People often have preconceived ideas about the school. It is academic and challenging but in a good way. These boys are there because they have proved themselves and want to be there. I’ve found it a busy but happy environment. I have met a lot of lovely parents and families from all walks of life. Some boys travel quite a distance to be there, even the younger ones. There is so much on offer across a broad spectrum for all boys and this creates a real buzz. The school wants boys to skip into school every day and drag their feet at home time; that’s my son and he loves it! I believe George’s natural curiosity, maturity, confidence and potential helped him secure a place at a school perfect for him.
My older son Ned was a different story. His grades had been improving over the years and he had become a strong mathematician. He’s mature for his age but much quieter than his younger brother and quite self-contained. Ned’s also a very sporty boy, whereas George is much more of an all-rounder. I would say he’s quietly confident and competitive and was ready when he sat the 10+ deferred exam at Hampton School in Year 5.
He prepared by doing the EPP 10+ papers which were extremely helpful.
Unfortunately at the time EPP didn’t offer a 10+ mock exam, but he did a few others elsewhere which helped to prepare him for the exam environment. He handled the Hampton exam very calmly and came out of it quite happy. It was a very maths-focused exam. There was no interview at 10+ deferred. Ned was offered a place at Hampton for entry into Yr7 in 2017 and we were all delighted. He was feeling quite confident, but on reflection, maybe a little too content.
That exam was in November, his next 10+ exam at KCS was in the following January. He was a bit over the study by this stage, and it was a little tricky to fire him up; and having such a big break between the exams was unfortunate. This period was stressful, as George was also preparing for the 7+ exams and Christmas just sort of came and went. Ned really liked Hampton, especially the sporting aspect, so he wasn’t as disciplined preparing for KCS 10+, he knew he already had a Hampton place in his ‘back-pocket’ and dropped the ball a bit.
Ned did the 10+ activity day and exam (a few days apart) at KCS in early January. When he came out of the exam with glazed eyes I knew it wasn’t a good sign. The comprehension proved difficult for him. I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t get an interview and the feedback confirmed his literacy, notably the comprehension, let him down. He hadn’t answered questions worth a significant amount of marks. In hindsight he probably shouldn’t have sat this exam, they only take a small handful of boys. It was a lesson learnt. However looking back it was the best possible outcome for him (more on that later).
To this day I believe securing the Hampton 10+ place was one of the best outcomes for Ned, it really built his confidence. His Headteacher was still keen for him to sit other schools and prepare for the 11+ as part of his Yr 6 cohort and we agreed. What else would he do for the next nine months? It was hard to get motivated, as I still felt drained from the 7+/10+ combo and Ned was happy to go to Hampton in Yr 7 and have no more exam prep. However, we wanted to keep him driven and engaged, so agreed he would only do three schools for the 11+: Hampton 11+ for an academic scholarship, (even if he had a bad day his 10+ deferred spot was 100% secure);.St Paul’s Juniors’ 11+, (with George there, the logistics made sense); and he’d try KCS again.
11+ Experience – The Finale
Ned’s school obviously did prepare them at 11+ and he had a lot of school homework to do so we needed to be efficient with what we did at home. As literacy was his weaker subject, he needed to put more focus on his stories and comprehension responses. His marks were steadily improving at school, but we also enlisted the help of a tutor, an hour a week during term time, focusing on literacy.
The tutor and Ned clicked and I think she really helped strengthen his English. We also worked at home on weekends and in the holidays, around his school workload, on maths, English and reasoning. We probably spent about 55-60% of time on English. I made up a study plan which he stuck to quite well. We made up a checklist for his literacy, more sophisticated than that used for George. It included examples of strong descriptive words, similes, metaphors, juxtaposition, alliteration, onomatopoeia and more.
I encouraged him to read a range of books to help further build his vocabulary. I purchased all the relevant EPP 11+ papers, some very challenging but also very relevant. We used past papers from Manchester Grammar and Dulwich College, which are available online. Ned did the two available EPP 11+ mocks, again very challenging and even though his results were not as good as we’d hoped for, it was beneficial to see where he sat amongst the bright group of 11+ candidates. We had to remind ourselves it was all relative.
In mid-December Ned attended a full day at KCS to try out for a sports scholarship. He is a very sporty boy, a strong all-rounder, but most skilled in cricket and football. The day consisted of playing many different sports, some he’s not played much of (eg rugby), timed sprints and agility tests. It was his idea of heaven!
I was told they also look for future potential. There is no limit to sports scholar awardees, BUT each boy needs to pass the academic exam. There were 73 boys in total. Ned was very keen to do it, and we thought in a very competitive and bright bunch of boys, it might help differentiate him, even if just marginally. The Head of Sport from his current school wrote him a very strong reference, but his performance on the day was all down to him. You do not get told if your son has been put forward unless they pass the test and KCS decides to award him a sports scholarship.
Over the Christmas period we made sure Ned had plenty of breaks and fun outings to keep him fresh which worked well.When we did 11+ prep I mixed it up between the different subjects and various papers I’d printed off (only a few forests). I kept a record of his scores so I could track his progress. With literacy, I sometimes gave him guidance to keep him on track. The literacy focus paid off as the quality of his work flourished; it was very satisfying for us both.
Poor Ned, his exams were very spread out again. He sat the St Paul’s ISEB exam (an online exam) in November, with about 360 boys. He did very well and got through to the next round of about 110 boys for written papers in early February. EPP’s sister company, Pretest Plus, offered two ISEB Pretest practice tests online, these were gold.
Ned said they were just like the online test SPJ served up on the day.
Ned then did the Hampton 11+ exam in very early January. He and his friends commented that the maths was particularly hard and time pressured which wasn’t a surprise, as it’s known for being a school that focuses on maths. They also said the reasoning was a little unusual, they were not specific but did say it wasn’t really like the reasoning they’d done before. The literacy was pretty straightforward.
The KCS 11+ exam in mid-January was a much better experience for Ned this time round. I think about 360 boys sat it. Maths was the most challenging, again no surprise, and fortunately the literacy seemed OK. The comprehension was about Tom Sawyer, which he had read the year before, a nice bonus. My husband said he came out with a big smile on his face, no glazed eyes this time. Ned felt positive.
Ned was invited to Hampton for a meet and greet/interview with a teacher as part of the 10+ cohort just after the KCS exam. He hadn’t been invited for an interview for an academic scholarship, but they wanted to meet with these 10+ boys again which I thought was a nice touch. It was a fairly casual 20 minute chat, one on one with a teacher which was a good experience for him, as the only other interview he’d done, other than practice at home, was a mock interview at school the previous October.
The teacher showed him a few pictures eg Trump outside the Kremlin and he had to discuss. Whilst this was going on, parents were in the Headmaster’s office for a general chat and Q&A session. It was informal and friendly. Ned hadn’t had much contact with Hampton since the 10+ deferred exam (about 14 months prior) other than a taster session he’d attended not long after he received his 10+ offer, so he enjoyed this interaction and it remained his number one choice.
The day after this, I was ecstatic to receive a text from Hampton (worse than waiting for the post, as timing can be so random) to say they would like Ned to come in for an interview that coming Saturday, four days away. I rushed out to buy The Week Junior to ensure he was up to date on current affairs, plus we did some practice questions at home as usual. Not always that helpful though as interview content seems to be so varied at 11+.
Ned went along to the interview on the Saturday morning calm and composed. The whole process was very well organized. About five boys were taken off by a 6th former to meet with individual teachers for about 20 minutes. Parents sat in the Great Hall where they served tea, coffee, biscuits etc. It all felt very hospitable.
We knew our son was meeting with a lady who taught history (we checked on their website as we’d been given her name) but that was it. When he came out later than everyone else, we didn’t know if it was a good or bad sign. He was happy though and thought it had gone well.
The teacher had covered off some maths problems with him, he read a passage and she asked him questions about a picture (he had two to choose from). She gently prompted him for more possible answers to her questions about the crazy man swimming in a moat around his house in the rain. I’d been advised this might happen, as interviewers are looking for a candidate’s ability to think logically and rationally on the spot. The teacher also asked him about what he enjoyed doing outside of school, his favourite author and what book he was currently reading.
I found it encouraging she was interested in him as a person and not only his academic ability.I believe they interviewed 120 boys for around 40-44 places.
The final piece of the puzzle was the SPJ 11+ exam, round two. I had heard that about 110 boys were invited back to sit this exam and we knew it was going to be tough. There were a lot of determined looking boys and parents milling around. Maths was hard as expected and Faisal from EPP had warned me that the last section of the paper would be extremely difficult (this was simulated in their mock exams) but to give it a go and show all your workings. He was not offered an interview for 11+ but was for 13+ (my husband had also chosen this option). That interview was to be held on the last day of half term.
Before the SPJ interview, on the last day of school before half term, Ned received an offer for KCS. We were doubly thrilled as he was also offered a Sports Scholarship, utopia for him.
We were so proud of him, all his hard work had paid off and we felt he really deserved it.
Ned attended his St Paul’s 13+ interview where he did some maths and literacy with a senior teacher whilst we met with the Director of Admissions. Following this, Ned met with the Director of Admissions on his own for a few questions that were also academically focused. That was it. We were informed about a week later that he was on the Reserve List. This meant a few things that did not appeal to us.
Firstly, he would need to move to a Prep school for two years, and that he would then need to do more exams in September 2018 to assess if he was able to move onto the Main list. If so, he would sit Common Entrance exams the following year. Despite all the benefits of him going to St Paul’s, there was no way we would put Ned through all that. He was now hell bent on going to KCS, the lure of a sports scholarship was extremely strong. We also felt KCS was the right school for him. He still really liked Hampton, but KCS had a clear edge. Therefore we very happily accepted KCS and he’ll start there as part of the Lower School (Year 7 & 8) in September this year. It means he’ll go straight into their senior school with about 50 other boys, enjoying brand new facilities and being taught by senior school staff. A wonderful result for Ned, we’re very proud of him.
With the process done and dusted, it felt a bit odd having spare time on my hands, especially at weekends. Some mums describe it as a bit of a post-exam void and I really get that. However that feeling doesn’t last long – relief quickly takes over! It’s been a long journey but rewarding for us. We’ve made it to the other side. Next Christmas we’ll be far far away, in the sun, with not a practice paper in site!
KEY LESSONS LEARNT
- If your child is ready, academically and emotionally, for 7+ or 8+ go for it, odds are more in your favour.
- The 10+ is a great option for boys who are ready, it might not result in an offer but the experience is valuable.
- Make sure the school(s) you aim for are right for your child and family.
- If your child doesn’t get offered a place at a school one year, it does not mean they won’t be successful at another entry point.
- Steady progress is key with exam preparation.
- Make up a realistic plan of attack, include frequent breaks and fun activities to keep them fresh and engaged.
- Practice papers, practice papers, practice papers…incorporate variety and track results.
- Mock exams, mock exams, mock exams…invaluable for feedback and benchmarking.
- Focus on weaker areas, but don’t ignore other subjects.
- A calm environment means greater productivity and a happier child.
- Lots of encouragement, stay positive.
- Keep things in perspective and maintain a sense of humour.
- Potential bonus – parents may escape feeling that little bit sharper!
References and Resources
If you have any questions, or need some help and advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.