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What Came Up in Last Year’s 7+, 8+ and 11+ Exams for 2021 Entry?

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It’s that time again for us at EPP to provide you with a round-up of what happened in last year’s entrance exams. Of course, things were disrupted by Covid, forcing many schools at all levels to amend, modify, reduce and/or move some of their entrance process online. However, this has not stopped us from gathering useful feedback from parents and students who sat exams, and we are delighted to share some of these insights with you.


In the main, we noticed two big changes, primarily due to the pandemic:


As some exams were shortened and/or taken online, the first crucial element was the elevation of the interview in the process overall. This allowed schools to get as in-depth a picture as possible of each candidate and to see how an individual came across as a person. For those schools which asked candidates to complete their 7+ and 8+ exams online, the interviews contained a fair amount of academic content as well (mental maths, verbal comprehensions etc), so that the interviewer could ascertain a child’s academic consistency: was their strong academic performance in the exam followed through in interview? At the 11+ level and beyond, we have always seen academic rigour at interview, but it was definitely more apparent this year in the younger years too. Therefore, the on-going lesson to learn from this is that children need to be encouraged to develop their opinions, personalities and interests in tandem with their strong academic preparations. We believe that the interview will be paramount in differentiating candidates, helping schools to select the best-fit candidates for their school from a myriad of academic high-achievers. For 11+ interview insights, click here.


Secondly, at 11+, we saw a large uptake by schools of the ISEB Pretest, a computerised multiple-choice exam which tests four areas: English, maths, non-verbal and verbal reasoning. For those schools using it for the first time, it was generally used instead of their own written papers; others continued to use it as a first-round test before asking candidates to return to take further second-round written papers. Whilst some new adopters have gone back to their own papers this year, others have retained the Pretest for 2021 testing and beyond. You can use our School Search tool here to learn which tests will be used at the school/s you are targeting. Whilst this article is not going to get into the intricacies of the ISEB Pretest, you can read up on it in more detail here and you can visit our sister site, Pretest Plus for targeted resources that will help your son or daughter prepare for it.


So, to begin our highly-anticipated entrance exam round up for 2020/21…


What happened at 7+?


This boys’ school in South-West London was able to run their 7+ entrance exams as normal, being one of the first to test, prior to the winter lockdown. The English comprehension was in two parts and took the form of a picture comprehension (10 minutes) and a text comprehension (15 minutes). Both comprehensions were contained in one paper, so candidates had to carefully manage their own time in order to complete both sections well. The creative writing task was also split into two parts, the first part being Covid-appropriate, asking candidates to spend 5 minutes writing about how to wash their hands. The second part asked them to imagine, ‘If your favourite toy could suddenly talk, what would it say?’.


The maths paper was relatively straightforward but long, so time management was key. There were a few 2-3 step problem questions, but some questions were ‘bundled together’ as 6 and 8-mark questions.  Example questions included: ‘Arrange the towers from smallest to largest’ and ‘Make 18p, 3 ways, using x number of coins’. There was no mental maths this year (and no non-verbal reasoning either!)


The verbal reasoning paper contained a range of problems including letter and number code questions. There was a picture to draw at the end of the paper, which we think was there for children to do if they finished early – some however got confused and thought it was part of the exam, so ended up drawing rather than checking back over their work!


This school also had a listening test which incorporated instruction-based questions along the lines of, ‘do this and do that, circle this and circle that, colour this and colour that’.  Some candidates experienced a little trouble keeping up with the tape, so we would recommend practising a variety of listening exercises – dictation included – as anything like this will help to develop a child’s listening skills, speed and concentration, not to mention their attention to detail.


At another boys’ school which also managed to hold its 7+ exams in person, the comprehension comprised a non-fiction piece on sea life with multiple-choice questions. The dictation section was made up of ten sentences read aloud twice, but at a relatively slow speed. The final part of the dictation exercise asked the children to listen to how a written sentence was spoken in order for them to add in correct punctuation.


Verbal reasoning questions included words with missing letters that had to be categorised, letter and number code questions and a cloze passage. The non-verbal reasoning was relatively challenging, containing complex patterns with more than two elements changing, and the maths paper was long and challenging. As well as regular questions including sequences, number squares, weight conversions and word problems, it also contained questions asking candidates to explain why an answer was either true or false and to write down their method in words. In the mental maths section, candidates were specifically told not to show any workings and given between 5 – 10 seconds per answer, dependent on the difficulty of the question!


At another school, the English and maths was presented as a combined paper. The creative writing task asked candidates to write a continuation piece about a hedgehog and the maths section comprised approx. 14 questions which had to be completed in 20 minutes. One question asked, ‘What is a quarter of 18?’ Reasoning was tested online and there were two sections of 40 minutes each. Questions included finding the shape, verbal reasoning questions and numerical reasoning.


Once again, we have seen a slight increase in the difficulty of some maths questions at certain schools and an interesting variety of English tasks, which have tested skills of comprehension, story writing and structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling and listening. We have also seen a resurrection of traditional reasoning questions, particularly in verbal reasoning, which have been more word meaning/spelling-led, such as the missing letters and categorisation tasks.


To view our comprehensive range of 7+ Exam preparation resources, click here.


What happened at 8+?


Many schools follow a similar format for their 8+ entrance exams as they do their 7+ exams, but change the level, making the content and tasks more challenging.


At this boys’ school, the English comprehension was comprised of two sections: the first one was a picture comprehension which showed images of different sized fish and marine animals. There was very limited verbal information provided and candidates had to look carefully at the images in order to answer correctly. In the second comprehension, the piece centred around a dog who wanted to escape through a fence. Many of these questions were information retrieval-based but did include some 3 and 4-mark inference questions towards the end of the paper. One of the creative writing tasks at this school included writing a letter to a best friend – so as always, make sure you prepare your child by asking them to practise writing in different styles and genres.


The maths paper was long and included questions on symmetry, sequences, multiplying decimals, time (drawing clock hands), fractions and bar charts. The reasoning section included cloze passages, grammar questions and coordinates.


At another school, the maths was split into a mental maths test (15 questions) and three separate papers. The last paper of the three concentrated on word and multi-step problems, including a triangle maths question in which some numbers were given and the candidate had to fill in the gaps, and ‘what number am I thinking of’ style questions. The English papers at this school included a multiple-choice comprehension on skateboarding, full paragraph dictation exercises and cloze passages testing most appropriate word choice and grammar.


Both VR and NVR  were also tested at this school. NVR incorporated continue the pattern questions with arrows and we have been told that many of the questions closely followed our 8+ SPJS-style practice tests, one and two. There were no 3D nets or hole punch questions this year – to keep candidates on their toes! It should be noted that schools like to regularly change up their reasoning questions, so the best thing to do is expose your child to as many different question types as possible, focusing on understanding the key techniques required. The VR section contained alphabet codes (up to 8 questions were included of this type), missing letters and categorisation questions.


This particular school replaced its 8+ exam with an academic interview which included both written components in maths and English. Candidates were asked to tackle maths questions which were shown on the screen. Examples include: 248 x 9 and 378/7. They were also confronted with some problem-solving questions. For English they were shown a passage that they had to read out loud. They were asked some verbal questions on various word meanings and context, but then asked to write some of their responses. For example, they were asked to write a few sentences on what might happen next (a continuation piece) and to write justifications for some of their comprehension answers.


To view our comprehensive range of 8+ Exam preparation resources, click here.


What happened at 11+?


As mentioned earlier, many schools used the ISEB Pretest or CEM Select either as their main test or as part of their process. For more information on the Pretest specifically, please click here. For this article however, we are going to explore the written and second round components of schools’ 11+ exams.


Most schools that tested in January/early February this year found that they had to conduct their exams online. Although this meant that the format changed, the style and spirit of the challenge remained very similar and in line with what we expected from each school.


At this highly academic boys’ school, the online exams in English and maths were specifically created to ‘explore the skills and areas not tested in the ISEB tests’ and were conducted in small Zoom groups with a dedicated member of school staff as invigilator. The session was 45 minutes long in total, allowing for a 15-minute English creative writing task, a 15-minute maths paper (in which candidates had to intuitively use algebra to answer questions about chocolate bars and basil plants!) and a 5-minute break in between. This was shorter than their usual in person exams, which are usually 40 minutes each in length, but followed the same style; it was only the length that was altered.


At a different, top academic school – which also conducted its exams online – the English essay was an opinion piece and candidates were given the choice of two titles. They were given 20 minutes to answer this question. Similarly with maths, this was also a 20-minute assessment and included word problems. There was a five-minute break in between. The timings for this school’s exams (in which interviews were held on the same day) followed their standard in person timings.


At another school, there was a one-hour maths paper which incorporated questions on measurement, data handling, algebra and fractions; a one-hour English paper which included full answer comprehension questions on a passage about a refugee coming to England and a creative writing task; and a one-hour general paper focussing on critical thinking skills. Feedback from the children who undertook this paper was very positive; they enjoyed the puzzles the paper posed and being challenged in this way. It included looking at a new ‘language’, some logic puzzles and a moral dilemma to comment on.


This highly academic girls’ school truncated its online English exam this year to just two questions – but they both carried high marks, required detailed PEE analysis and candidates were given 20 minutes to answer them. This proved to be quite a challenge to many candidates who were used to practising shorter mark questions, so we would recommend practising some of these longer, more in-depth style questions, just in case they come up. At a different girls’ school, the creative writing task was a descriptive task in which tension had to be built. Candidates were specifically told to only write two paragraphs and not to write a whole story; they were being assessed on quality of writing, not length. In this type of task, it is imperative to follow the guidance. Careful word choice, economy of language and clarity of expression are all needed for a task like this – and we all know how hard it can be to write succinctly, but well!


We hope that you find this post on last year’s exams helpful and welcome any questions! If you have questions, please feel free to contact us here.


Related articles:


What came up in the 2020 entry 11+ exam?

What came up in the 2020 entry 7+ and 8+ exams?

What came up in the 2019 entry 7+ and 8+ exams?

What came up in the 2018 entry 7+ and 8+ exams?

What came up in the 2017 entry 7+ and 8+ exams?

What came up in the 2016 entry 8+ exams?

What came up in the 2016 entry 7+ exams?

What came up in last year’s 7+ and 8+ exams?


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