A comprehensive overview of the 7+ exam by Mrs Vivienne Durham, Head of Schools Advisory, Enjoy Education
Vivienne taught for more than thirty years in some of the most distinguished and academically selective schools in the UK, and was most recently Headmistress of the prestigious Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park. Vivienne was awarded “Best Head of a Public School” by Tatler magazine for 2015.
Vivienne has more than twenty years’ experience of governance, having served as a governor for several schools and as an accredited school inspector (ISI), and she is one of the leading schools advisors in the field.
Vivienne has an outstanding insight into the top British Independent schools and a deep knowledge not only of UK schools themselves but also of the leadership history, environment and character of these schools. Enjoy Education are proud to be the only education advisory across the UK with an ex-Headmistress or Headmaster among their full-time team and it is her vast level of expertise and insight, along with our dedicated client service, which makes them the market leader.
Choosing a prep school and gaining successful entry can be stressful for any family, particularly in London where competition for school places can be fierce. However, armed with the necessary information, the process can be smooth and even an enjoyable one for your children. It’s all about planning, preparation and practice!
Here is Enjoy Education’s guide on everything you need to know about the 7+ and how to make the admissions process as stress-free as possible for you and your children.
What is the 7+?
The 7+ is an admissions process used by a number of top prep schools (predominantly boys’ schools) to assess students in Year 2 ahead of entry into a selective preparatory school in Year 3 (aged 7-8 years old). Not all schools will require students to take 7+ tests, so do check the school’s website for further information and contact the Admissions Registrar, if possible.
Your child’s Head teacher is an education expert and will normally be willing to provide an insight into how your child learns best and the type of prep school in which he/she will flourish. Most Head teachers will also be willing to offer advice on the schools they would recommend for your child.
When do children take the 7+?
The 7+ tests are taken whilst your child is in Year 2, usually in January. If you are considering moving your child at 7+ to a more academic school, you should start identifying how your child is performing whilst they are in Year 1. This provides you with the time and opportunity to identify if there are any areas they need to boost to give them the best chance of success for their 7+ in Year 2.
If you don’t think your child is ready to face the 7+ tests, don’t panic. The 8+ might be a more suitable entry point for children who need extra development, as well as time and support. A number of schools will offer entry at both 7+ and 8+ (i.e. at the beginning of Year 4) so do look around and find the right transition point for you and your family. Alternatively, you may want to consider schools that run from 4-11 or 4-13 years old. Companies like Enjoy Education can help you to understand what might be the best structure for your children and will guide you to find the right school at the right time.
What are schools assessing at 7+?
The admissions process will vary slightly from school to school, but you can expect your child to be tested in Maths and English and sometimes, Verbal and Non-verbal Reasoning. He or she will also have a short interview, possibly with the Head. The exams usually take around 3 hours in total. Parents are often asked to attend an interview, too – and this can provide an opportunity to ask any unanswered questions you may have.
Many schools also ask your child’s current school for a reference to better understand his/her academic progress so far and assess whether they would be a good “fit” for their next school. This school reference is extremely important, so do keep in close communication with your child’s teachers.
The 7+ exam results are important, but schools will also be looking for well-rounded, enthusiastic students who are able to interact confidently with both adults and other children. Those moments in between each exam can be just as important as the test results!
The English Exam:
The duration of this test is usually 40 minutes to an hour. It will usually include a written comprehension and a short creative writing piece. In the creative writing task, the school will be looking for a child who can structure a story with a beginning, middle and end whilst using descriptive language. The comprehension section allows teachers to see a child’s ability to read, understand and extract information. As part of the mark scheme, children will also be assessed on their writing skills including spelling and punctuation. This might seem daunting but with practice, especially with commonly occurring words and an understanding of spelling rules, this can be an opportunity for your child to show their creativity.
The answers may vary from one word to full sentence answers and children should feel comfortable with both formats.
The Maths Exam:
This test usually takes around 45 minutes and many schools will largely follow the National Curriculum Year 2 teaching programme covering topics including counting, fractions, money and measures. This will include a mental arithmetic section to understand a child’s ability with numbers and their capability of analysing problems.
Some schools will construct their papers so they become more difficult as the student reaches later questions. Again, this is designed to see how a student tackles a question they may not have seen before.
Some schools may include a reasoning section of their paper to include verbal or non-verbal questions or a combination of the two. Non-verbal reasoning questions are based on problem solving and use pictures and shapes rather than words. They are designed to test a student’s ability to solve problems, develop reasoning and are strongly linked to a child’s thinking potential.
Any verbal reasoning questions will be designed to test a child’s understanding and comprehension of a piece of text.
How can I prepare my children for 7+ entry?
The English Paper
Regular reading is essential for your child to do well at the 7+. Children need to read as widely as possible and be exposed to a range of styles. The emphasis on reading can vary dramatically from school to school so try and take time at home to ensure your child has access to books they enjoy. An interviewer may also ask your child what book they are reading. It’s important that your child feels engaged with the text and is able to talk about it with enthusiasm. It’s fine to say that they don’t like a book, as long as they can explain why!
The comprehension paper is usually around 35 minutes, including time to read the passage and check through answers. Children should feel comfortable reading an extended passage of writing and be ready to explain what is going on in the text. Reading with your child and asking them to summarise the events is a great way to ensure your child is ready to take on this challenge.
The creative writing piece is about 30 minutes long and often includes a prompt for the child to start writing a piece of prose. Again, regular readers will shine in this section as they tend to have better vocabulary development and descriptions. When reading at home, it can be helpful for children to make a note of new words and vocab in their reading, as they go along. Children’s vocabulary can often be limited and they are not always encouraged to think ‘outside the box’ by using interesting words. However, they are very capable of it, even at this age, so do encourage them to be brave with new words even if they spell them incorrectly!
Good marks are given for strong plot development, interesting characters, finishing within given time, some impressive descriptions and something quirky or different.
The Maths Paper
The syllabus is based substantially on the National Curriculum Year 2 and 3 teaching programme and although the exam is in the middle of the year, students may be tested on all aspects of the curriculum. London independent pre-preps will be aware of this but if your child is at a state school, it’s important that your child has the opportunity to learn new topics ahead of the exam.
Mental arithmetic will form the large part of the assessment so your child should be confident at tackling different questions without calculators. Some questions might be a two or even a three part assessment therefore, as with English, your child needs to feel comfortable with the language in the questions. Regular practice of mathematical problems and puzzles will help.
Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning
A number of schools will also test your child’s reasoning skills. Unless your child’s current school is used to sending children to your chosen prep school it is unlikely that they will practise these tests in school so we’d advise looking through this at home so your child feels confident with what to expect and how to tackle them. Word puzzles, games and crosswords are an ideal way to help children prepare. Bond have some excellent books for children to help them practise exercises in their own time.
The 7+ interview
Speaking to an adult for an extended period of time can be daunting for some children, so it’s useful to get them thinking ahead about topics of interest before their interview. Interviews come in all shapes and sizes! As a general rule, schools want to offer places to children who enjoy thinking, are naturally inquisitive and eager to learn. Interview skills depend not on rote learning but rather, finding an interest or hobby that your child is happy to talk about. Reading a child-friendly newspaper such as First News can be a valuable way to foster your child’s understanding of contemporary issues. Discussing ideas about current affairs with friends and family provides children with invaluable practice in expressing their opinions to adults at interview. Enjoy Education holds interview workshops ahead of the exams to boost confidence, allay nerves and help children present their best selves on the day.
Should we hire a tutor?
This is a question asked by many parents. The answer depends on your child and his or her needs. The 7+ is a very competitive exam and it’s important that your child feels ready and confident to take on the challenge. Exam technique – timing and understanding questions – is vital for your child to achieve top marks so experience of and practice with exam papers will be very useful. Children often slip up by not reading a comprehension passage carefully and not reading the question accurately. (Obvious, but year on year, children throw marks away by being careless). Make sure that they are able to try out sample papers ahead of the exam and understand the importance of taking time and rereading instructions to ensure they are on top of the requirements. It’s easy to rush when nervous!
Companies such as Enjoy Education offer academic assessments, which can help you gauge the current academic ability of your child. Such assessments can identify likely areas of strength or weakness for a child at 7+, very useful if you are unsure whether a tutor is needed or not.