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How to prepare

How to prepare

The most important aspect of preparing for the 7 plus exam with your child is the long term investment in their literacy and numeracy that can only come from parental commitment. From a very young age, children need access to a wide range of reading material including lots of different genres that will interest and challenge them. Children also need to talk about the books they read with their parents and to share their opinions on them, helping to gradually develop their reading comprehension skills.

By the time children reach 11+ and have to pass assessments for secondary school, those who are successful tend to have acquired 10,000 more words than unsuccessful children. This number of words is not necessary for the 7+, but equally, children need to be on track for this target. Useful ways of helping children to develop literacy skills further include reading lots of fiction and non fiction to them (such as children’s magazine or newspaper articles).

girl learning how to prepare for her writing exams at the table.

In terms of numeracy, at his age we recommend you build the foundations of Maths with lots of practical, fun activities. For example, children often find weights and volumes difficult elements of the syllabus and simple baking and measuring ingredients can help them conceptualise what different weights and volumes look like and feel like. Also give your children the opportunity to handle money, pay for items in shops and count the change rather than always using a card, as this can help them understand notes and coins in a memorable, practical way.

It’s also important to practice number bonds and times tables so that children have instant recall of 2,3, 5 and 10 times tables by the time they sit the school entrance exam.

Preparing for the English exam – Recent topics in English papers

In terms of English, animals often feature heavily at 7+, providing visual prompts for creative writing as well as comprehension subjects and story starters. Recently, one school’s story picture prompt was of a crying rabbit looking longingly at a plate of carrots, and its comprehension included answering questions about a picture of an elephant and a written piece on a zebra.

An extract from Moomin Papa recently came up at one school, with an opening question asking candidates to answer in their own words. This was a long comprehension paper, and many did not manage to finish it. The story was a continuation piece in the first person.

Other recent writing tasks included writing a story entitled ‘The Magic Box’ and writing a story about ‘Bob the dog’. An 8+ composition task at another school gave candidates the choice of writing about ‘your hands’ or ‘the school’. The shortest story writing time recently has been 15 minutes and the candidates were asked to write based on a picture prompt of a boy, a girl and a strange creature.

Poetry featured prominently in several of 8+ comprehension exams.

Advice for the English section

English assessments allow for the measurement of how a child thinks as well as their potential for empathy and logical thought. As such, this section in exams can be challenging. For a question that has a tight timeframe (the 15 minute story for example), children should concentrate on quality over quantity and try and showcase what they have learnt in a focused way. They should be encouraged to stick to the question and ensure they are addressing it directly. Regurgitating a previous piece of creative writing, or descriptive section, just because it got praise at school or good marks in a mock exam, should be discouraged. Examiners will notice a ‘prepared piece’ instantly and could knock off marks if it is included and bears no relation to the question.

Young boy preparing for his exams on his Ipad on the sofa

One school always includes a recorded listening task, which includes assessment of reasoning, close listening skills and comprehension. True to form, an animal was featured; the children were asked to ‘underline the hippo with the three spots’ and ‘underline the hippo whose toenails weren’t painted’. Many other schools also now incorporate tasks in their assessment that require children to listen carefully and follow verbal instructions. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to make sure that your child is attentive, listens to others and learns to follow instructions with care and diligence. Dictation practice can help to build listening skills.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that not all comprehension tasks include a prose piece. This came up in one school’s literacy section:

  • Two comprehensions: one was a standard written piece about a cat going hunting at night, but the other was of a picture of a family preparing to go on holiday. With the latter, candidates were asked questions about the picture: Eg What two things might be dangerous in this picture? What two things suggest they might be going on holiday? Who in this picture would not be able to drive the car?


In maths, the following topics have come up recently: number squares (up to 24); time; shapes; sequences; measurement; right angles (on a clock); shading in fractions; basic weight conversions; height; and money. Doubling numbers also featured, as did mental maths. One 8+ maths paper also included a ‘Magic Number’ exercise with triple digit numbers.

Here are some examples of specific questions/tasks that 7+ applicants have recently faced:

  • A question which showed a picture of a regular hexagon and a picture of an irregular hexagon and then asked candidates to draw two more different pictures of a hexagon.
  • A six mark question which had four squares and two circles and then some information about the colour of each shape and its location; candidates had to label each shape with the correct colour. Eg. green is not a square, red is not next to grey…etc.
  • Draw an 8 cm line in a rectangle.
  • A question that showed a drawn line and candidates were then asked to measure it and give an answer to the nearest cm.
  • A box which contained three numbers, but the fourth number was missing and candidates had to find the number so the total added up to 100.


As ever, the Bond books provide age appropriate and well updated resources, and we recommend the 10 minute tests as a good place to start.

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