What is the 7 plus?
The 7 plus is the standard exam for entry into Year 3 that is used by many independent prep schools. They are usually sat during January of Year 2, for entry into Year 3 the following September, although some schools sit the exams at other times. The exams can be written or computer-based.
The exams are usually taken at the target school. Many schools also include an interview of sorts, as well as an assessment of how the child interacts with their peers, through observed group activities – so while the academic side is important, it’s not everything!
Some schools will not have interviews until after the tests, and will only invite those students who did sufficiently well, while other schools may have a pre-assessment, to ascertain whether a pupil is strong enough to sit the 7 plus later.
Confusingly, some schools set their own 7 plus papers, while others may commission them from a board, or indeed use a combination. It is worth calling the school to find out which of these they do, and whether or not past papers are available for practice
Which subjects are involved?
All schools will be testing maths and English, and increasingly verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests may also be involved.
Most of the tests are written, however some schools may also have verbal sections that test the student’s memory, spelling, mental arithmetic and dictation skills.
Is it as competitive as it seems?
A lot of statistics are thrown around regarding the 7 plus, such as that some schools will have over 10 applicants per place. This is usually a misleading one, as a lot of these applicants will have applied to several schools, so the overall number of applicants is not quite as intimidating. However, depending on the school, it can still be incredibly competitive, with students who are offered places at the top schools performing significantly above the national average for the 7 plus.
Depending on their exact process (pre-test and test, test then interview the best candidates, test and interview on different days), many schools will interview two pupils per available place. So, they might accept the best 25 out of 50, with those numbered 25-30 placed on the waiting list. Realistically, the best schools will not have many rejections, and only those at the top of the waiting list are in with a good chance. Usually, if requested, the school will disclose your exact position on the waiting list.
How do schools decide?
The line taken by most schools is that they are looking for good all-round candidates, with relevant hobbies and interests, good behaviour and the capacity to interact well with their peers. While this is all true, schools will usually place the greatest emphasis on exam results, and will be unlikely to take someone who is disappointing in exam performance, however otherwise well-rounded they may be. Most schools will also request a report on the student from the head of their current school, and will also take this into consideration.
Are there other important factors?
Yes, most certainly. Age is an important factor when all the students are so young, and those born in the autumn, who can be almost a year older than their summer-born classmates, are at a natural advantage, in terms of mental, physical and social development. Many schools will take this discrepancy into account when allocating places.
The other significant factor is pre-prep vs state schools. Many state schools will not gear their teaching towards the 7 plus, or offer much in the way of extra help. On the other hand, pre-prep schools are often judged by their 7 plus results, and so may well be rigorously preparing students, and offering extra sessions at the school. If coming from a state school, a child may well require some outside help to get up to the same level as their pre-prep counterparts. However, schools are very much aware of this, and may well hold pre-prep students to a higher standard. They may favour a student from a state school over a comparable student from a pre-prep, on the assumption that the latter is likely to have received more outside help
How do the interviews and assessments work?
Schools tend to make these assessments fairly informal (after all, they are looking at 6/7 year olds). Students will be asked about interests and hobbies, and the conversation will be led from there – although there is little point in trying to prepare a child for this, or have ‘model’ answers in mind. They may set a group task, to ascertain their skills in communication, collaboration and following instructions. Some schools may also set an extra creative task alongside the usual 7 plus tests, such as writing a poem, or drawing a self-portrait
How important is it to have a tutor?
The sad truth is that, even though preparation starts as young as age 5, there are huge numbers of parents who employ tutors from early on to ensure their children are on top of these competitive 7 plus exams.
Ultimately, having a tutor is not crucial. There will be many students who, if they have had good teaching and worked hard up until Year 2, will be up to the required level to do very well. However, they will be up against many others who have been exhaustively tutored for the 7 plus, and may be at a higher level even if they are not as ‘naturally’ talented.
The most important thing is that your child is prepared for the 7 plus. This can certainly involve tutoring. It can also involve help from the school, if they offer extra or after schools sessions, or are particularly geared towards the 7 plus. Indeed, most parents would be very capable of providing extra help for the 7 plus, but many find they may not have the time to sit down and work with their child on a regular basis. In these circumstances – especially if you have reason to believe your child may be struggling with something – it is certainly worth considering extra tuition.