Advice for the 7+ Examination
The 7+ exam is the main point of entry to King’s College Wimbledon, Westminster Cathedral Choir School and Latymer School. For St Pauls Juniors from 2018 they have increased their intake for 7+ to around 54 and will take less at 8+ . Westminster Under only take a limited number of candidates at 7+and their main point of entry is at 8+. Bute House for girls have a 7+ exam.
Easier than 8+?
There is often a misconception that the 7+ is somehow easier than the 8+. In my experience this is simply not the case. The 7+ often proves to be a test of maturity rather than of intellect. Some very able children often find the whole assessment process quite worrying and traumatic and do not do themselves justice on the day. The schools, which have a bigger entry at 8+, are not interested in making allowances for children who find the assessment difficult. They have such large numbers of candidates that they are ruthlessly weeded out and the standard expected is amazingly high for children of that age. The younger the candidates the more significant their birthday is - with such exams favouring those who are born in the early part of the academic year.
Parents often mention the fact that their children are bi-lingual. II'm afraid this is not taken into consideration at all in terms of their performance in english exams.
Why do the 7+?
Unless you really want your child to go to one of the schools which take most children at 7+. I would ask yourself very carefully why you want them to take the 7+.
The children whom I consider to be suitable candidates for the 7+ to St Paul's Junior, King's and Westminster Under are children who are intellectually advanced for their age. They will be at the top of their class, very advanced readers, extremely naturally numerate and self confident and mature. Such children are often the oldest in their year group. (If you honestly conclude that your child does not fit this profile it is worth thinking very carefully about this process.) These days to succeed at this exam requires a degree of commitment from child and parent. If you feel uncomfortable about tutoring young children - whether by yourself or others, it may not be the right choice for you. There is no doubt that you are asking very young children to present themselves in a formal examination situation. I have many parents mentioning 'they need to have a childhood." I could not agree more but equally it is not desirable to send along a child who has not taken exams before, to these schools for high powered exams. Other children will have had considerable amounts of tutoring and practice.
Do not worry that this ‘advantage’ will be maintained throughout their school days. Intelligence is not a fixed commodity which will never change- so do not make the mistake of thinking that if they ‘fail’ the 7+ they are doomed to be in some sort of academic ‘b’ stream for the rest of their school career. There are many children who having done very well at an early age fail to continue on the same trajectory and others who suddenly ‘catch up’ when they are a little bit older. Children who did not do well at the 7+ often do extremely well at the 8+.
I also do not really agree with adopting the ‘it’s good training/experience’ for them body of thought. Some children find the whole thing quite upsetting and it is more likely to put them off for the 8+ than to help them.
Parental expectations have to be carefully managed in front of children at this age. There is a very difficult balance with trying to emphasise to them that this exam is important whilst not making them feel stressed. Should they not succeed do try not to let the disappointment show. Children of that age have very limited knowledge of whether one school is better than another so be careful to be positive about all schools.
There has been a distinct trend over the last few years for more and more candidates to sit the 7+. The recent change of emphasis from St Paul's will only exacerbate this trend. The schools do ask parents not to over tutor the children and I would agree that excessive tuition is not desirable. It is worth bearing in mind that for your own peace of mind and your child's happiness that you do want to feel confident that they were able to pass the exams comfortably. I feel that it is one thing to get into a school but another to go there and be able to keep up and be well placed in the class.
The 7+ is often the first exam that families have had to confront. Please try to be realistic about your child. If they are not at the top of their class or near it then why should they suddenly be accepted at the top academic schools? I quite understand the level of anxiety this engenders but do try to remember that education is a long game. Your child will be taking exams until they are 18 at least. Try to avoid creating the impression that exams are 'difficult' and stressful. The intention on the part of the schools is that they should accept children for whom the exams were merely a demonstration of what they already know.
Post exam blame
There is also a natural inclination for parents whose children have not succeeded at 7+ to lose faith in our group lessons or their tutor. My experience tells me that the work they will have done to prepare for the 7+ is most certainly not ‘wasted’ and if they continue to capitalize on the advances they made to prep for the 7+ they should have a very good chance at 8+ so don’t lose heart and stop working with them. Every year I see boys who did not pass the 7+ absolutely sailing into the top schools at the 8+ so please do not invest everything in this exam and then feel stressed at the start of what should be the 8+ preparation.
The best policy to adopt if you have decided to try for this exam is to conclude that all children have a limited chance so do not get too excited about the whole thing. Stay ostensibly calm and be prepared to reward them for simply attending the exam. Be prepared for inexplicable lapses in performance even from normally strong candidates – some children really do have an ‘off day’ and no amount of preparation can eliminate this.
In conclusion it would seem that the emphasis for certain schools has shifted to snapping up the candidates who show signs of high potential at an early age. However experience tells me that there are many candidates who might not demonstrate the skills required at the age of 6 but go on to perform very well as they go through their academic career.