Advice for the 8+ Examination
Not easier but they cope better
I feel that the 8+ is an exam which most able boys are far better able to cope with than the 7+. The bar is not lower but the boys are normally in a position to understand and deal with the fact that they are taking some exams which seem to be important. Do not lose sight of the fact that children at this age would rather play football on a Saturday morning than do any extra studying. This is perfectly understandable but with the level of competition that they face, very few boys just sail naturally into the top schools with no additional preparation.
Don't give up after the 7+
One of the things that most frustrates me is that parents have often tried the 7+ and failed so have decided that various tutors and our groups do not work. This year (2020) the boys who came back after the 7+ and continued to work steadily as a general rule absolutely out performed and got into the top schools. This really demonstrated to me the benefits of a steady approach to the exams is really beneficial. The 7+ is something of a lottery and genuinely highly intelligent children just are not quite ready at that stage. They change enormously in the course of the following year.
Schools often tell parents that they will do the job themselves and not to undertake extra work. This may be true of certain schools. (although I am not aware of many candidates who have no additional tutoring whatever their parents may say.) However other schools may not want their pupils to leave at 8+ so it is hardly in their interests to prepare them to do so. We particularly welcome children who attend such schools as we feel that they deserve the same opportunities as their peers. One of the leading and most sought after prep-schools regularly sends us pupils, particularly those who are not at the obvious ‘feeder schools’ and we feel this illustrates the fact that they feel the same way about all candidates having a reasonable chance and also that they feel we prepare boys in an appropriate fashion.
To do well in the 8+ requires a sensible amount of effort from the school, parents, our classes and the child himself. If all parties are signed up to doing a reasonable amount of work then we usually find that we get the results all are happy with.
The best preparation- understanding what is required.
In Maths what is needed is that the boys are totally confident with the maths syllabus required. They do not need to learn advanced mathematics and in fact undertaking unnecessary advanced maths can simply confuse them. The syllabus sent out by the schools set out the requirements very clearly. We aim to teach the children that accuracy is important. Boys often announce that the maths is ‘easy’ which means they can do it and then minutes later say that it is ‘too difficult’ because they can’t. Therefore beware of either over- confidence and work littered with careless errors or missed out questions with no attempt to think the problem through and try to find a solution. Colet Court seem to be interested in logic and problem solving abilities whereas Westminster Under and King’s seem to favour a competence in more formal arithmatic. All schools try to get away from the obvious over tutored child who is not naturally numerate by setting a few ‘killer questions’ usually at the end.
We aim for accuracy in work and are not impressed by students whizzing through their work, announcing that it is easy and is in fact littered with careless mistakes.
In English, we find that the boys can usually get their comprehension up to an acceptable standard but nearly all candidates struggle with creative writing. We offer additional creative writing classes to try to make this process less of an ordeal. Parents become very anxious about creative writing but the best preparation is a lot of reading. The boys are then able to subconsciously assimilate some of this into their writing. The structure is relatively simple- three to five well written paragraphs will be acceptable. The main things to avoid are over-complicated plots with far too much action.
All candidates must be fluent readers to stand a chance of doing well in comprehension. Reading sensible books also fires the imagination and gives them a subconscious knowledge of what a decent sentence sounds like - they don’t realise but they then use this phraseology in their work. This is why reading ill written,popular trash, with silly punctuation is counter-productive as we have to work hard to eradicate these tendencies from their essays.
We do not encourage over-preparation. The school want a feel for the 'real' child and they do not like rehearsed scripts at all.
We offer interview practice but this is to explain to parents and children what to expect so they have thought a little about some of the more obvious questions and can have some time to think about the less obvious. We encourage an awareness of positve behaviour and good manners.
The 8+ is a fair exam and the schools are absolute experts in picking the boys who are happy and will thrive at their schools. Parents are often very upset if their son does not get into what they think is the ‘top’ school. It is important to remember that the school will have rejected your child for the right reasons - namely that they know he would not be happy there.
There is much anecdotal evidence about children who do manage to squeak into one of the most academic schools, who find themselves bottom of the class and they need constant tuition just to keep up. This is terrible for their self-esteem and has damaging consequences later in life.
All the schools in this area are ‘top’ schools relative to the rest of the country so try not to become too worked up about a rather localised pecking order. The main thing is to be realistic and give yourself and your son a variety of sensible choices so you can be pretty sure that they will get into a school that you are happy with. This will make the exam process a more comfortable one for all concerned.