Advice for Parents
By clicking on the links you will be able to read some of my opinions about the various examinations and preparation for them. These are my personal opinions generated over the years in which I have been teaching children for these exams. I hope that you might find them useful.
Some thoughts on the 2022 Examinations
7+ Numbers taking the 7+ continue to increase. The change in timetable for SPJS and King's means that parents are beginning to seek additional support far earlier. We noticed a huge number of enquiries for creative writing courses in the summer. Word of caution here: At SPJS they don't really have a story writing section in the exam. At King's this year the writing was about a pet you would like. It was non fiction not a narrative story so my advice is, that whilst it is obviously important to be able to write a piece of prose it is not that helpful to make it a huge focus of your preparation. At Westminster Under they introduced a sort of pre- test in the form of an exam taken using iPads. All children these days are reasonably confident with using screens so do not focus on electronic reasoning tests to the detriment of reading and writing. If they get through to the next stage they do written exams.
My overwhelming impression this year is simply that there are more candidates than ever applying to the popular schools for this exam.. King’s seem to attract huge numbers of children and according to one parent at Westminster Under they were queueing around the block at 8am for a 9am start. The effect of knowing the statistics seems to drive parents to feel more anxious whilst the schools still maintain they that disapprove of tutoring. An interesting dilemma for parents. I think that registration for exams is a very valuable financial activity and given the numbers it stands to reason that most children will not pass. I feel that parents are told that all children have an equal chance and parents then start to feel that the differentiating factor is how much tutoring and extra work you do. An interesting unintended consequence of allowing hundreds of children to take exams.
Do not fear that the examinations are more ‘difficult’ - the content remains relatively similar but I think the passmark may have crept up a little, especially in maths. My advice is the same as always - children need to be very good at maths and that means speed and accuracy, not advanced maths. They need to read really well and have legible handwriting and write quickly. Do not forget the bigger picture either - children who succeed have other interests which they can happily talk about. it is not all about academic performance. Schools talk about potential, do not think that means they will take poorly performing candidates - they don’t, but they are looking for children who genuinely like learning and demonstrate academic thought processes - ability to concentrate, work logically though things and think independently.
Conclusion - A very difficult exam indeed as the children are very young. Parental understanding of what is required is generally too low. The standard expected and produced by some candidates is incredible for their age. The main issue here is that children need to understand that they need a degree of stamina to keep going in the exams. A commonly mentioned problem seems to be 'not finishing.' SPJS seem to be moving towards placing more emphasis on their interview sessions which include an element of group activities and parental interview.
Successful candidates (of whom we had a very high percentage) were excellent at maths, good readers and imaginative writers. Quite simply they were all operating at a very advanced level for their age. SPJS seemed to place more emphasis on problem solving in the maths which does not suit everyone. This year I got the impression that the interview was more significant than it had been historically where the highest candidates in the exams simply got the places. There was some actual progression due to the interview and vice versa. The reasoning was generally considered to be quite difficult at both SPJS and Westminster. We did well with WU and the candidates who got in were intelligent all rounders who had been good at maths and english. Sussex House attracted a high number of excellent candidates and a large number of children who had attended our classes were offered places there.
This year we had another version of the 'new' consortium exams. It was an electronic CEM paper. The 11+ is beginning to cause me concern because by only having an electronic paper it has not put tutoring out of business, which might have been the desired effect but has created a whole new empire of on-line tests. Atom seems to currently corner the market. My issue is that once these tests are out of the way they are of no educational use at all. Please don't spend too long doing electronic reasoning to the detriment of real life problem solving, crosswords, puzzles etc and the skills of doing maths and English on paper which will be useful when children actually go to school.
Given the rise of ChatGPT I think there will be an increase in monitored writing tasks etc in lessons.
My conclusion is that whilst candidates are spared the endless study of the 'Consortium papers' that used to go on it has been replaced by hours of Atom. However as many candidates also apply to other schools there is still a necessity for the basic skills of written maths, comprehension and writing. My advice would be that candidates should study for written exams as they would for SPJS, Latymer, City etc and that preparation will be appropriate for the Consortium test too. Last year a number of people seemed to believe that the Consortium exams would be just 'reasoning' and there was no need to study formal english and maths. That is not the case.
As always parents find the whole thing more stressful than they could every have imagined, so try to prepare yourself. Please do not leave it all too late and then panic at the end. Steady preparation is the best thing to do. Please do remember to let us know how the children got on.