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Preparing for the 7+ (Maths)

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The 7+ exam (for entrance into private schools in year 3) is not to be undertaken lightly. The exam is taken in the Autumn Term of year 2, so your child would be 6 or maybe just 7. The extent of the preparation needed for the exam depends very much on what school you are applying for and there can be a massive variation. Normally, the schools that are ‘through’ schools i.e. if you get in at 7, then you have a guaranteed place through to year 13, have much tougher entrance exams than the prep schools (which stop at 11 or 13).

There are a lot of things to consider and you need to decide as a family whether it is right for you. It is a huge undertaking, and will require a group effort. However, particularly if you go for a through school, then you can consider it a short term investment for long term gain and the chance to avoid the 11+.

Going for a top-end through school

At the top end of the spectrum – so for schools such as King’s College Wimbledon, St. Paul’s, Westminster, Hampton etc. – your child (by the time the exam comes round) will need to be:

  • a minimum of one year ahead of the national curriculum and ideally further;
  • to know all their times tables and be confidently multiplying and dividing, understand and problem solve with fractions and decimals, have good problem solving and reasoning skills, quick mental arithmetic and a full knowledge of the year 2 syllabus and ideally much of the year 3 syllabus;
  • writing in neat, cursive writing with excellent spelling and punctuation;
  • able to use direct speech, similes, alliteration, ‘WOW’ words, fronted adverbials and exciting adjectives;
  • understand grammatical terms such as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition;
  • be confident in verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

Before embarking on your journey, consider whether you think your child could get to this point by the start of year 2. Every child develops at a different rate, and it doesn’t mean your child isn’t right for the school if they are not right for it at 7. Bear in mind also that the test can involve several papers set over a 3-4 hour period, in exam conditions without many breaks. There are only some children who are developmentally ready for this kind of assessment, and it wouldn’t be fair to put a child through it if they would buckle under that pressure. Only you know your child, so only you can decide whether it’s right.

If you’ve decided the journey is right for you, then how/when do you prepare? Again, that does somewhat depend on your child. However, here is a rough guide – and this is based on assuming that you are only going for it if your child is showing signs of being very much at the top end of their year group.

  • Aim to start preparing at some point in the reception year, as soon as you feel your child is ready but definitely by Easter.
  • Check out which schools you are applying for, and carefully check the website for exactly what to expect in their exams. Most of them have sample papers too so that you can see what you need to be aiming for.
  • Start with the Bonds books – and work your way through. I would aim to be doing 20 minutes to 30 minutes 5/6 days a week in reception, up to 45 minutes a day in year 1. Ideally you should have completed the age 7-8 Bonds books by the time of the assessment.
  • Work your way through the Exam Paper Plus practice papers This website also details exactly what to practice for each school you are going for. Getting around 80% in these papers consistently should stand you in good stead for success.
  • You could consider mock exams, or revision courses in the Easter or Summer of Year 1 – such as those run by Exam Paper Plus or Yellowbird Education.
  • Depending on your child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, consider a tutor. Most schools say it’s unnecessary, and yet it’s nigh on impossible to get in without some tuition at some point in your journey (although that can be done at home by parents).
  • Consider having a back-up school. However intelligent or well-prepared your child is, they are very little at the end of the day, and anything could happen. They may get distracted by an interesting poster, not feel well or just not be on their best form. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Going for a prep school

If you are going for a prep school, or a less competitive through school, then the preparation does not need to be as extreme as the above, and your child doesn’t have to be at the same level. The best way to gauge what is expected is to check out the sample papers on the websites, find out how many places are normally offered compared to the numbers who apply and what other parents say about the process. That will tell you where you need to be on the scale from no preparation (unwise for any school) to the above. As a rule of thumb, if your child isn’t reading very confidently by the end of reception and writing reasonably fluently, then you will probably need some tuition to get on track.


This process can be stressful, but it can also be enjoyable. Find ways to reward your child, make sure they have breaks and don’t get burnt out. And watch out for signs of stress – maybe a sign that this isn’t right for your child. It is possible for it to be fun – my son actually cried when they were over as he’d enjoyed them so much, and he asked if he could also do the 8+!

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