Helping your child to reach their academic potential starts at a very young age. You might think that exams are an event which will take place far in the future, but the truth is that if you want your child to attend a top independent school, they will need to take an entry exam between the ages of 6 and 7 years. This is known as the 7+ exam.
Of course, the word ‘exam’ strikes fear into the hearts of every child and even at this age, your child is likely to know that this is a test that they need to pass. For that reason, it’s vital not to pile the pressure onto your child but to help them prepare in a way which allows them to flourish naturally. It can be a tricky balance to strike but it’s one which is necessary if you want your child to get into the school you have picked out and therefore go on to flourish academically, being happy and fulfilled in the process.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about the 7+ exam in detail. We’re going to cover what it is, when it is taken, and how you can do your best to prepare your child and therefore look forward to a pass mark.
The exam helps the school gain a clearer insight into your child’s ability academically and as a result, they can decide whether the school is a good fit for your child. Not every child will flourish at every school and the exam helps the selectors understand which children have the best chance of success there, versus those who will find more success in another school.
The 7+ exam is an entry exam for certain independent prep schools. Not all prep schools require your child to take an exam, but the most prestigious often do. This is a test which basically says whether your child gets a place at the prep school in year 3. As a result, they’ll take that exam in year 2, at between 6-7 years of age, depending upon when your child’s birthday falls in the school year.
Prep schools choose this time to set the test because they believe it is the ideal time in your child’s academic development to work out their basic skills and their potential for future growth. Prior to this time, your child is still grasping the basics and as such, taking an exam earlier wouldn’t be a fair marker for suitability.
It’s also important to remember that there is no standard format for 7+ exams and that each prep school sets their own. For that reason, when you decide to apply to a specific school, you should receive information about their particular tests. If you don’t, this is something you need to reach out about yourself and find out before you start to help your child prepare.
The most common skills to be tested in this exam are maths and English. Most tests are written but there may be elements of speaking involved – again, you will need to speak to the school to find out the basis of their test, so you can help your child as much as possible. Certain schools also include reasoning tests these days, but not all. The exam itself should not last more than around half an hour and there should be a break at some point in the middle, to help your child to relax and to reduce stress. Remember, this age is very young for exams and it’s vital that your child feels comfortable during the whole process.
Your child will take a 7+ exam for the school you have applied for whilst they are in year 2. The test is normally taken in the spring term, towards the start of the term. This is so you will know well in advance whether your child has secured a place at the prep school for the following school year, starting in September. If they do not pass the exam, you then have time to continue your search for a suitable school.
Following the exam, your child will either be offered a place at the school on a confirmed basis, they may be told they haven’t been successful in securing a place, or they may be put onto a waiting list, pending a further decision.
As you can imagine, taking an exam at the age of 6 or 7 years can be scary and it’s very easy for a child to underperform due to stress. The good news is the exam format is short and whilst it is done under exam conditions, they aren’t as strict or as formatted as the exams your child will take later in their school career.
The single best thing you can do for your child is to keep their stress down and to help them prepare. Don’t pile on the pressure and stress to your child that they have to pass otherwise they won’t get to go to the school. Whilst you should encourage them to do their best, you should also let them know that if they aren’t successful, the world won’t end. Of course, getting into a good school will help them to do as well as possible in their academic career, but if you throw pressure at them at this young age and make it clear that they have to succeed or else everything will go wrong, you’re simply going to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, how can you help your child to prepare for the exam and hopefully look forward to a pass?
Aside from not piling on the pressure, it’s important to talk to your child about what the exam is, what it means, and what they will be asked to do. This cuts down on any shocks and means that your child will have a good amount of knowledge about what is expected of them on the day.
This will give them confidence and help to reduce any nerves they may experience on the day of the exam.
The school should be able to give you some past exam papers to look at with your child and if not, you will find resources online. Of course, every school has a different format but you can find out that information and then look for the right resources together.
You should explain to your child that a past exam paper doesn’t mean that they’re going to be asked these exact questions, but that they give you an idea of what questions might crop up and therefore help you to feel more comfortable.
Work through the papers with your child and remember to take a soft approach. Don’t scold your child if they get it wrong; instead, explain the error and prompt them to come up with the right answer. When they get something right, give the praise to build up their confidence.
Not all children will need a tutor, especially if they have a strong background in their schooling so far, however it is an option for children who are lacking in confidence or who need a little extra help in certain subject areas. If your child is fantastic at English but a little shaky with their maths occasionally, hiring a maths tutor could be a good way to focus their attention on improving and gaining a better stance for the future.
Remember to check the credentials of any tutor you choose and that they are registered.
By creating an atmosphere at home which focuses upon asking questions, learning, having discussions, and feeling confident enough to speak out when they don’t understand something, you’ll help your child to relax and not start to build up the idea of the test too much in their head. Yes, the exam is important but if it is causing your child sleepless nights and making them feel extremely nervous, you need to pull back the pressure and take a different approach.
Taking an exam at the age of 6 or 7 years is tough but it will set your child up for the best academic future possible. Make sure that you have alternative school options in place, in case your child isn’t successful in gaining a place at you first choice school. This reduces the pressure and helps your child to shine and show their real ability.
Also, avoid talking about the exam too much outside of any preparation you do with your child. Constantly focusing upon a looming exam is not going to help your child pass and if anything, it will create a mental block which dooms them to failure.
At the end of the day, understanding how to pass the 7+ exam all comes down to the right type of preparation.