Common Entrance|Insights

The 7 and 8+ Common Entrance exams are used by a selection of prestigious independent schools including Westminster Under School, St Paul’s Juniors, Dulwich Prep, Wetherby Prep School and King’s College Junior School, among others. For any parents new to the process, we have put together a beginner’s guide, so that you know what to expect as your child approaches 7 and 8+ exams.

7+ exams are sat for Year 3 entry and 8+ exams are sat for Year 4 entry. Both exams share a similar structure to assess Maths, English and Reasoning skills. Students who are unsuccessful at the 7+ entry point may try again at 8+.


Students sit exams which assess their ability in Maths, English, and Reasoning (Verbal and Non-Verbal). The St Paul’s Juniors reading lists and Maths syllabuses are a good starting point to understand what will be assessed.

  • The Maths exam will include questions on the four operations, place value, estimating and rounding, fractions, money, shapes and space, and problem solving. A strong knowledge of times tables is an important part of 7 and 8+ exam preparation – using flashcards or online games like Mathletics can make this learning fun!
  • In English, students are assessed on their vocabulary, grammar and spelling, comprehension, listening, and creative writing skills. Exams may provide a visual prompt for imaginative story writing. Others involve shorter writing tasks where children may have to correct or improve a paragraph. Dictation is a recent addition to several school assessment processes.Encourage your child to read widely (7+ reading list, 8+ reading list) and make a glossary of new words. Reading for pleasure inspires creative writing and can be used to scaffold ‘model paragraphs’. We encourage children to write model paragraphs which evidence their use of different tenses, sentence structures, and wide vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. These provide a framework for children to confidently approach creative writing exercises in the 7+ and 8+ exams.
  • Verbal Reasoning tasks include puzzles such as word ladders, cloze passages, and crosswords. Exposing your child to a wide range of these exercises will help them to tackle these questions.
  • Non-verbal Reasoning can be assessed as part of the Maths exams or independently. The questions involve visualising 3D shapes, spotting patterns and identifying missing values, and assessing logical and spatial reasoning.

Early Preparation

Students can start preparing for 7 and 8+ exams from Year 1. Daily reading, playing word games, for example using platforms such as Mrs Wordsmith, and 15-minute Maths activities help children to build the strong foundation skills that will be assessed. Sign up for an Atom Learning account – the 8+ practice exercises help to familiarise children with online testing and develop VR/NVR skills which are not taught explicitly in school.

Little and often, rather than last minute exam cramming, is the key to success!

Focused Preparation

7 and 8+ support can be provided by schools, parents, an older sibling or a qualified tutor. Children should also get used to completing work independently, as this is what they will have to do in the exam. We recommend around 12 months of focused preparation for the 7 and 8+ exams. ‘Focused preparation’ means regular preparation sessions (1-3 hours of 7/8+ exam activities per week), practice past papers and timed exercises. Our top tips for focused preparation are:

  • Look at each school website and create a spreadsheet on their exam formats. Schools approach 7 and 8+ exams in different ways, so reviewing their admissions process, syllabuses, and past papers online is a good starting point.
  • Mock exams: As exams approach, use free online past papers to familiarise your child with the format of the test.
  • Keep an eye on school websites, social media announcements and newsletters. This is where they will share information on their examination process and what is expected, as well as insight into the school ethos and personality – this comes in handy for interview preparation!
  • Private tutoring: An experienced Common Entrance tutor with in-depth knowledge of the examination process can also help you to navigate exam preparation. They can provide detailed feedback on your child’s strengths, areas for development, address subject knowledge gaps and hone exam technique.
  • Emotional support: This may be the first time your child has been formally assessed and it could be stressful for them. Introducing mindfulness activities and yoga can help them to develop valuable stress-coping strategies for exams, and for life!

The Golden Circle

Each year, The Golden Circle successfully prepares students for 7 and 8+ admissions at highly competitive independent schools. Using a new and exclusive AI-powered benchmarking assessment tool – the Academic Profiling Test – we offer a thorough, initial assessment to identify a student’s strengths and areas of improvement. Informed by data, we provide parents with evidence-based recommendations on the best schools aligned with the student’s academic ability, character and interests, creating a 7 and 8+ route map to optimise results. We provide detailed feedback on each child’s progress through weekly lesson reports and work collaboratively with schools and parents to secure places at their first choice schools.

We wish you the best of luck with your applications.