Common Entrance

At 7 and 8+ entry, schools test English and Maths skills, with an increasing number of competitive schools also including a Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning paper. The 7 and 8+ exams differ for individual schools and change from year to year. Less common tasks may include group discussions about a short film or text, designed to observe students’ ability to interact with their peers. If students are successful at this stage, they will be invited for an interview. Interviews and assessment days are usually held a week after the written exam.


For most schools, there is a focus on fundamental arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, featuring questions on fractions, measurements, time and remainders. Ensuring your child is confident in their times tables is an essential part of 7 and 8+ exam preparation.

Maths questions in previous 7 and 8+ exams at competitive schools include:

  • Adding hands to clock faces, e.g. 3 o’clock
  • Drawing a 10 cm line in a rectangle
  • Measuring a line and giving an answer to the nearest cm
  • Identifying and rotating shapes which contained right angles
  • Drawing two diagrams of a pentagon (regular and irregular)
  • Word problems, e.g. A mini-bus carries 13 school children. 8 children get off at a stop and 5 get on the mini-bus. How many people were on the mini-bus when they arrived at school?

Some schools also include more challenging 2-3 step ‘problem solving’ questions at the end of the paper.

Your child should not worry if they do not complete the paper. Some are designed to be very difficult to be finished within the time and many children are offered a place at top schools without completing all the questions.


7 and 8+ English papers assess comprehension, composition and spelling. The composition component is often a creative writing task where children develop a story based on settings, characters and objects provided in the question. In past exams, schools have given children 45 minutes to write a story including a character (inventor, elf, writer, old man), an object (feather, colouring pencil, watch), and a setting (hole in a tree, riverbank, museum) and were asked to write a minimum of one full A4 page.

Spelling tests are often included in assessments, where children are asked to listen and write down words as the teacher reads aloud. Words in previous exams include extravaganza, physician, scream, friend. Comprehension tasks often use extracts from well-known children’s authors including Michael Morpurgo and Dick King-Smith. Comprehension and creative writing exercises are used to test spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Verbal Reasoning

Not all papers will include Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning sections. Verbal Reasoning tasks normally take the form of puzzles e.g. word ladders, cloze passages and cross words. Cloze activities ask children to ‘fill in the gaps’, selecting the best suited words for each section of the passage. Exposing your child to a wide range of vocabulary will help them to tackle these questions. Practicing analogies, for example ‘France is to Paris, as Spain is to…’ is also good preparation.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal Reasoning can be assessed as part of the Maths paper or separately as an individual test. They are designed to assess logical and spatial reasoning. Questions involve visualising 3D shapes, spotting patterns and identifying missing values.

The Summer holidays are a great opportunity for students to read widely, learn new vocabulary and practise fundamental Maths skills. Students often use the Autumn term to practise exam papers and improve their exam technique. Scoring consistently 70-75% or above on practice papers across all tested subjects is a good baseline that a child will perform well, even at the most competitive schools.

We wish you the best of luck.