The new school year is underway, and with it come looming entrance exams. Preparing for these assessments can be just as intimidating for parents as for the children themselves. From the perspective of an educational consultant and tutor, I have found that the key is to take the mystery out of the process.

Whether your child is getting ready to sit 8+, 11+, 13+ or any other entry-level test, there are some simple guidelines that you can follow to take the autumn exam calendar from battle to breeze. Here are five core principles to follow for your ultimate guide to prepping for entrance exams:

1. Get informed

It may seem like the obvious thing, but many parents are actually ill-informed about the exams their children are preparing to take. Instead of allowing your anxiety to become your child’s anxiety, sit down with a computer and do a little research.

You should be clear about the dates and times of any entrance assessments, and all schools will provide this information as well as some idea of their exam criteria on their website. Having a hard time navigating the site? Now is the time to ring up the school or send them an email and ask for some guidance.

It’s good to have a list of questions. Your child should know and be prepared for: the length of the exam(s), what materials they are allowed to bring in with them, and the format/content. Some schools are more forthcoming than others when it comes to disclosing the types of questions on their assessments. If they offer past papers or sample exams to look through, be sure you have familiarised yourself with these. If they’re more reticent, look for a range of past papers from other equivalent schools and compare two or three to get a sense of the level for which your child should be aiming.

Knowledge is power; the more you know and understand the simplest processes and forms of the entrance exams, the less intimidating they will look. Try putting up a big, colour-blocked calendar to map milestones leading up to the exam dates. You and your child can visualise the coming months together, and plan accordingly.

This is also where an educational consultant or well-experienced tutor can make a helpful difference. If you have a list of schools and dates, a knowledgeable advisor can guide you toward the best resources and revision suitable to your needs.

2. Little bites

Once you’ve gathered all your information, it may feel like you have an unmanageable amount of revision ahead. Try not to allow this to become overwhelming. The key word here is consistency.
It is never a good idea to dedicate one or two days a week to long study sessions. Your child will become exhausted and associate revision with stress, tiredness, and boredom. It is also impossible to retain information or motivation in this way. Instead, dedicate a small amount of time every day to revising and little chunks of work.

I really mean small amounts of time. Consider reviewing spellings or simple maths over breakfast every morning, no more than fifteen minutes before school. Morning is a perfect time to unlock memories stored from the previous night’s work. Don’t try to introduce new material or anything that involves reading fresh text this early in the day. Instead, use your mornings to go over the kind of things that need to become second-nature—formulas for Maths, parts of speech for English, key dates or chronologies for History.

In the afternoon, allow your child some time to decompress from school before your second fifteen-minute stretch of the day. This is a good time to pick one new topic and engage closely. If morning is about memory and drilling, afternoon is for asking and learning. Try reading an unseen poem and answering questions in a limited space of time. Pick up a sample exam and select just one type of non-verbal reasoning question to unpack.

In two- to three-day units, this type of cyclical review will be the most effective preparation your child can get. No more than half an hour per day, but make the most of that time to feel both productive and rested.

3. The big picture

You may want to work in little bite-sized portions, but this doesn’t mean losing sight of the bigger picture.

First, there is the big picture when it comes to preparation. Feeling lost in the middle of all that day-to-day revision? Not sure whether you are focussing on the right areas of study with your child? Begin by speaking to your child’s teacher. Read their school reports. Every couple weeks (and not more often than that!) you can consider setting your child part of a timed assessment. The time constraint is good to practice every once in a while, and it will reveal the areas in most need of improvement.

Second, there is the big picture when it comes to getting accepted. It is a wonderful accomplishment and vote of confidence to be accepted into the school of your dreams. But it is just as important for your child to be able to visualise what will happen if they do not get in, and to understand that the exam date does not stand between you and a sheer drop off a cliff.
Discuss what your child will do next with either outcome. Maybe you have some past experiences of school applications, job interviews, or other assessments that you can talk about. Everyone, even adults, face these scary processes, and your child will benefit from hearing you be vulnerable about your own challenges.

Every parent manages expectations in their own way, and this is going to be particular to you and your child. That said, it is worth emphasising that these entrance exams do not define the skill or potential of the students in question. There is nothing but truth in this. If you are already involved in your child’s education and development, your support will prove far more important than the outcome of a test.

4. Step back

This point leads naturally on to the next: step back! If your child seems really stressed and anxious, if they’re feeling ill on a given day, or express the need for a break, allow them that space.

Time away from revision does not have to be unproductive time. If you are able to tie leisure time in to study time, so much the better. Maybe your child could draw the characters from the book they are reading. Go to a science museum and wander the exhibits on a weekend. Watch a cheesy historical film set in a period that your child is studying.

Forming connections and asking questions are both at the very heart of educational growth. Never is this more the case than in prepping for entrance exams, when the seemingly arbitrary papers are often trying to draw out the problem-solving and innovative spirit in the student.

Routine and consistency are necessary work, but time away is energising. Diverse input will fuel your child’s imagination in new ways. Try audiobooks or the radio during quiet time, work some walking or sport outside into your daily schedule. After some time away from obvious revision time, your child will be more prepared to sit down at the desk when it’s called for. With the right support, you and your child can trade out stress for fun, and still be productive!

5. Exam day

So you’ve prepared, revised, planned, and it’s finally exam day. Today, there should be no studying. Smile—you deserve to! Even though it feels like the big exam is yet to come, it’s actually already over. Preparing was the challenge. Taking the exam should be like the celebration.

If you are able to convey a sense of fun and adventure, you will dispel most of the pressure from the day. Your child will be surrounded by stressed kids, so there’s no point in ignoring the stress in the room. Instead, redirect it. You’re nearly there!

Be prepared for whatever energy follows your child out of the exam room. They deserve to be embraced and praised no matter how their morning has gone. And so do you. Congratulate yourself for accompanying them through these last, difficult months. No matter what happens, you and your child have grown together, and that is something of which you can be wonderfully proud.


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