How to pass the 7+ English exam
Preparing for the 7+ exam is often very much a whole family effort and as the exam date approaches, it can often cause anxiety and tension for all parties involved. Although I run the risk of stating the obvious, it is imperative to note just how young our 7+ students are. Despite the word ‘exam’ being in the title, it is of utmost importance that children remain relaxed throughout the entire process of their 7+ exam journey. Children develop attitudes to learning at such a young age, so I believe that although they are preparing for an exam, revision should mimic the ways in which learning is taught in the Year 1 and 2 classrooms; through participating in engaging, interactive activities that help children to foster a real love for lifelong learning.
As educators and parents, we should be mindful throughout the 7+ process of ensuring that our children associate learning with enjoyment and an achievable level of challenge. Should any stress or issues with confidence arise, it may be best to take the foot off the gas for a little while before resuming revision.
It is also important to note that the top prep schools in London continually stress the fact that social skills and abilities are given just as much attention as academic success. There is no expectation that children should achieve 100% accuracy in the exam papers, schools instead are looking for signs of potential.
Thinking specifically about the English section of the 7+ exam, there are some steps that your child can take to ensure that they are given the best possible chance of achieving 7+ exam success.
Adopt a skills-based approach to learning
Although exam papers have their time and place in 7+ exam revision, these shouldn’t be wheeled out too early on in the revision process. Attention should instead be given to skill development.
Look at comprehension questions in isolation
To revise for reading comprehension, it is useful to look at different question types in isolation first:
Literal [ja2] [ja3] questions often start with the 3 W’s (What, When, Where) and the answer can simply be ‘stolen’ from the text.
Inferential questions dial up the challenge level slightly, asking children to be detectives and use clues from the text to find the answer. Often, inferential questions will start with ‘Why’ or contain the word ‘you’. E.g. What would you do if X happened?
Clarifying questions ask children to define the meaning of tricky words.
I often encourage children to read a text twice, the first time thinking carefully about the meaning of tricky words they have read, allowing the second read for these words to be put into context. These steps will help children greatly when answering the comprehension questions as 9 times out of 10, a question will appear that asks children to explain what a tricky word means.
Don’t write a whole story at once
Similar to comprehension revision, it is best to break story writing into chunks. Children are expected to be able to develop a setting, character, and plot, and it’s often best to look at each of these ideas in isolation for a few weeks before beginning to piece everything together.
Spend time thinking about how to incorporate the five senses into a setting description and explore effective similes that describe the weather. Opening a story with a weather description is a great way to add detail from the offset.
Have a look at interesting words and phrases that describe a character’s appearance and personality. Describing a character doesn’t have to be a written exercise, you can use real life characters such as people you see on the television or people you encounter on the school run!
Children should also be encouraged to find inspiration from their favourite authors. Roald Dahl was renowned for writing vivid descriptions of often gruesome characters and if your child is a reluctant reader, audio books are a fantastic alternative to discovering interesting new words and phrases.
Most children should be familiar with the story mountain structure, and for the 7+ exam children should work on writing a beginning, a middle and an ending.
The middle section of the story should incorporate some form of problem or dilemma which is then solved in the ending paragraph.
It is expected that children preparing for the 7+ exam should be able to stretch out their plot with adjectives, similes , speech marks and sentence openers, so it may be worth taking the time to look at these concepts individually before writing a full story. By taking the time to build up a varied repertoire of vocabulary, your child should find it much easier to write independently when faced with a blank piece of paper on exam day.
There are many wonderful resources available to help boost children’s vocabulary, my favourite being Mrs Wordsmith. www.mrswordsmith.com
Don’t panic about time
When children become obsessed about how much time they have left to complete their story, we often see detail being omitted and a plot being rushed.
Children should focus on one paragraph at a time, following the story mountain structure and packing in as much detail into their story as possible. An incomplete story that includes a setting description and simile is much more preferable than a complete story lacking any descriptive language and an incoherent plot. This brings us back round again to the idea of potential that schools are looking for.
If you feel that your child is secure in the skills that are assessed in the English section of the 7+ exam, it may be time for them to start using some sample papers. Wicked Smart papers are carefully leveled to ensure that children are gradually challenged, preparing them gently for the exam.
I wish all children the very best of luck in their exams and am confident that if they truly enjoy their learning, take their time and remain relaxed, they are well on their way to exam success!