Everything is changing around entrance examinations at the moment and the days of Common Entrance seem to be numbered. Good news all round you might think as the new online testing is said to be ‘tutor proof’. But we have heard that phrase many times before in our 11+ world and we know it to be wishful-thinking.

Tonbridge School has announced that boys as young as 10 can secure a place at the school by performing well on their secret-squirrel style ISEB Common Pre-test. In the past, this test – taken in the Autumn of year 6 – was a ‘traffic-light’ arrangement where boys were given a green light to pursue a place in year 8. Now that exam is going to be run alongside group interviewing and will result in an ‘unconditional offer’ for boys two years earlier than previously.

And it is likely that other academically-competitive public schools will be moving in a similar direction. This way places are secured two full years before entry and the school can take hefty deposits earlier than ever before. It is a system that suits the school very well.

So what do we know about this new Tonbridge School Common Pre-test?

  • It has been created by GL – the company behind the Kent Test and those CATs tests that many children take annually in school.
  • It is taken online and in a multiple-choice format.
  • There are 4 separate tests. Maths is 50 minutes, English is 25 minutes, VR is 36 minutes and NVR is 32 minutes.
  • Those in the know suggest that the test content is responsive to the child’s ability. More challenging questions unfold for those who show potential early on…
  • There is a group interview and a report from your child’s headteacher included in the selection process.

What does our knowledge of GL testing tell us?

It is nothing new to hear a GL test described as ‘testing innate intelligence’ (whatever that might be), tutor-proof and ‘changed so regularly that it cannot be prepared for’. But the exam board is not as proactive and hard-working as its reputation might suggest. Those of us whose job it is to look closely at the work of this exam board have learnt a few things along the way.

What resources will I need to prepare my child for the day?

  • The maths curriculum is reasonably similar across the board at this age. The Kent Test includes work that is taught in both state and private schools but it also includes content more usually taught in years 7 and 8. So we would expect this pre-test to do the same. Preparation should begin with strong maths teaching at school subject by subject. Children should not start the mixed content of exam papers before they are ready for them or their confidence takes a knock each time they come across something new. Later preparation should include a variety of exam papers – all the GL Practice Papers for 11+ are available online and a good place to start as the style of these papers is different from those produced by other private/public schools. Sevenoaks School maths papers are interesting to look at as they cover the top end of the curriculum content – but the style of these papers will not reflect that of the GL pre-test. Speak to your school to make sure the higher end of the content is being covered – right up to multiplication and division of fractions, composing algebraic formulae, sequences, circle theorem and surface area etc.
  • The English paper will be of the standard GL style. Begin preparation by using the excellent CGP Sats Buster 10 minute tests/Reading book. Don’t be put off by the reference to SATs tests – the style is similar to GLs classic content and you can do them aloud to avoid written answers (which won’t be needed on the day).Once these are done move on to the 2 sets of GL Exam papers available online. There are likely to be vocabulary questions to answer so some regular vocabulary work is a good idea. Use Rose McGowan’s 11+ Vocabulary book There will also be some questions on parts of speech and types of imagery. To revise for these I would use this great parts of speech app on an iPad and the CGP Sats Buster 10 minute tests/Grammar book too.
  • Verbal Reasoning… GL draws on 21 key types that are all set out (among others that are still worth including in case of ‘unexpected’ questions) in Susan Daughtry’s VR training books (this link is just to Book 1 but you will need Books 1 to 4). They haven’t previously included crosswords or anagrams but most of the other content – including the number sequences and all the types of coding – may turn up.
  • Non-verbal Reasoning… The best book to learn the skills is Stephen Curran’s Workbook 2. NVR improves greatly with regular practice. So do the book first and then get hold of the GL Practice Papers for NVR.
  • Spatial Reasoning may not be listed as part of the exam, but it is likely to be included within the NVR content. The exam is linked closely to the CATs tests produced by GL and these do include spatial work. Fortunately Stephen Curran has produced an excellent book of training, Workbook 3 but I would avoid the huge chapter on cube nets as these haven’t appeared in GL exams to date. If your child is weak at spatial work then be prepared to cut, stick and build shapes to explore how they appear from different directions or sliced in half. You will get the idea when you see the book…
  • You can easily prepare for the group interview at home. Don’t teach a formal script as this will be a total disaster and is exactly what Tonbridge School doesn’t want. Encourage your son to chat about his interests. You might want to remind him what his thing is – but be honest. If he can talk passionately about an X-box game then that is fine, although I would suggest he mentions something a bit more outdoorsy too. Children often don’t realise that the overbearingly confident child round the table isn’t likely to be picked either. They should be able to listen and respond in conversation so mealtimes at home with the whole family are a great place to try this out and get past the stumbling. Keeping it real is a must.

This new Tonbridge School Common Pre-test has come about rather quickly and there isn’t much time to prepare a year 5 child from scratch for the Autumn 2017 exams. If you are keen to do it then break the work up into varied 10  minute exercises. Put a bed-time routine in place where your child does a few online tables speed tests, plays the grammar app and then reads. A couple of nights in the week spend 10 minutes on the vocabulary book and perhaps an exercise of the grammar test book. On the weekend spend no more than an hour one morning doing 15- 20 minutes max on three short subjects. Introduce exam papers after May half term – or later when you feel they have covered enough content –  and break them into halves, or individual sections. Don’t bore your child with 50 minute papers or they will go off the boil and tire of the process. Get a regular, weekly, snappy plan in place and re-jig it in the summer holidays. At that point you can put a short (45 minute) daily plan in place to cover VR and English on alternate days to Maths and NVR. And absolutely do break for a good 2 weeks of holiday when you don’t even mention it. Not once!