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Preparing for Entrance Exams

One of the most difficult things about preparing for entrance exams is the fact that there is no one single model of a school admissions test paper. One school may ask you to respond to a creative writing task about a childhood memory, while another might require you to analyse an eighteenth-century poem. Over the years, I’ve helped many students prepare for Common Entrance exams or 16+ admissions, and one of the recurrent problems I’ve seen across the board was students’ failure to read the question and plan their answers. These two key points are important for any kind of entrance exam paper and can help students improve their results, even when they are less sure about the questions.

Whatever the task on the test paper, it’s important to read through the question several times with care. It is often the case there are clues in the instructions about how to answer the question successfully. Sometimes a directed writing task might list several points to include in your writing, which if you neglect will damage your score. Sometimes certain phrasing in the title question, such as ‘to what extent’, may indicate the way that you should answer. You should also look at the time allocated for the question and the number of marks available. This will help you to gauge how much to write for that particular question and decide if that section should be a priority.

Once you’ve ascertained how you should answer the question, you should spend a good portion of the exam time planning your answer. For example, in a two-hour unseen paper, 30 minutes should be used to read through the question, annotate the text, and organise your thoughts into bullet points which can then be grouped into PEE paragraphs. If you rush the planning stage, you’ll end up thinking on paper and fail to express yourself clearly. Planning ensures you can respond with clarity, structure and confidence — and this will impress examiners and allow you to score a higher mark, even if you aren’t sure of your answers. You can try practising these kinds of tests in our admissions, Voyage and Discovery courses, where students are regularly given practice unseens and high-level writing tasks.


For more information on applications to top overseas schools, check out our collection of Overseas Admissions articles, or book a consultation with i-Learner Overseas Education Services.