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When choosing an educational setting for your child, you may be considering private schooling. All private schools in the UK require students to sit an entrance exam to determine whether they’re allowed in. It’s a daunting prospect for children and parents alike but entrance exams needn’t be nerve-wracking. It’s simply a case of being well-prepared.

At LS Tuition we have a 100% success rate of getting children into private school. In this article we share our effective study method to help your child ace their entrance exam. We’ll also let you know what to expect in an entrance exam, how to apply, and some tips on reducing stress.

Early planning is the secret to feeling calm and prepared. So, let’s get started!

What is a private school?

Private schools are independent in that they don’t receive funding from the government. Private schools rely on tuition fees to support the day-to-day running costs, including teachers’ pay.

Private schools appeal to many parents because they have more autonomy over curriculums, teaching standards and may offer additional opportunities. The selective admission process for private schools means smaller class sizes and a more challenging academic environment for students to excel in.

The independent nature of private schools raises the bar for students and teachers. But with competition for places fierce, you might be concerned about the stress entrance exams could put on your child.

Think about it this way: higher standards give children the opportunity to show themselves that they can achieve more than they thought possible. Don’t write off your child’s ability without giving them a chance to succeed.

The other thing to remember is that most successful private school applicants have help. Private tutors and support from friends and family make all the difference to a child’s sense of self-belief.

With the right support and a plan for success your child is more than capable of sitting and passing a private school entrance exam. It all comes back to feeling prepared. And the first step is to demystify the process of entrance exams.

What are private school entrance exams?

Some private schools are more selective than others, but all applicants must sit an entrance exam to gauge their ability. In England this exam is known as the 11 Plus. There are no longer grammar schools in Scotland so the 11 Plus isn’t used here.

Regardless of whether your child attends private school in Scotland or England their academic ability and general intelligence will be assessed before they’re accepted into the school.

The content of the entrance exam is designed to test your child’s ability in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Often logic questions will be part of the test in the form of problem solving with shapes and sequences.

When are independent school entrance exams?

Entrance exams are taken prior to the start of a new school year — usually 3-4 months before students arrive. In Scotland the exam dates typically fall from November to April. This gives the school plenty of time to assess exam results and reach a decision.

The 11 Plus is set earlier because it’s marked by an external assessor. Typically, children sit the 11 Plus in September, prior to starting private school. That means children have the summer holidays to prepare in advance.

Remember that the 11 Plus is non-compulsory. Your child doesn’t have to take it if they don’t want to.

How difficult are private school entrance exams?

It depends on the school! If your child wants to attend Eton, the most prestigious and selective private school in the UK, then the test will be extremely hard. Similarly, George Heriot, one of Scotland’s highest-ranking private schools sets exceptionally high expectations for its students.

However, don’t let exclusive schools put you off private education. Local private schools are often easier (and cheaper) to get into while still offering a high standard of education. The most expensive schools often boast cutting-edge gymnasiums or swimming pools but if this isn’t a priority for your child then you’ll find they still receive a first-rate academic education.

Most schools write their own exams so it’s worth doing a little research on your chosen school’s entrance process. Ask teachers or parents of existing pupils what you can expect to help your child prepare.

The biggest factor in determining the difficulty of the test boils down to your child’s ability. What do they struggle with? Is Maths anxiety an issue? Knowing which subjects they struggle with is half the battle. Practice makes perfect, so the more time they have to prepare, the better.

Regardless of academic ability, the verbal and non-verbal reasoning aspects of the entrance exam might trip up a child if they’ve never encountered them. Focusing on these aspects of the test during study time will help them feel calm and confident on the day of the exam.

What’s included in the exam?

Private school entrance exams assess your child ability and potential across 4 key subjects:


Private entrance exams usually focus on Maths skills learned in KS2. Topics that frequently appear include:

We recommend that children brush up on their times tables!


The English portion of the test is the trickiest to prepare for because it changes year to year. However, it’s a safe bet to study the following topics:

If your child struggles with their letters read our Guide to Helping Your Child With Spelling.

Verbal reasoning

Verbal reasoning isn’t part of the National Curriculum set out by the government. However, it’s extremely important in the development of problem-solving skills.

The verbal-reasoning part of the exam tests a child’s ability to understand and reason with words. What’s being assessed isn’t learned knowledge but an aptitude for processing information logically.

Children will be expected to:

Essentially, verbal reasoning tests how a child thinks. It’s a concept that might be confusing and unfamiliar to children who haven’t come across it before.

Holistic education tutors can help improve a child’s verbal-reasoning skills because they focus on honing the ability to independently interpret and analyse information rather than relying on rote learning.

Non-verbal reasoning

Non-verbal reasoning isn’t part of the National Curriculum either so your child might find it confusing at first. Non-verbal reasoning assesses a child’s spatial awareness and ability to problem solve in a visual way.

Expect to see:

Again, holistic tutors can help build your child’s confidence in non-verbal reasoning. The great thing about developing non-verbal reasoning is that it’s a skill for life and can help solve problems across subjects.

How far in advance should children prepare for exams?

How much preparation your child needs depends on their ability and confidence. If your child is taking the 11 Plus it’s wise to prepare up to a year in advance.

For a general private school entrance exam, 3-6 months gives your children plenty of time to prepare and study at a gentle pace without feeling burnt out.

How to study effectively — 3 tips

Your child might not be the only one who feels overwhelmed by what to study. Here are our top tips on how you can best prepare and de-stress your child in the run-up to exams.

Help them form a study habit

One of the best things you do to prepare your child for entrance exams is to help them form a study habit.

Habits, like brushing our teeth, become automatic parts of our daily routine. We don’t question a habit; it’s simply ingrained in our daily life. Often, it’s making too many decisions (e.g. what should I study? When should I study?) that leads to overwhelm or burnout.

Forming automatic habits is about setting an intention. Choosing a day, a time, and a place to study will increase your child’s likelihood of studying tenfold.

Try getting them to say a version of this phrase:

“I will study Maths at 4pm every weeknight at the kitchen table.”

Setting an intention out loud helps a habit stick. It sounds basic but intention setting is a key part of habit forming many people miss. Vague goals like ‘study more’ are harder to incorporate into our routine because the components of success have been left to chance. Namely, what, when, and where to study.

Know what areas to study

Does your child excel at English but struggle with Maths? Maybe they can wax lyrical about their interests but struggle to express emotions on the page.

Knowing where your child needs a helping hand will give structure to study sessions. Prioritise the subjects they struggle with and help them break a topic into smaller chunks.

Eliminate distractions

Scrolling while studying is a form of multitasking. Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking distracts from the completion of tasks. Encourage your child to study one subject for a set period before moving on to the next. And to leave their phone in another room!

This is where other members of your household can help by being considerate. Reducing noise from the television or not playing their music too loud will help create a calm, focused environment that’s conducive to study.

Praise their effort

Have you ever heard of ‘two stars and a wish’?

It’s a constructive way to give a child feedback and boost their confidence, even when they’ve made a mistake.

You praise two things they’ve done well (the stars) and point out one area where they could improve (the wish).

For example:

“Well done, your handwriting is much neater, and you’ve really thought carefully about your answers. Make sure you write the number ‘7’ the other way around.”

You can read this blog post for more study tips.

Tutoring for private school exams

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There’s no doubt that preparing your child for exams can be stressful. Especially when your child’s future hinges on the results.

You might not feel qualified to help your child study or simply lack time due to the demands of a busy job. That’s where a private tutor can help.

A specialised tutor quickly assesses your child’s needs to implement a full-proof study plan. Holistic tutors look at educating the ‘whole child’ and while passing the private school entrance exam is the short term goal, holistic tutors can instill a sense of confidence and love of education that extends far beyond passing exams.

As we keep saying, preparation is key! By giving children plenty of time to prepare, helping them implement a study plan, and providing extra support where needed, you’ll set them up for success on exam day — and a brighter future.

If you need more information about the private school application process, we’ve compiled a list of exam dates across Edinburgh here. We’re also delighted to hear from parents who need extra support preparing their child for entrance exams. Simply book a call.

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