28th August, 2018

Practice Makes Perfect: SATs, 11-Plus and Entrance Exams

By Dom G


Whether you're prepping your child for SATs exams, honing your skills for the 11-plus papers or counting down towards university entrance exams, we've got expert advice and a full break-down of how to smash standardised assessments from our friend Rob Williams, psychometric testing extraordinaire.

Pretty much everyone today will have done some form of standardised assessment at some point in their lives. To an untrained eye, they can seem straight-forward and not worthy of much revision, however, many have been stung by their dastardly mix of logic and time-constraints. 

Standardised assessments range from primary schools all the way up to the 11+ test, university exams and even medical school entrance tests in the form of UKCAT, so they're important to get your head around early on!

We've been lucky enough to secure some expert advice on handling these tests, with a special focus on the 11+,  from Rob Williams a psychometric test creator and master of assessments. 


Read on for some top tips and exam prep advice!


"Practice, as the popular saying goes, makes perfect. Research clearly shows that the right kind of regular psychometric testing has a ‘practice effect’. That means improved scores, as well as reduced anxiety about what your test will look like.

The right kind of practice means firstly using a closely matched Test Format. Secondly, practicing under conditions that are also a close match. Timed practice conditions prepare you for quickly switching into the focussed, efficient mindset that’s vital for test success. Other test-taking strategies will offer incremental score improvements. Many such tactics are covered in my last two practice aptitude test books, Brilliant Passing Numerical Reasoning Tests and Brilliant Passing Verbal Reasoning Tests.

There are types of question that you can guarantee will appear. It’s an easy win to practice these. Any good 11+ tutors can advise you on this – just like those kind secondary school teachers who liked to ‘advise’ you on what one may expect to appear in their exam. Tutoring and/or going through past papers answers yourself will reveal the type of questions you consistently get wrong. Learn how to get these right – especially if they are from a ‘teacher told us’ category.

Below are some useful tactics for the most commonly encountered aptitude tests in both grammar school 11+ tests and in many private school entrance exams.


Passing non-reasoning reasoning tests

Given my 20+ years of experience designing psychometric tests, I know that ‘squiggles’ tests can divide opinion. To use their official name, non-verbal reasoning tests in the educational sector (‘abstract’ for occupational testing) ask you to look for the changing pattern(s) in the picture series making-up each question.

The easiest picture series consist of a single common shape, such as a triangle or circle, which changes its colour or position by one gradual step at a time. Questions increase in difficulty as more shapes and random figures are added into the mix, and as there become two, then three and even 4+ patterns to spot.

The key learning point is to take this on-board simply as a new skill, to master like any other. Learning to drive typically takes a few months with some regular weekly time devoted to practice. Your realistic expectation is to learn strategies and a process for passing the driving test - no one is expecting you to become Lewis Hamilton! Likewise, the most important thing with non-verbal reasoning tests is to learn and hone the basic techniques and incrementally improve your mastery of these until you are able to easily apply them to a real test.


Passing Maths entrance exams / Passing Numerical reasoning 11+ tests

Let’s start by being upfront and honest about what’s achievable. Even infinite amounts of practice won’t turn every student into a Maths prodigy. Probably. However, regularly scheduled practice with past papers at the expected difficulty levels will give you an important boost and that may be all that you need to pass.

When talking to clients about numerical reasoning tests I always recommend timed practice sessions. Once you know the best test-taking strategies you need to hone how quickly you can apply your mathematical reasoning when working under timed conditions. Your test day will be even more pressured so the more time you spend in that performance-focussed mindset, the more used you will be to time pressures.

Numerical reasoning for Grammar School entrance requires you to average around one minute per question. Work briskly but accurately. Each question counts the same so pick off the easy ones first and don’t waste your test time on the most difficult questions unless you’ve got plenty of time left over.


Passing English entrance exams / Passing Verbal reasoning 11+ tests

English exams / Verbal reasoning tests come in many different types of format. School may already have introduced your child to the traditional English comprehension format, where a short novel extract is followed by 5-6 questions.

Read the question once quickly and then a second time more slowly. Many questions hinge on one or two key words, so you must take more care to interpret these accurately. If questioned whether something “always” applies whilst the passage states that it is “sometimes” the case, then this is a false interpretation. Similarly scan the passage initially and then read it in more detail. It’s easier to answer each question if you can recall roughly where to find the answer in the text.

Clearly, understanding the nuances of English is key. It goes without saying that improving your child’s ability to interpret written English prose is going to pay dividends at school. I’ve lost count of the number of times teachers have advised my girls to read more widely.

However talented your child is, there will be personal challenges with regular practice sessions and these will be peppered with problem questions, or papers. Considerable endurance and personal resilience is required. For parents and child!"


So there you have it, some key advice for young test-takers out there that can be applied to pretty much any level of exam! If you're looking for more information on the 11-plus, you can take a look at our full guide here.


Written by Rob Williams: To practice any school entrance exam (grammar or private school) or educational SAT test, its vital to use recent exam papers. That’s the main reason why I formed Rob Williams Assessment - to give every parent easy access to the right practice papers and test-taking tips.

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