Some boroughs in London devise their own entrance exams to help select pupils. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to consider the borough of Wandsworth in south London. The Wandsworth Test is an exam sat by all Year 6 pupils in Wandsworth state-run primary schools every year in November or December. It can also be sat by pupils from outside the borough by special arrangement. The exam exists to make the process of applying for Wandsworth secondary schools more streamlined. Although no state school in Wandsworth is fully selective, some of them do hold back a portion of their places for students scoring highly on the test (alongside a number for those living within a specific catchment area). With required pass marks for the most popular schools regularly exceeding 95%, it is vital for parents to know and understand what will be expected from their child.
Like many other 11+ exams of its kind, the exam is written and prepared by GL Assessment, an outside firm with expert knowledge in designing and scoring educational tests. Content is divided between non-verbal and verbal reasoning. You cannot train your child how to answer the questions regarding specific content, but you can train to recognise likely question formats and structures. There are common types of questioning used, and with some practice your child will become much more adept in recognising what they are being asked to do- no mean feat for a ten year old! GL Assessment sell two books (one for each questioning type) which you can purchase and use to help your child should you wish.
Students record their answers on an answer script, marking off their chosen answer with a pencil. This script is then marked by a special computer. Your child’s school will carefully explain this all to your child both before and on the day; you may find it useful to practice this at home as well.
Structure and timings
What makes the Wandsworth Test especially tricky is the pace and timing. Students will need to move on at the pace set by the teacher reading the test out. There is little to no opportunity to go back and check answers during the first part of the test, so your child will need to be confident and fully briefed before the day. Schools do allow some practice time on the day of the test. Regular practice for a year or so before sitting the test will make your child much more aware of what they are expected to be doing, and how to do it.
The non-verbal questioning is teacher-led, with the whole class moving on to sections at the same pace when prompted by the class teacher. As a result, being able to accurately answer questions at speed is essential if your child is to succeed. There is very little time available to go back and check through answers. The second part of the test is more open, and so “checking” skills (being able to go back and evaluate their own work) make a big difference here. Again, both of these skills are rooted in confidence rather than in innate ability, meaning that it is essential your child is well-briefed and practiced before sitting the test.
Pass marks/how is used
This test is used in conjunction with the Wandsworth school application form, where parents list up to 6 choices for their preferred school. Schools in the borough all have their own selection criteria, which will change between schools. Typically these will favour children in this order: those who are in foster care or adopted, siblings, those with special needs, by score on the Wandsworth Test (only for a set number of the available places), and then by geographical proximity (now measured by straight line distance from the student’s house to the centre of the school). The centralisation of the system means that no child will be offered more than one school place, and Wandsworth council does state that all children living in the borough will be offered a place at a school in the borough.
Like many educational authorities, not all Wandsworth schools award places for scores on the test, and no school selects just by test scores. As a result, pass marks for successful school placements are extremely high: typically over 95%. This score varies year-on-year, depending on the scores of all children and the number of places available that year. Both these numbers change, meaning that there are no hard and fast rules over what constitutes a “good” pass mark. The available information indicates that scores take students age into account, i.e. those born in August are given extra credit.
The whole process is carefully designed to keep your child’s scores anonymous to everyone bar Wandsworth Council. Schools cannot find out where they have been ranked on the form. Once all schools have replied to the council specifying whether they will or won’t offer a place, your child will be offered a place at the highest placed school on the form. (e.g., if the schools you ranked 1st and 2nd both reply to Wandsworth council offering a place, you will only be offered a place at the 1st school).
How you can help your child
It is advisable to start early, as this gives your child time to get used to both the format of the two parts of the exam and the type of questions used.
As mentioned above, GL Assessment sell books of practice multiple-choice questions in a similar format to those used in the test. At Owl Tutors we recommend starting roughly a year before, with perhaps weekly sessions looking at both Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Aside from practicing these skills, get your child reading regularly and doing logic puzzles like Su Doku and Kakuro- this will help sharpen skills in a way that they are more likely to enjoy!
Another benefit of starting early is that you will be able to identify where your child is doing well and where they need to improve. From this whether they should be going for one of the 95%+ places. Do remember that not all schools award places on the basis of the Wandsworth test, and that not all places in any school are given on a selective basis. It may well be that your child’s needs will be best met in a less or non-selective school. Remember too that there are other selection criteria apart from the Wandsworth Test, with some schools awarding places for musical aptitude.
As all children sit the Wandsworth test, if you give your child the chance to practice and feel fully ready for it before the event, they will have had an early positive experience of sitting an exam that will put them in a better position for when GCSEs and A-Levels roll around.
Although it isn’t essential, an experienced tutor will definitely help in all of this. Having someone who is aware of common misconceptions and how to address these will make sure that your child is as ready as they can be for the test. Here at Owl Tutors we have a wealth of tutors available who are perfectly placed to do just this. Based in Clapham, we are a local agency with a lot of experience in working with families across Wandsworth.