Exams are necessary, they are important and they open doors

Our role as a preparatory school is to prepare its pupils for what lies ahead. In all we do at Hatherop, we endeavour to provide a balanced education that is delivered with an eye on the future. An education that imparts the skills and knowledge that these children will need academically, but also that forms the foundations for their decision making, builds confidence and responsibility and equips them with the values and strategies to underpin a successful adulthood.

What makes a good education?

A good education should not be determined solely by a set of results at the end but rather that good results should be the by-product of a good education. If a school makes results its sole focus then it risks draining the enjoyment and intrigue that education and exploration should afford. Seeing good results as an indicator of educational quality may be a misrepresentation of what education is all about. Exams remain the legacy of archaic approaches that test the masses against a single benchmark without regard to an individual’s prolonged personal progress. An exam becomes, in part, an indicator of the individual’s performance on the day which can prove disadvantageous even to the brightest on a bad day.

Research now demonstrates that there is no direct correlation between exam results and quality of life later on, but whether you agree with the principle of exams or not, they are still the currency for entry into secondary schools, higher education institutes and other training establishments and therefore we must support our upper to school in learning how to prepare.

The benefits of practise exams

Exams require a certain degree of technique and involve disciplines such as time management, being able to succinctly articulate one’s point, as well as learning, retaining and being able to retrieve the information in the first place. There too are added benefits of sitting such a rigorous academic assessment three years before GSCE. Accessing national curriculum content, in some cases 2 or even 3 years ahead of their peers nationally allows most to make better progress and even gain better grades at GSCE through prolonged exposure in a more nurturing environment.

Boys in particular mature differently to girls. They want to do sports, run around in the playground and be boys. Yet, the change in them during these two years is dramatic and they really do become more focused and grown up. Girls too have the added advantage of being better placed for future exams and in being supported by those that have known them for so many previous years to gain resilience not perfectionism – children learn from making mistakes as much as their successes. They gain self-confidence and self-belief for their GCSEs when they can think ‘I’ve done this before, I can do it again’.

Selecting a future school is becoming more popular at age 10, but it is a far more unpredictable task to choose the right school at this age. Fast thinkers and self-assured learners often flourish at senior schools from Year 7 – including our own Hatheropians who choose to do so. However, with the changes in students in these last two years in terms of focus and maturity, the opportunities afforded to them for authority, and the added value of responsibility in being top of the school; it seems a missed opportunity to not couple this with teaching how to organise independent revision, appreciate the importance of working towards a goal and be given a real life opportunity to demonstrate ownership of their own learning.

For parents, talk of GCSE at a preparatory school may feel over whelming; an almost foreign language. Therefore for information, curriculum highlights of the exams in English and Maths are detailed below on what it is we prepare for that will not happen in a state secondary school. These points can be used as direction on what to prepare along with some top tips on how to prepare:

How to Prepare for the 13 Plus English Paper

The assessment is split evenly across comprehension and composition. The following points are what are most acutely assessed, so mastery of these is important:


  • Comprehension skills (practice using a range of different texts, including poetry) 
  • Exam technique: answers should be governed by the number of marks available in a question 
  • Structure of longer comprehension answers; use P-E-E (Point-Evidence-Explain) 
  • Vocabulary/word recognition: keep a record of unknown words and phrases encountered in reading and check these either with dictionaries or adults 


  • Maintain logical progression of ideas 
  • Solid structure (e.g. story mountain
  • Confident use of paragraphs 
  • Balance of setting, character, description, action an dialogue 
  • Powerful first and last line 
  • Range of literary devices (e.g. similes, metaphors, alliteration, pathetic fallacy, onomatopoeia, rhetorical questions) 
  • Broad vocabulary
  • Consistent spelling, punctuation and grammar 
  • Clear handwriting 

How to Prepare for the 13 Plus Maths Paper

The key is in broad and profound knowledge of the below core sub-topics, as well as quick and efficient problem-solving:


  • Powers and roots 
  • Percentages 
  • Four operations with decimals 
  • Negative numbers 
  • Order of operations 
  • Fractions 
  • Properties of number 
  • Probability 


  • Expansion and factorisation 
  • Solving equations 
  • Inequalities 
  • Straight line graphs 
  • Sequences 

Geometry and Measures

  • Transformations 
  • Coordinates 
  • Statistics 
  • Averages 
  • Other points to consider in the Maths paper include: 
  • Read questions carefully 
  • Do not rush to answer 
  • Underline key words in questions 
  • Attempt all questions 
  • Always show working 

The last critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle in the interview preparation. Questions in these interviews tend to fall into two categories – Core and Extension:


The areas that are often covered in shorter interviews (typically 15-20 minutes) include:

Family (e.g. How do you like to spend time as a family?) 

Your school (e.g. What is your favourite thing about your current school?) 

Reading (e.g. Tell me about what you are reading at the moment) 

Academics (e.g. What are your favourite and least favourite subjects?) 

Extracurricular (e.g. What interests would you like to pursue further at your new school?) 


In longer interviews, as well as covering the topics above, the following might be raised:

Hobbies (e.g. What do you like to do in your free time?) 

Achievements (e.g. How would you like to be remembered?) 

Ambitions (e.g. What would you like to do in your adult life?) 

Strengths (e.g. How would your best friend describe you?) 

School choice (e.g. What is it about [PROSPECTIVE SCHOOL] that most excites you?) 

Logical thinking (e.g. Is it better to be nice or right?) 

Task (e.g. Imagine I can’t see this picture. Describe it for me.) 

Poem (e.g. What do you think this poem is about?) 

Mental maths (e.g. If P = 4 + 2m, find ‘P’ when ‘m’ equals 6) 

Object (e.g. Tell me why you brought this object.) 

Piece of work (e.g. What are you most proud of in this work?)

With all of this said, we must never lose sight of the fact that there is lasting damage that can be caused when children align their self-worth to a result. The binary summation of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ are labels that children can quickly become to believe as a category applicable to all aspects of their life. At Hatherop we have the luxury of such close relationships and small class sizes that we can offer outstanding pastoral care to keep common entrance, interviews and exams in general in perspective.

Exams are necessary, they are important and they open doors. Whether you believe in their efficacy as a tool to gauge the true abilities of a person or not, there is no avoiding their need and the fact that until someone comes up with a better idea, they are the way that institutions around the world determine whether someone is of the right calibre.

Are they a sound indicator of a child’s ability in the wider sense of intelligence, problem solving and creative talent? This is a question that is open for debate but until the currency of exam results as a means of entry changes, we would be doing the children a disservice by not preparing them for these tests.

This is an unassailable fact of life in school and one if our responsibilities that we take very seriously is how we help our pupils face the exam challenge and not be overwhelmed by it – and dare I say it, even learn to enjoy the process!