How to prepare for the 8+ exam

Cute Girl in Classroom

If your child is due to take their eight plus (8+) exam, you may have already found there is limited information available. This guide aims to provide all of the useful information you need in one place, to help you prepare your child for this important entrance exam. 


What is the 8 plus?

The 8 plus is a school entrance exam used by a number of top schools, to admit pupils for entry into year 4. Students are required to take the exam during year 3 and they will be offered a place depending on their performance in the test. 


Some schools may only carry out the 8 plus, soley accepting students into year 4. Whilst others may hold both the 7 plus and 8 plus, with entry points at both years 3 and 4.  


The 8 plus exam content will be similar to the 7 plus, however is delivered at an increased level of difficulty since students will be one year older. 

What is tested at 8 plus level?

Maths and English forms the main academic focus, for the 8 plus exam. Increasingly, schools now include a reasoning paper, which often includes both verbal and non-verbal elements. The test is often written or computer based, though may also include verbal aspects such as dictation, memory, spelling and mental arithmetic. Schools may also adjust the pass mark, depending on the age of your child. 

The 8 plus follows a similar structure to 7 plus, however at a greater level of difficulty. The 8 plus is often taken in the January, for students entering in September. 

Students will be expected to be achieving upwards of a level 3 in the National Curriculum. The 8 plus will include all areas of the key stage one curriculum and the beginning of key stage two. 

Since standards at prep schools are much higher, the level expected at 8 plus is significantly above the national averages. 

The subject knowledge and format of the exam does differ slightly between each school, therefore to know the exact content your child needs to study, it is important to check directly with the schools. You may find it helpful to refer to our school specific 8+ pages for more tailored guidance. 

The process may also include more "hands-on" tasks testing your child's creativity and dexterity. For example, one school in London has previously asked children to draw a sketch of themselves.  As part of the process, schools often ask for a report from the child's current school.


Those that pass the exam, are then often invited back for an interview. It is important to note that some schools carry out their interviews before hand or even straight after the exam. The interview will often include an individual chat with the headteacher, in addition to a group task that your child will carry out with other pupils. 


What is the difference between the 7 plus and 8 plus exams?

Chemistry Students

For most schools, the 7 plus and 8 plus exams are very similar. The main difference is the academic difficulty, the 8 plus challenges students at a higher level. Whilst your child will take their 8 plus exam in the middle of the school year, as a minimum they can be tested on the full year three curriculum for both maths and english. Often, standards are higher than this, including questions that fall well above the national average for year three. 

How to prepare for the 8 plus exam

As with any exam taken at primary level, small amounts of practise, regularly and consistently is the best way to prepare. Timed practise is also important using past papers, in order to ensure your child can still work to the same high standard given the time pressure of the exam. These will also allow progress over time to be measured, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. 


The main areas tested are comprehension and creative writing skills. 


Strong comprehension requires a developed vocabulary. When reading, children are often challenged by words they do not understand for example, words that are not part of their spoken vocabulary; unfamiliar technical vocabulary; and words that have more than one meaning. Encouraging your child to look at words in different contexts deepens their understanding of the nuances in vocabulary. You could ask your child to record challenging words in a dedicated notebook, where they can write definitions using their own words. 

Successful comprehension also requires readers to use their knowledge, to fill in gaps in meaning, this is known as inference. To develop this skill, you could ask your child to make predictions about characters and events in stories. 

To fully understand a text, readers must use both their long-term and working memory. Children can find this a challenge, due to their limited long-term memory and overloaded working memory. To develop your child's comprehension skills, you could introduce some background information to a story, before your child reads and encourage them to take their time, re-reading any sections they find difficult. 

Your child should be reading above the national average. Graphic texts are an excellent way to support your child in accessing higher level reading, developing inference skills and critical thinking. This is because they have to understand the interplay between the words and the pictures to make sense of the text. Gradually building up the amount of comprehension work set for your child, will develop their speed and stamina with challenging texts in addition to answering questions within a tight timeframe. 

Creative writing

To be successful with the creative writing component, it is imperative that your child's response is directly linked to the question rather than a memorised, well rehearsed piece of writing. Schools have been known to ask children to continue the story from the comprehension section or to write a story in response to a given picture, idea or other prompt. 

Schools typically allocate marks for creativity, a wide use of vocabulary, sentence structure, logical organisation, handwriting and spelling. You should ask your child to regularly practise writing around 10 lines a day on a topic they know and love. This can then be used as a springboard to improving their vocabulary, by seeing what adjectives, similes, adverbs, metaphors and other techniques can be added. You could even have a day out at a zoo or museum and ask them to write an account of the days events, before turning it into a story. 

Spelling, punctuation and grammar

Schools may assess grammar, by asking your child to correctly add punctuation to a text. A verbal spelling test may also be given, to assess your child's spelling ability. Students could also be asked to complete a dictation test, where they are required to write down spoken sentences (usually read once and then repeated twice). Schools may also assess memory, by reading a short paragraph (two or three times) and then asking pupils to summarise what they have heard. All of these skills can be developed through practise, using age appropriate resources.  


The 8 plus exam often includes content from the full year 3 mathematics curriculum and in top schools, expectations are well above the national curriculum level expected for this age group.  Mental arithmetic is a key area tested in the exam and can be assessed verbally or as a written exam. The exam will also include extended multi-step worded problems, including money and change, time, arithmetic or a combination of each. There will also be mathematical logic puzzles, that could involve number, shape or time. They test your child's ability to think critically and apply their knowledge to abstract questions. 


Schools are increasingly including a reasoning paper as part of their 8 plus exam. Therefore it is important to check if your chosen schools include this, as all do vary. The reasoning test could include a verbal and non-verbal component. 

Non-verbal reasoning

Questions in the non-verbal reasoning assessment, are often centered around mathematical concepts such as symmetry, rotation and size. Often, your child will be expected to determine a particular pattern and correctly choose the next component in the sequence.


Other common questions in this section include:

  • Identifying which shape is the "odd one out"

  • Working out cube nets or what shapes will look like when folded

  • Working with mirror images or reflections

  • Correctly identifying what a shape will look like when rotated by a certain number of degrees. 

Typically students will have to select the correct answer from a selection of 4 or 5 multiple choice options. 

Verbal reasoning

Verbal reasoning is essentially a form of problem solving based around words and language. These tests are designed to test your child's ability to understand and reason using words. This is a test of skill rather than learned knowledge. Schools use these tests to assess your child's potential to problem solve and think critically. 

Typical questions in this component include:​

  • Identifying the odd one out or two words with the same meaning from a list of words

  • Finding antonyms (opposites) from lists of words

  • Spotting a hidden word inside another word 

  • Adding one missing letter to complete two words

  • Codebreaking, where each letter of the alphabet is coded for by a number or different letter. (For example if A becomes C, B becomes D, C becomes E then "fqi" would code for "dog".  

Making the decision to receive tuition for the 7 plus exam, requires careful evaluation and you must have clear goals in mind. It is often said that, tuition at 7+ level most importantly requires a teacher qualified to teach this age group.     


Schools we prepare our students for


We prepare children for the 8 Plus assessments required by many of the UK’s leading schools including:

School Entrance Experts

At Jacob Tuition, we are proud to offer a high quality consultation service, using our experience to support your child  in applying and preparing for success with their 7 plus entrance exams. We will support and guide your child throughout all stages of their journey, ensuring they find a school they are best suited to. 

We also offer a unique school application service if required, where we can research suitable schools for you and even organise the application process all for you, providing ongoing advice and guidance as required. 

In addition to the application side, we provide quality fully qualified teachers, to expertly deliver outstanding entrance exam tuition for your child both online or to your home, at your convenience. 

Tuition will always begin with an academic assessment of your child's current ability, we will compare this to the national average and give an honest judgement of schools that your child will be best suited to and are realistic options to aim for. This will enable us to identify if your child will gain from our expert tuition, we will then make a bespoke learning plan, to ensure your child reaches their goals. We also assess if your child would benefit from our other services, such as mock interview practise via our online tuition platform

Painted Green Arrow

At Jacob Tuition, all of our 8 plus exam tutors are fully-qualified teachers. To enquire about tuition, please call us on 07748192800 or click the enquiry button below and tell us your tuition requirements. We look forward to supporting your child with their studies.