Newcomers to London find out about the famous assessment soon after their babies are born and people start telling them that they should now start thinking about schools! A few pre-prep schools are non-selective (notably Pembridge Hall, Wetherby, Hill House School, and the Eaton House Schools), but many popular schools do run assessments in order to narrow down the registration list of two hundred candidates to the twenty to fourty children chosen for the Reception class. So if you want your child to get into Falkner House, Thomas’s Battersea, North London Collegiate School or Garden House, for example, prepare yourself to bring your 3-4 year old in for an assessment by the future school.
Assessments for Reception entry are very different from assessments at the 7+ or the 11+ level, where children are tested on their school knowledge (read more about what to expect for the 7+ exam here). At this young age, schools mainly look for social skills that suggest the child will fit into the school community. They will be looking for children who share and will socialise in a small group. They also look for curiosity and school readiness. They will probably read a story to check if your child can sit and listen, and they will ask questions on the story they have read. So you see that mostly, the assessment is about behaviour – taking turns to answer questions, sharing at play, and listening.
In addition, especially at the more academic schools (such as Falkner House, Kensington Prep, North London Collegiate School, The Hall, for example), additional tasks carried out individually might be:
- Recognising and writing of your child’s name
- Correct scissor use
- Recognise numbers to 10 and/or count to 10 or beyond (even writing numerals at some North London schools)
- Understanding of quantities (what happens if I have four apples and take two away?)
- Sorting and matching activities
- Doing a simple jigsaw
- Drawing yourself, your mummy, a tree, a cat or a flower
- Phonic awareness, familiarity with phonics and initial blending
- Vocabulary and rhymes (tell me an animal that rhymes with the word “hat”)
The Glendower Prep School has a good overview of their assessment on their website: “Prospective pupils are invited to attend in groups of 6 or 7 for about 40 minutes to be observed interacting by three or four adults… The skills being sought are mainly social maturity and readiness to learn in a group situation. Cooperation, flexibility, a “can do” approach and facility with the English language are all highly regarded. We are also looking for numeracy skills, letter recognition and a basic ability to follow instructions.”
How do you prepare for the 4+ assessment then? There is nothing really to prepare for the day as such, what is required is really to make sure your child picks up these social and cognitive skills in the first years of his life. Attending a good nursery with a balance of free play and more structured work on fine motor skills helps a lot. You should read bedtime stories and encourage storytelling and communication at home, and then those tasks during assessment should present no problem. If you need additional ideas for reading, please check the following:
- top books to read with your baby
- top books to read with your toddler
- top books to read with your preschooler
All good nurseries would also teach children about sharing toys and being polite to other children and adults, so there is nothing really to worry about. A good nursery would also make sure children build up the fine-motor skills schools are looking for at this age. Montessori schools can be excellent preparation for the assessments due to the quality of their materials and the opportunity they give children to work independently and focus on one activity for a longer time span without being interrupted.
It is important that your child is relaxed and healthy on the day and expects the assessment to be a playsession to make friends and explore, as that way the school will be able to observe his skills in action. I have heard of several cases of children being so intimidated or confused that they refused to speak to the teachers or other children on the day, and none of these children were offered places at those schools. At that age, it is still quite common for children to go silent when strangers ask them questions, so it will be useful to work on that if you think this could happen to your little one.
Another trick I heard from a mum whose daughter now attends one of the top prep schools in London was to keep her daughter away from nursery for a couple of weeks before and during the assessments to make sure she didn’t catch a post Christmas holiday virus from the other children that would make her cranky and miserable on the day. You may find this extreme, but I do know cases of children who didn’t get into their (or shall we say their parents’!) first choice school because they were unwell on the day. Make sure your child is healthy, well rested and cheerful during the day. And as one head of a top prep school recently advised parents: if you have an assessment on a Monday after the Christmas holidays, please don’t arrive on a red eye flight the day before and expect your child to do well in an assessment!