RSL Educational | King Edward's (KES) Birmingham: Admissions & Entrance Exam Advice
03/06/18

How To Get Into King Edward’s School, Birmingham


King Edward’s School has an admirably clear, easily understood entrance process. This cannot be said of all independent schools! The exams are fairly challenging, but within the reach of any child with a good grasp of the core primary curriculum, who has practised carefully with similar kinds of test paper.

In this article I will explain exactly how to prepare your child to show themselves at their best in the KES entrance exams and interview.

The admissions process can be broken down into the following stages:

  • Applications need to be submitted by mid September in year 6. A small application fee is required from most parents.

  • Exams in English, maths and verbal reasoning are held at the beginning of October. This is earlier than for the majority of independent schools, which tend to hold entrance tests in January.

  • Interviews for some candidates are held in November. These are focused on scholarship and bursary candidates, and boys whose exam results were on the borderline between acceptance and rejection.

  • Offers go out in December.


There are other dates for music scholarships, etc.

Please be aware that entrance exams and admissions processes can change from year to year. For this reason, consult the school’s website as well as this article, and do not focus too narrowly on past papers: a solid, all-round 11-plus preparation is always wisest.

Now I’ll talk you through how to prepare for each stage of the assessment process.

The English Exam

The KES English papers are in some ways typical of many independent schools, and in some ways a little different. The questions are particularly clearly explained. If a child reads the instructions for each question carefully, they should have little doubt about what they need to do.

There are two sections: a comprehension paper, likely to last around 40 minutes, and a writing paper, likely to last around half an hour.

Comprehension

The King Edward’s School examiners are clear that they want to see answers in full sentences. However, do not misinterpret this as requiring you to repeat the question!

  • Don’t write “Because he is tired.” This is not a full sentence.

  • Don’t write “The man walks up to the wall and rests his head against the brickwork because he is tired”, if the question is “Why does the man walk up to the wall and rest his head against the brickwork?” There are no marks for repeating the question, and you are wasting time and answer space.

  • Do write “He does this because he is tired.” This is a complete sentence, but is concise and focused on getting the mark(s).


The KES comprehension paper tends to include a significant number of questions, but many of these are short. There is sometimes more answer space than you will need.

An unusual feature of this paper (something shared with St Paul’s Girls’ School) is that the questions don’t always state how many marks are available. In a less clear exam, this would make it hard to second-guess how much of an answer is required. However, it ought not to cause any problems in the King Edward’s test.

The questions are wide ranging, and require a good grasp of all the main 11-plus skills: finding information, writing clear explanations in your own words, explaining characters’ personalities and behaviour, supporting explanations with concise evidence, and identifying and explaining the ways in which authors achieve certain effects – in other words, how they persuade a reader to think or feel certain things. The most thorough practice for these 11+ English skills is offered here.

Unlike at some other schools, the KES examiners rarely set longer, ‘mini-essay’ comprehension questions. The focus is on being clear and specific, and it is unlikely that boys will need to know how to structure a lengthy answer.

The best preparation for this test is with practice papers – preferably ones with worked solutions (so that boys can see what sort of answer is most effective for each kind of question) – and by using a range of past papers from other independent schools (for instance, here).

Creative Writing

Once again, the examiners are extremely clear about what they want. The task itself is often described in some detail: there is a lot more than just a title. This is very helpful, but it also means that it’s extremely important to read the instructions with care, underlining all the key information. If you do something different from what is required, you will lose marks.

The school is looking for accurate, well-paragraphed writing, and for descriptive flair. The easiest ways to make your writing interesting are by using strong verbs (“squirmed” or “shuffled”, rather than “moved”) and through a wide-ranging and imaginative use of the senses. Instead of writing “she saw the elephant”, write “the elephant’s breath wafted past her, a surprisingly delicate smell like scattered hay in an empty barn”.

Metaphors and similes are wonderful … so long as they don’t confuse the reader, and so long as they are your own! “The sight froze him to the spot” won’t get you much credit, because the examiner will have seen this metaphor hundreds of times before.

The school is keen to see dialogue, so make sure that you know how to punctuate speech correctly. Don’t over-do it: your writing shouldn’t look like a play script.

The best way for a child to prepare for a creative writing test like this is to practise with a wide range of topics, thoughtfully and slowly, reviewing and correcting their work. The most extensive range of creative writing papers with worked example answers and marking advice, well matched to the KES exam, is available from 11 Plus Lifeline.

The Maths Exam

The KES maths exam is a fair test, because although some of the later questions are quite tricky, they are well grounded in the core primary school (KS2) curriculum. It’s important to be comfortable with the paper methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, with using fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios, with simple probability, with angles, and so on.

There is nothing which will push the limits of a well prepared boy’s knowledge; however, if they are unfamiliar with the style of tests like this, some of the question types are likely to be puzzling. Therefore, steady practice with relevant 11-plus materials such as these is sensible.

There are two stages of preparation: reinforcing core knowledge and practising it in context. However, these can usually be combined quite effectively.

When working with practice papers, move slowly. When something is difficult, stop and work on it until you are comfortable (this is easiest if you have example answers to compare to your own), then move on. See it as a process of ironing: look for the creases, and smooth them until they are gone. You’ll then notice other, smaller creases, and be able to focus on those.

Bear in mind that even if you don’t finish the paper, you may still perform well enough to pass the test. Three quarters of a paper completed well will score more highly than a completed test which has been rushed and is full of mistakes.

The Verbal Reasoning Exam

The KES verbal reasoning test is designed to assess a child’s potential and linguistic ability, rather than academic knowledge. I am sceptical, because children who are lucky enough to come from families where reading and intelligent conversation are normal will have an advantage in all kinds of English test, whether for reasoning or comprehension. I’m not sure that this kind of paper is a good way of locating hidden talent.

However, philosophical considerations like this are irrelevant if your child is preparing for the King Edward’s exams: they have to sit a verbal reasoning paper whether they like it or not!

There are no past papers for this test, so the best preparation will come from using a range of practice books. You’ll find them in most decent-sized bookshops. Do a little bit of practice, once or twice a week. Focus on making it unrushed and thoughtful.

Above all else, children need to get used to dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary, and words which have more than one meaning. They will never know every word in English; however, careful elimination of unlikely answers is a good start. The next stage is to weigh up the remaining options thoughtfully to find the most likely result. What do the syllables of a word suggest? Which other words does it sound like?

Finally, because reasoning questions tend to be worth few marks, but there can be a lot of them in an exam, it is important to get used to circling tricky questions and returning to them at the end of the exam. Five minutes spent staring at a 1-mark question can be disastrous!

The Interview

KES uses its interviews in order to assess scholarship and bursary candidates carefully, and for a second look at boys who achieved a borderline result in the exam. If your child isn’t called for interview, this does not mean that they have failed to gain a place!

I have published very detailed interview guidance in this article. If you’d like some clear advice for how to help your child prepare for an interview (and how you definitely shouldn’t prepare them!), please have a look.


If you would like more guidance about how to prepare for the King Edward’s School entrance assessment, you may like to have a look at 11 Plus Lifeline – according to Tutorful, “the gold standard for independent and grammar school 11-plus preparation”.

I hope this article has been useful. If you have any questions or comments, please use the chat box at the bottom of this page. I’m always particularly interested in hearing from representatives of the schools discussed in my admissions guides.