How To Get Into The King's & Queen's Schools, Chester
This article explains the best way to prepare for senior school (Year 7, or 11+) entry to the King’s and Queen’s schools in Chester.
I studied at The King’s School until I was 14, but that was a long time ago. Things are different there these days!
The King’s and Queen’s Schools have slightly different assessments. I’ve combined my discussion into one article because some parents of girls will be considering both schools. I’ll explain at each stage what the similarities and differences are.
My knowledge of the exams is based on previous years’ papers. Please bear in mind that the style and format may change. Don’t prepare your child too narrowly for a specific type of test: a good all-round 11+ preparation is sensible, as well as being much more useful for their future.
Applications – by early January
You can apply for both schools until very close to the exams.
Other than in exceptional circumstances, the schools don’t perform any advance selection: almost all eligible children are called for assessment and interview.
Entrance Exams – mid January
Both schools test maths, verbal reasoning and English (with comprehension and creative writing sections). The King’s School also tests non-verbal reasoning.
The schools’ exams for maths and verbal reasoning are similar enough to be discussed together. The English tests are a little different, so I’ll start by dealing with those separately. Non-verbal reasoning is only set by King’s.
English: The Queen’s School
The Queen’s English exam is broken into two sections of 30 minutes each.
The first part is a fairly standard 11-plus written comprehension test, usually based on an extract from a well-known book. In the past, the paper has been provided without answer spaces (separate answer paper is provided), but with helpful indications of roughly how many lines to write in response to each question.
The questions test the usual comprehension skills: careful selection of information from the text; the ability to explain key ideas succinctly in your own words; the appropriate use of evidence (preferably in the form of short quotes); an understanding of the techniques used by an author to create effects. All these skills are explained and taught thoroughly by the materials available here.
A quirk of the Queen’s comprehension paper is that there is an unusually strong emphasis on personal responses (‘Explain how you feel when you read the line “Then the faces began”‘) and on imagining yourself into the position of the character, reaching judgements which go some way beyond the information given in the passage (‘How do you think the Mole feels when he encounters the Rabbit in the wood?’). When handling questions like this, it’s important to be as specific as possible (“He feels alarmed and confused” is much better than “He feels bad”), and also to give clear reasons for what you write. It’s also important, even though your answers are likely to be based on your own instincts, to make sure that they are reasonable, plausible responses to the information in the text.
Again, I recommend looking at the extensive worked solutions and explanations available through 11 Plus Lifeline, which cover this sort of question in a lot of detail.
The creative writing part of the exam provides a wider choice of topics than is common at 11+. For instance, there may be the option to write a letter or report, as well as the chance to write more descriptively.
The examiners will aim to mark fairly, and there should be no inherent advantage to choosing one question type over another. Nonetheless, it is much easier to show flair and creativity (not to mention a wide and interesting vocabulary) when writing a description than when working in a more factual style. I have always advised my students to choose stories or descriptive pieces over letters and reports, when given the chance.
Good creative writing takes careful practice: even when a child is skilled and confident, knowing how to produce an effective exam piece reliably in 30 minutes is a skill in its own right. There is a lot more on this here.
English: The King’s School
Please read my advice about the Queen’s School English exam first. I’ll offer less advice in this section, focusing instead on the ways in which the King’s exam is different.
The King’s English exam tests the same fundamental skills as the Queen’s paper, so preparation should be very similar. However, there are a few differences in approach:
The King’s exam is likely to be based on more than one passage. This is because, after setting a number of questions based on the separate texts, the examiners want to see how well a child can deal with them together, making a comparison. This may be an overall judgement (Which passage do you find more dramatic?) or something more specific (in the current sample paper, ‘Which passage do you think best shows the power of the weather?’). When making comparative judgements, it’s extremely important to provide supporting evidence – preferably in the form of short (maximum five word) quotations.
The King’s School examiners provide answer space, but are very stingy with it! It would be impossible to offer a thorough, well-evidenced discussion of each question in the space they provide. By formatting their exam like this, they are testing a student’s focus: can they get straight to the point, making it clearly and directly, keeping any supporting evidence brief? It’s very important not to repeat the question at the start of each answer: this gets no marks, and leaves you with no space. Don’t write “The dragon walks into the playground breathing fire because …”. Do write “It does this because …”.
While the Queen’s exam emphasises personal responses, and imaginative interpretations of the characters, the King’s exam is particularly interested in technical knowledge [NB: This is the sort of thing which can change from year to year]. Does your child have a strong understanding of similes, metaphors, alliteration, and so on? If not, this is something to work on.
The King’s School’s creative writing task offers less choice than Queen’s (or no choice at all), and is likely to be a piece of descriptive/narrative writing.
Maths: Both schools
The King’s and Queen’s Schools’ mathematics exams are very similar in their level and scope. Both sit at a mid-point between the easiest and hardest 11-plus exams: more demanding than a CEM grammar school 11-plus, but much easier than (for instance) the tests for St Paul’s Girls’. In other words, they are at what might be called the standard level for independent schools.
This means in practice that a strong knowledge of the primary school (Key Stage 2) maths curriculum is likely to be sufficient for a strong performance. There aren’t many question which push beyond this and require children to apply their knowledge in unfamiliar ways. The questions also tend to be straightforwardly written: not too ‘wordy’.
There are two stages of preparation for these exams: reinforcing key knowledge, and practising its application in an exam context. However, the best approach is to do these two things at the same time: help your child get used to practice exams, working slowly and thoughtfully; and when a question reveals a gap in their knowledge, take the time to practise the relevant skills, before trying the question again.
For example, it is of fundamental importance that a child can work effectively with fractions, decimals and percentages, and move easily between them. For most children, this knowledge is partly present when they begin their 11+ preparation, and partly incomplete. You may find, for instance, that they are comfortable multiplying fractions, but can’t divide them; or that they can turn a percentage into a fraction, but not the other way round.
If you would like to help your child with these things, but feel that you lack the maths knowledge to do so, you might like to have a look at my free videos, which will show you how to do it – and why you don’t need to panic!
The UK’s most comprehensive resource for maths exams like these is at this link – it will help your child to become very comfortable with the King’s and Queen School maths paper format, so that there are no surprises, and will show them exactly how to understand the questions and structure their answers.
Verbal Reasoning (both schools) and Non-Verbal Reasoning (King’s)
Verbal reasoning tests are designed to assess children’s linguistic skill. They are supposed to spot children with strong potential, even when they don’t perform strongly in formal writing papers. However, because both kinds of paper favour children who have read widely and who think carefully about language, it is debatable whether verbal reasoning achieves anything other than making the assessment day an hour longer!
Non-Verbal reasoning may be more useful as an assessment of potential, but I have my doubts about whether encouraging children to spend hours practising picture puzzles is a helpful contribution to primary education on the part of 11-plus examiners.
At any rate, we need to work with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.
The best way to familiarise your child with verbal and non-verbal reasoning is through using some of the many books on this topic which you can find in any major bookshop. Don’t make your children practise in binges, and don’t impose time limits until near to the real exams. The best thing is to do a few questions a couple of times a week, encouraging your child to work carefully, and discussing their mistakes with them.
These are the tests in which exam technique, in its more brutal sense, is most important. Each question tends to be worth the same amount (typically, 1 mark), so children who spend five minutes agonising about a tricky question will do badly. They need to become ruthless at writing a symbol besides each tricky question and coming back to it at the end of the exam.
However, the most important skill in these tests is elimination. The correct answer may not be obvious, but it is usually possible to get rid of a number of incorrect or unlikely possibilities, leaving two or three options between which is is possible to make a judgement.
For verbal reasoning, your child needs to get used to dealing with unfamiliar words. These will almost certainly be present, however well-read a student is. Can they make a sensible guess about the meaning of the word? Can they break it into its component syllables and relate it to words which they know? These skills take a bit of practice, and are important. They will also be useful in the future when your child studies foreign or ancient languages.
The Interview – after the exams
The interview will often be held with you and your child present, and is an opportunity for teachers to get to know you both. It will not be very formal, and your child should not worry about it!
It is a very, very bad idea to rehearse responses to likely questions. A prepared answer is often easy to spot, and may damage your child’s chances.
However, some practice is useful, so that your child feels confident and able to show themselves at their best. Here are a few pointers:
Encourage your child to give developed responses. Even if a question such as “Do you like the school?” could be answered in one word (“Yes!”), a good answer will involve some explanation. Above all else, show your child how effective it is to give an example, and then talk about it. The interviewer wants to see how your child thinks.
A very common question asks about a book your child is reading, or has read recently. Don’t make them read something impressive in order to give a stunning answer (“This month, I have predominantly been reading Dostoevsky in the 1902 Hungarian translations”). Do encourage them to think about the interesting aspects of the books they most enjoy, and to develop some ideas about what they might comment on. Alex Rider novels are fine, if your child has something interesting to say about then! Again, they should aim to give examples to back up their points. The most impressive thing of all is if they can make comparisons with other books they have read. However, I want to repeat that you should help your child to develop their own ideas, and not coach them to say the things which you would like them to!
They may be asked something about the exams they recently sat. This shouldn’t require any special preparation, but it’s worth mentioning it to your child before they take the tests, so that they can bear any interesting points in mind, and not auto-delete them when they walk out of the examination hall!
Finally, your child should be ready to talk positively about their hobbies, about why they want to go to the school, and about how these things fit together: bearing in mind their interests and skills, how can they contribute to school life? Chat through these things with your child, so that they know what they think before the interview.
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.