This article explains how to prepare for the MGS entrance assessment. I'll show you how to guide your child effectively, without wasted effort, if they are hoping to enter the Senior School in Year 7.
I’ll start by outlining the school's admissions process, and then I’ll explain exactly how to prepare for each part of the entrance exam.
The admissions procedure has two stages: an Assessment Day, held in the autumn term, and an entrance exam in January.
The Assessment Day
This is designed to give the best possible opportunity to children who have not benefited from a prep school education or a private tutor, by seeing how they respond in a classroom situation: how well they learn and use new knowledge, and how they interact in a group. They will be taught a new maths concept which they’ll then have the chance to use; there will be a topic-based lesson; and there will be some group activities. There will also be a creative writing assessment, which in effect is part of the entrance exam.
The Assessment Day is designed to be fun, and the best preparation for this occasion is to encourage your child to be enthusiastic and positive, and to show kindness and consideration for the other children who are there.
Although the Assessment Day is different from an exam, a good level of Key Stage 2 (i.e. 11-plus) knowledge will definitely help.
The Entrance Exam
The entrance exam for MGS has four sections, apart from the creative writing which is tested during the Assessment Day. You can find past papers on the school’s website if you’d like to have a look at the style of each section.
In the rest of this article, I’m explain how to prepare for each part of the exam.
Arithmetic Section A
This section focuses on core Key Stage 2 (11+) maths knowledge, and tends to have 20 questions, which are similar to the questions in many 11-plus maths exams for independent schools.
When preparing for this paper, the first thing is to make sure that your child has a good knowledge of the core primary (KS2) syllabus. Above all else, they should be confident with:
Fractions, decimals and percentages, and converting numbers between these forms
Metric measures such as metres (and mm, cm and km), litres and mililitres, grams and kilograms, etc.
BIDMAS/BODMAS (the order of mathematical operations)
Paper methods for multiplication and division (as well as addition and subtraction)
Mean and median averages, mode, range etc.
Area and volume
This list is not exhaustive! Have a look at a syllabus like this one for a fuller outline.
The next stage is to use a range of practice papers in order to get your child used to all the likely question types. My advice is to use a variety of paper styles – not just Manchester Grammar School’s own – so that your child doesn’t get tunnel vision. They need to feel confident with whatever kind of question comes their way.
As often as possible, try to use practice papers with worked solutions. This way, your child will have models to compare to their own work, showing them how to improve: how to lay things out more clearly; how to get started with a tricky question; what other techniques they may not have thought of. 11 Plus Lifeline is the best resource for this style of practice.
Arithmetic Section B
This paper focuses on using maths for problem-solving. The level of maths knowledge required is not unusual in itself; but the exam requires a lot of logical thinking, and some of the questions (which are often quite long) are difficult.
Many of the questions in this section require the student to plunge in confidently with their working, without necessarily knowing exactly where they will end up. This is an important skill in any maths exam, but especially here.
For this section, my advice about using practice papers is the same as for Arithmetic Section A. You might also like to look at the later sections of past maths papers for schools such as St Paul’s Girls’ and Habs’ Boys, which are sometimes similar to questions in Manchester Grammar’s Section B.
English Section A
This is an excellent exam paper, and completely unique to Manchester Grammar School. It’s the hardest multiple-choice 11-plus exam in the UK, but this doesn’t mean that it’s something to be scared of.
Some parts of the paper require comprehension answers based on prose texts and poems, while some sections are more abstract: for example, students are sometimes required to learn the grammar rules of an imaginary language and then apply them.
When using MGS’s past papers to practise, it is very important not to start using a time limit until your child is confident with what they are doing and is able to get a good mark (above 75%) while taking as long as they want. The real exam timing is relentless and won’t give your child the opportunity to develop their skills. It’s something to practise in the last few weeks before the exam.
It’s also important not to race from one past paper to the next, until you find that you have run out! Ask your child to complete a paper; go through the answers carefully and discuss the mistakes; then ask them to try it again. Meanwhile, save a few papers until your child is ready for proper timed testing, near to the exam date.
English Section B
This is a traditional written comprehension exam of medium difficulty – a type set by many independent schools. The emphasis is on finding information in a prose passage, interpreting and explaining it.
All the usual written comprehension skills apply: learning to read a passage quickly and intelligently; analysing questions to understand exactly what is required; providing clear evidence in the form of short quotations; explaining ideas clearly and accurately in your own words. There’s lots more about these things elsewhere on my blog - and through the papers and solutions available here.
For the most comprehensive range of resources to help with preparation for the MGS 11+ exam, you might like to try 11 Plus Lifeline (with a full money-back guarantee in the first month). Every question has a full example solution and a detailed discussion and explanation – like the best private tuition.
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.
If you would like advice for how to prepare your child for 11-plus without a tutor, you might like to watch my free videos for parents.