How To Get Into The Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
In this article I’ll explain how best to prepare your child for the RGS entrance exam and interview. Please bear in mind, however, that 11-plus exam content can change from year to year. A broad 11-plus preparation is the safest approach - and, at any rate, the most useful.
The RGS Newcastle admissions process is clear and well-organised. This is likely to be an encouraging sign if you are selecting a school for your child!
There are three stages:
Applications need to be received by mid-December.
Exams are in the second half of January and test English, Maths and Reasoning.
Interviews follow soon afterwards.
The school then holds “taster days” for children who have been offered a place. These are useful when a child is unsure about RGS (perhaps they are worried about going to a different school from their friends), because they will have the chance to meet their new classmates and get excited about the school. Similarly, they can help when a family has to decide between offers from different schools.
In the rest of this article I’ll explain how to prepare for each part of the exam, and for the interview. The school offers a set of sample papers here.
The English Exam
An important feature of the Royal Grammar School English exam is that the writing section is worth more than twice as many marks as the comprehension section. Prepare for both, but don't neglect your child’s writing practice!
This is a really well-balanced 11+ exam, exploring a wide range of skills – from short answer questions which typically require a child to pick out information from the passage, to longer questions which require them to explain the text, showing understanding. There are questions which explore the meanings of words in detail, and others which require a thoughtful understanding of personality: What do a character’s actions suggest about them? Why do they behave as they do?
The word “Why?” is a typical feature of the RGS exam, and you can help your child by asking them to explain things as they go about their daily life:
Why does a character in their book do a certain thing?
Why is a particular radio news item important?
They need to develop the habit of answering such questions clearly and briefly.
Because the RGS comprehension paper includes a particularly wide range of question types, it is a good idea to prepare by practising with a range of 11-plus exam styles, ideally with example answers. This way, your child will learn exactly how to structure a response to all the likely types of question. The widest range of resources in this style is available here.
The RGS exam offers a good range of creative questions. These tend to encourage lively descriptive writing, and some of them can be answered as stories.
If a questions asks you to “Write about a time when you …”, you don’t have to use a real event: you are free to make something up. However, it’s very important that your answer should be grounded in the real world (no aliens), and that it should be based on likely events from the life of somebody your age (no mafia gunfights).
If a question asks you to “Write an essay about” something, this does not mean that it should be a boring academic essay: you should still write descriptively, with imaginative language.
As is usual for an 11+ writing test, you are encouraged to use “at least one side” of paper. In practice, this means that you should write 1 to 1.5 A4 pages. Don’t write more than this: it is better to write a medium-length story and work carefully on the details. A long answer, because it is more likely to include some uninteresting sentences and a smattering of mistakes, will probably lose marks, and won’t gain any for including more words.
The key skills here are the same as for any 11-plus writing paper:
Plan carefully, making sure that your writing will have a nice arc, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and that there is one event which forms the emotional high point of the piece. Keep things simple!
Write clear sentences. Aim to keep these simple most of the time; then, in a few places, develop more complex sentences which create a different mood (which might be drowsiness on the one hand, or a sense of panic on the other).
Always be descriptive: not by attaching queues of adjectives to each word, but by using interesting verbs (“sprung” or “leapt” rather than “jumped”) and a wide range of senses (when the most obvious thing would be to describe the look of a thing, can you give its smell instead?). Try to use at least one simile and one metaphor, but make sure that these make things clearer for your reader, and don’t create confusion.
Check your work very carefully for mistakes in punctuation and spelling, because these will lose marks.
Make sure that you are comfortable with the most traditional conventions for writing speech: using speech marks, starting a new line for the second speaker in a paragraph, and so on.
The most comprehensive 11-plus creative writing resource in the UK is 11 Plus Lifeline, which teaches exactly the kind of writing required by RGS – with an extensive range of questions, multiple example essays for each one, and walk-through writing/marking guides, designed to teach children how to write exactly the sort of answer which an examiner is looking for.
This means that the focus is robustly on core Key Stage 2 (KS2) skills, and on the central elements of the primary school maths syllabus, which you can read here.
Your child needs to feel comfortable with topics such as fractions, decimals and percentages (and moving between them), and with paper methods such as long multiplication. Ratios are sometimes worth a bit of extra attention, because many children find them conceptually difficult.
Bear in mind that it is best to practise without time limits until your child is feeling confident and the exam is quite close. It’s also worth considering that the RGS maths paper is fairly short relative to the time available. While children should learn not to waste time in the exam, the limits aren’t especially tight here.
The Reasoning Exam
This paper sets a range of verbal reasoning (VR) and non-verbal reasoning (NVR) tasks, typical of 11+.
However, whereas many reasoning exams set a large number of questions and require ruthless timing, this one is a little more generous. There is time to think things through properly. Nonetheless, it’s still important not to get bogged down on any one question. Children need to learn to leave hard tasks and return to them at the end of the test.
The best way to prepare for this paper is with a little bit of practice (a few questions), a couple of times a week. Children need to become familiar with the likely question styles, and get used to handling unfamiliar words in verbal reasoning tasks (for instance), but there’s no value whatsoever in ‘cramming’ (intensive, mind-numbing practice).
A wide range of inexpensive reasoning books are available in most bookshops. I recommend practising with two or three publishers’ titles, in order to give your child experience with a variety of styles. There is also some verbal reasoning included with 11 Plus Lifeline.
The RGS interview allows the school to choose those children who are most likely to fit in well and contribute positively, in and outside the classroom.
The Head of English takes part in all interviews, and writes that “it is frequently the case that an ‘off day’ in the examination is more than compensated for in the interview”. However, this should not be taken as an indication that the exam does not matter!
I’ve given a lot of interview advice in my other school guides. I particularly recommend having a look at my comments about interviews here (about St Paul’s Girl’s School) and here (about the King’s and Queen’s Schools in Chester), which should also be very relevant to the RGS Newcastle 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.