St Paul’s Girls’: Admissions & Entrance Exam Advice

How To Get Into St Paul’s Girls’ School

St Paul's Girls' School exams
Robert Lomax
Robert is a teacher and educational author. His books and online materials are popular in the UK and internationally. For a full biography, click here.
PLEASE NOTE: This article is a few years old and needs updating, so it may contain some inaccurate information.

I ’ve prepared many children for the St Paul’s Girls’ School entrance exams and interview over the years: often, I’m happy to say, with success. They are some of the most challenging 11+ tests set by a UK school, and also some of the most interesting. In this article I’m going to outline the admissions process, explaining how best to practise for each stage.

You may have read elsewhere that some stages can’t be prepared for: that they are “tutor-proof”. This isn’t true. Careful preparation won’t earn an unsuitable child a place, but it will allow an intelligent and motivated student to give themselves the best possible chance.

Application – by early November

Application forms need to be sent in by early November. At this stage parents need to decide whether they are interested in applying for a bursary and/or a music scholarship. There’s an application fee, which is set at £125 in 2018.

Computer Pre-Test – November

This test (called the CEM Select) covers verbal reasoningnon-verbal reasoning and maths / numerical reasoning. It is possible to prepare effectively for the computer pre-test. The essential skills are not different from similar paper exams in the same subjects. For maths, well-organised 11-plus preparation will cover all the relevant knowledge.

The core Key Stage 2 syllabus content (which your child will have studied at their primary or prep school) is at the heart of all maths exams at this level. If this is backed up by the regular, careful use of 11-plus practice papers, there is no reason why a child with good maths knowledge can’t do well in this part of the entrance process. For more comments about 11+ maths preparation for St Paul’s, see my discussion of the maths exam below.

The verbal and non-verbal reasoning elements can be practised using 11 Plus Lifeline’s reasoning resources, which cover the topics from all angles and explain every question. I recommend practising in small doses, once or twice a week: returning to tricky questions from previous tasks and repeating them. Some online practice nearer to the exam may also be prudent, so that children become familiar with the format of the test. Various providers offer this, and they can be found very easily through Google. As I haven’t tried the online practice tests on offer, I am reluctant to make recommendations here.

As with any kind of entrance exam preparation, don’t encourage your child to work quickly (or with a time limit) until close to the exam: it’s almost impossible to develop question skills and timing skills at the same time. One squeezes out the other. Once a child feels confident, it’s usually quite simple to teach them to work within a time limit.

For verbal reasoning, the most important skills are to do with handling unfamiliar vocabulary. No child (indeed, no person) can be expected to know every single word in English. However, an intelligent reader will get used to assessing unfamiliar words based on their context, their different syllables, words which sound like them, and so on.

Furthermore – and this is true of verbal and non-verbal reasoning exams – an enormous amount can be achieved by eliminating unlikely or impossible answers, then making rational, probability-based judgements about which of the remaining options are most likely to be correct.


Entrance Exam – January

The St Paul’s Girls’ School entrance exam has three sections: Comprehension, English and Maths. You can find sample papers for St Paul’s here. I’ll discuss each section of the exam in turn.

The Comprehension Exam

The name might be misleading: this is nothing like a standard 11-plus English comprehension exam. Instead, it offers source material – particularly on scientific, cultural and historical topics – and requires children to make reasoned judgements based on this information.

For instance, there may be a range of primary sources about a historical period, from which the student needs to reach conclusions about which is most to be trusted, and what is likely to have really happened. There may be a brief chemistry lesson, after which they need to explain what is likely to happen when a slightly different combination of substances meet.

This exam requires the ability to weigh up information sensibly, exercising judgement. It also requires children to find the most relevant ideas in a large amount of text, explaining it clearly. In other words, although it isn’t an English comprehension paper with fictional prose passages and poems, the main skills are not very different. Careful English comprehension training is likely to be very valuable for this test. (For advice about this, see my discussion of the English exam, below.)

Another important area of exam preparation is with science knowledge. By this, I don’t mean that your child should be sitting late into the night, hunched over biochemistry textbooks. They will already by studying science at school – probably not very formally, but by performing experiments, drawing diagrams, discussing the results with their class.

You can help them by talking about this schoolwork: asking them questions, looking for answers in which they explain things simply and clearly to you.

With this sort of practice, they should be well prepared for the scientific elements of the St Paul’s Comprehension exam.

The Maths Exam

The St Paul’s Girls’ mathematics exam is probably the most interesting maths test set by an 11-plus school. I have used their past papers extensively over the years, with students preparing for schools across the country. Even the easier sections are engaging; meanwhile, the later sections present children with some real challenges, while nevertheless helping them not to feel out of their depth.

The exam has historically been broken into three sections. Section A focuses on core maths knowledge, and feels like many other 11+ exams. Section B deals with applied maths, but in fairly short questions. Section C has longer, more challenging questions, which are designed to identify the most able mathematicians.

Because sections A and B include reasonably typical (although unusually well written) 11+ material, I won’t say too much about them here: I cover this sort of preparation extensively in some of my other entrance exam and interview guides.

Section C is a slightly different beast. Typically, the questions in this part of the exam present children with maths topics they will not have studied. This may seem alarming, but the intention is to see whether a student can think like a mathematician – not to find out how much they already know.

If the question is broken into parts (a) to (e), it’s likely that (a) and (b) will be fairly simple, getting the student used to the main ideas dealt with in the question. Parts (c) and (d) will start to combine these concepts: students will need to form logical connections, showing understanding. (e) will pull together the elements from parts (a) to (d), and require the student to apply all the ideas they have developed in the rest of the question.

There are a few important ideas which your child will need to get the hang of in order not to be intimidated by the last part of this maths exam. In the early parts of a question, see whether you can directly apply the information given to you. Everything you need to know will have been given to you by the examiner. Underline all the key ideas in the explanation, and see which parts might be relevant.

As the question develops, resist the temptation to start everything from scratch. In part (d) of a question, how might you use your answers from (a) to (c) to help you?

The most important skill, however, can be summarised with a metaphor:

Don’t stand on the edge of the lake, testing the water with your toes and wondering whether you fancy a swim. Jump right in, with the confidence that the more energetically you swim, the sooner you will feel warm again.

Turning this into English: When an 11+ maths question looks impossibly difficult, or just plain weird, don’t stare at the page in bemusement. Start to write down some of the things you already know, and mess around with them. This is how you will start to get ideas and see connections, and how you will have a chance of solving the problem.

Finally, be judicious with how you order your work. If Section C contains, for example, four long questions, start with the ones which you have a good idea how to solve; then come back to the ones which look harder. The important thing is to get as many marks as possible within the exam time, not to do everything in order.

The only resources which offer a large number of 11+ maths questions in the St Paul’s Girls’ School style, with worked solutions showing children how to develop the skills above, are 11 Plus Lifeline and RSL 11+ Maths.

For an independent opinion, please read this review of 11 Plus Lifeline.

The English Exam

This is the only part of the St Paul’s exam which feels like a normal independent school 11-plus exam.

A prose passage is followed by a set of comprehension questions. These emphasise understanding and explanation. The examiner is often interested in seeing how well the student can put themselves in the place of the author. They don’t just need to explain what is happening in the text: they need to set out why the author has chosen to use certain words; why they structure the text in they way they do; and so on.

One slightly unusual feature of this exam is that the questions usually don’t state how many marks are available. Instead, children need to analyse the question thoroughly, working out exactly what they need to do, and using the size of the answer space as a guide to how much is expected.

The skills for St Paul’s Girls’ English comprehension test are developed carefully and in detail by the practice papers and solutions available here.

The last part of the St Paul’s English entrance exam is almost always a descriptive/creative exercise. This section is usually based on the comprehension text: students need to imagine their way into the story and create a piece which shows both their descriptive skill and their understanding. Careful creative writing practice is a good idea: even children who are skilled and creative need to learn how to produce texts which reliably demonstrate the sort of skills which an 11+ examiner is looking for. 

I have written a lot more about creative writing practice in my articles for City of London School for Boys and Dulwich College

The most extensive range of 11+ creative writing resources, with St Paul’s-style questions, marking guides, example answers and step-by-step discussions, is available through 11 Plus Lifeline.

If you would like advice for how to help your child with creative writing at home, my free video series may be of interest.


The following video shows how I mark students’ creative writing. It might give you some useful ideas.

You can turn on subtitles by clicking the three dots or the subtitles symbol in the bottom-right corner of the video. You can also choose to watch in fullscreen mode.

If you’re interested in sending me your child’s work for marking and detailed advice, have a look at the 11 Plus Lifeline page on this website, or send me an email.

Interview – late January

If your daughter makes it this far, she should feel enormously proud. Even if she doesn’t get a place (there are a huge number of applicants, and the results are not always fair), by getting through the entrance exams she has demonstrated remarkable ability.

Schools usually say that children shouldn’t be prepared for interviews because teachers can always spot it and it works against the child. Indeed, it’s something that’s said so often that the people giving this advice barely seem to question it any more.

Like many things said about admissions preparation, it is bad advice.

If children are unprepared, then confident and charming children benefit, while those who are more shy lose out. This is not a good outcome.

What you should not do is teach your child a set of answers to likely questions. Reading a memorised script is disastrous and dishonest, and will almost certainly be picked up: the interviewer will be able to recognise if a child is trying to remember a sentence, or even a set of talking points, which they have already learnt.

What you should do is practise with your child, so that they are familiar with the interview environment and able to talk freely without clamming up.

Here are some of the most important ways in which you can usefully help your daughter when preparing her for the St Paul’s interview:

1) She needs to understand that the interview is an opportunity for her to talk. Even if a question could be answered with one word, this doesn’t mean that it should be! “Would you like to come to St Paul’s?” “Yes.” Encourage them to add information, and above all else, to give examples to illustrate their points. They should turn the interview into a discussion, not a list of questions and short answers.

2) Get her used to sitting confidently, with her feet on the floor and an open body posture. Remind her not to fidget! (I’m a terrible fidgeter, so I understand how hard this is.)

3) Your daughter should have a clear idea of what they like about the school, and be prepared to say so. Teachers at St Paul’s are rightly very proud of their school, and not just because it has fabulous exam results. If your child likes the atmosphere of the place, they should explain why. If the older students who showed them round seemed knowledgeable and kind, they should talk about this. If they enjoy a particular sport for which the school has good facilities, they should be able to praise them. Spending half an hour before the interview looking through the school website with your child and discussing it is really valuable preparation.

4) A very common question asks about a recent book your child has read, or what they are reading at the moment. Don’t push her to read something ‘high-brow’ in order to sound impressive. Do get her used to talking enthusiastically and intelligently about the books which she actually enjoys. Incidentally, the most impressive thing a child can do when talking about a book is to draw comparisons with other books.

5) It is very important to answer the question which has been asked and not a slightly different question. However, it is absolutely fine to take a question as a starting point, and – having answered it – lead the conversation towards a related point which is of interest.

6) Some interviews involve talking about a short text which a child is given at the time. Sometimes they will be asked to solve a simple maths problem, verbally. These are not things to be afraid of: if she has reached this stage, your daughter has already shown that she has the maths and English skills which St Paul’s are looking for.

However, there is one important piece of advice which applies to this kind of interview question: don’t sit in silence, working out the answer. The interviewer already knows that you can solve maths problems and find answers in a text. The reason they are asking you these things now is that they want to find out about your thought process. Take the interviewer through your ideas as you work towards the solution. Even if your answer is wrong, you’ll have given them a positive insight into your way of thinking.

If you found this post useful or have a question, please leave a comment below! I’d love to have your feedback. (Tick the “Receive email updates” box to receive an email when I reply.)

For the most comprehensive range of resources to help with preparation for the St Paul’s Girls’ 11+ exam, you might like to try 11 Plus Lifeline (with a money-back guarantee in the first month). Every practice paper has full example solutions, with a detailed discussion and explanation for every question – like being taught by an excellent private tutor.

According to Tutorful, it’s “the gold standard for independent and grammar school 11-plus preparation”.

If you’d like further advice about DIY 11-plus preparation, my free video series gives some helpful pointers, and comes with an extensive set of free RSL practice papers, example answers and solutions:


  1. Robert

    If you have any questions, whether about St Paul’s or about exam/interview preparation in general, please ask them here! I’ll do my best to help you.

    • J Burke

      Thanks for such an informative guide one of the most challenging 11+ application examinations. Just wondering if you have any insight on another highly competitive Girls’ school – this time in the state sector – Henrietta Barnett?

      • Robert

        I’m glad you’ve found the article helpful. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

        You aren’t the first person to ask for Henrietta Barnett advice, so I will make sure that it’s on my to-do list. I’ll need to do my research before saying anything definitive!

    • Aras

      Hi Robert,
      Would you give one to one sessions for 11 plus prep exam ?

      • Robert

        Hi Aras. I’m flattered by your interest! I don’t work as a tutor any more, but most of the things I used to teach when I was a tutor and teacher are covered in my 11 Plus Lifeline materials, and (if you need extra resources) in my books of practice papers, because I offer example answers to everything and detailed walk-throughs of the skills needed for each question.

    • Jasvinder Bains

      At what age is it best to start preparations for exams ?

      • Robert

        I would start preparation with practice papers from the end of Year 4 or the beginning of Year 5. Before then, focus on making a child’s core English and maths skills as secure as possible.

    • Saira Bajwa

      My son will have RGS newcastle interview comprising of 3 stages
      Classic, science and sports.
      What to expect?

  2. Ranjana Sharma

    Hi Robert ,

    My son is preparing for pre-tests and using BOFA to get familiar with question types , time allocation etc .
    Is it possible to know what kind of percentage on needs to be selected for next stage ? I heard that they are similar to cognitive testing in independent schools , is that correct ?

    • Robert

      Hi Ranjana,

      “Cognitive testing” is quite a loose term, so it’s difficult to answer definitively. Certainly, the pre-tests usually include verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions which sometimes resemble tasks in cognitive/IQ tests. However, there are usually maths and English questions in the pre-tests which are essentially multiple-choice 11+ questions, but on a screen – and not so similar to what would usually be called “cognitive tests”.

      As for percentages, I’m afraid that’s unanswerable. For one thing, the necessary score depends not only on the school, but on the quality and number of other applicants. For example, if he needs to be one of the best 400 applicants to pass the pre-test, the required score will depend on the performance of the other students sitting the exam.

      However, a more important point is that in an adaptive test (see the box in the article for an explanation of this term), marks are not distributed equally. The harder questions – which can only be accessed by doing well in early parts of the test – have more ‘weight’ in the marking than the easier questions which arrive if a student does less well. Therefore, the percentage of questions which a child gets right is only part of the picture.

      At any rate, the BOFA tests are useful, but they won’t be at exactly the same level as the ISEB pre-test, so it is difficult to compare marks between the two.

      To cut a long story short: don’t focus on marks, but instead work on the skills which the practice tests expose as being weak, and on computer test technique. After this, your son can only do his best!

      I’m sorry I can’t give the clear-cut answers you want, but I hope this helps.

  3. Sue

    Appreciated much for your insights on SPGS.
    It would be very helpful if you could write something about another prestigious girl school, Wycombe Abbey. Thanks.

    • Robert

      I will add it to my list of requests! I’m glad you’ve found this article useful.

  4. Sid

    Dear Robert,
    I have found your material on 11+ preparation very insightful. I was wondering if you have practice papers for St. Paul’s girls school, comprehension exam. I haven’t been able to find much resource on that online. We have found your math and English papers very useful in our practise.
    Thank you very much

    • Robert

      I’m glad you have found my advice and resources useful!

      The St Paul’s comprehension exam (for others reading this) is different from an English exam: there are science questions, for example, where you have to interpret data and reach sensible conclusions.

      However, the essential skills are very similar to those in an English comprehension exam: reading critically, finding relevant evidence, and explaining it/combining it appropriately. Therefore, although I don’t have any dedicated St Paul’s comprehension resources, you should find that my harder English comprehension papers provide good practice.

      One resource which might be useful is here: These papers are very hard, and for 13+! However, if you look at the General papers and select those questions which are a little more accessible, some of the tasks will be very relevant. Don’t worry about marks, though.

  5. Matthews

    Your dedication to having those who are keen to support little one at 11 plus is amazing and fruit full. You always give us tools not products which to me is sustainability. Thanks we made it.

    • Robert

      Thank you. I’m very glad I’ve been able to make a small difference.

  6. Sumana

    I used both comprehension books for my daughter. They were very good and well explained. Thank you

    • Robert

      Thank you very much! I hope your daughter was happy with her exam performance.

  7. Mrs Celia Chiu

    Dear Robert,
    My daughter will be applying for the sixth form at St Paul’s Girls’ School and she will have the 4 written exams in October and interview in November. She has chosen chemistry, biology, maths geography. Would you be able to help in anyway?

    • Robert

      Thank you for getting in touch. I don’t tutor any more, so can’t help directly. Perhaps some of my interview advice on the blog (see the school advice for St Paul’s Girls’ and City Boys’ for example) might be useful, even though written with younger people in mind!

      • Shan

        Thank you for lots of useful information. it is helpful for my daughter to do interview.

        • Robert

          The very best of luck to her!

  8. ekaterina habib

    Hello Robert, thank you for such a interesting guide for SPGS! I know you don’t do tutor anymore but maybe you can advise some of your colleague? thank you

  9. JH

    This is so insightful! It is a pity I did not find it earlier. I want to help my daughter with the comprehension part but your previous etoncollege link is not accessible now. Is there anything else you can recommend?

  10. Oliver

    Can you advise when and how often one should start tutoring for these entry exams? At st paul’s? Our daughter is currently in year four. We have had plenty if people saying we are too late already and others too early. Would love to have some proper advice on this.

    • Robert

      Hi Oliver. It does depend on the child, but I wouldn’t usually recommend tutoring more than 18 months before an exam (and a shorter period of tutoring – 6 months to a year – is effective in many cases). Some families do fine without tuition: it’s a myth that everybody is at it.

      The main thing is not to have so lengthy a course of preparation that the exam is too distant to be motivating when a child starts, and that the course of study feels repetitive and draining by the time the exam is close. It’s also very important to find the right tutor: somebody your child really wants to work for, on a personal level.

      You yourself have a crucial role in laying strong foundations. This includes things as basic as strong times tables, spellings, core maths skills, and so on.

  11. saleem

    Hi Oliver – any chance we can have a quick call to discuss. I appreciate you do not tutor anymore but let me know if there is a change in your circumstances.

    • Robert

      I’m afraid it’s true that I don’t do any tuition, and I don’t make any exceptions. If you have any other questions, feel free to send me an email! Robert

  12. YING

    Could you give some advices about sixthform entrance?


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