St Paul's School: Entrance Exam and Interview

January 04, 2017 by James M
Image Outlined below is a short guide on how to get into St Paul's School, with a focus on the maths and english test, and the interview. Although these stages are challenging, having the right preparation can greatly improve chances of success!

James, an energetic and passionate tutor here at Tutorfair is a secondary school entrance specialist and has helped students win places at top schools across London, including Westminster, St Paul’s School, Queensgate and Francis Holland. This, therefore, is an invaluable resource for getting into any top School in London.

All Year 6 11+ candidates are required to take the ISEB online pre-test. In January, year 6 candidates will have already taken the test. Assuming candidates are successful, they will be invited back for the second round. This is a short interview along with written examinations in English and Mathematics.

The English test 

The English test for St Paul's School is a comprehension passage requiring extended written answers. Candidates will need to be able to understand a difficult passage and then answer in more detail than is usual for an 11 plus comprehension. The length of the test is usually no more than around 20 minutes. There will be fewer questions but they will be worth more marks - for example one question may be worth 15 marks or more. This is different from a normal 11 plus paper where there are often shorter questions worth one or two marks each. As a result, the St Paul's test is a lot more difficult to score highly on.

How to prepare 

It is important to get used to reading higher level passages, with challenging themes, language devices and vocabulary. Candidates will have to be able to write longer answers with several points, quotes and analysis to pick up all the marks – also known as ‘PEE’ (point, example, and explanation).  Another important skill is inference or 'reading between the lines'. Students will also have to be able to spot devices like metaphor and simile and comment on their effects - why has the writer used them?

Typical questions may include:

  • "What is your impression of the character in the story?"

  • "Comment on language devices and how effective they are" 

  •  "What is your personal response to this passage and why?"

19th century authors like Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle are ideal preparation for this test, as they have difficult language and themes. So read a few of these and get used to thinking about the questions and skills above. Also candidates should write down any words they don't know and look them up! Practising for at least 2-3 hours a week leading up to the exam will optimise chances.

Although prose is favoured, it is worth reading poetry as well as it is always possible that the format of the exam can change. Some schools are starting to ask candidates to compare passages as well, so it’s worth thinking about this.

As with all exams, speed is important, so it is vital to practise against the clock. In 30 minutes good candidates can produce over a page of A4.

As a general guide, the ISEB 11 plus papers available from Galore Park are a good starting point.


The mathematics paper requires written answers – it is not a multiple choice format. In previous years it has had a mix of types of questions covering different topics and was approximately 20 minutes long. It is based around the 11 plus syllabus, so please don't worry about preparing at higher levels. However, the questions are different from usual tests as they often require multiple steps and unusual wording to catch students out. They also require students to apply their knowledge in practical ways to solve problems. Students will need to be able to think quickly and independently with confidence.

How to prepare 

Go over particularly difficult areas of the 11 plus syllabus - these include ratio, symmetry, cubed and squared numbers, algebra, volume and nth term. Practice the ‘right’ types of question. This is an illustration:

  • I have a swimming pool measuring 3m by 6m by 12m and a container that can carry a volume of water of 2.5m cubed. It takes me 6 minutes to fill and empty the container, and I have a 14min break every hour. How long will it take me to empty the swimming pool, including breaks?

This question requires candidates to understand volume and apply it to a problem. Notice that it doesn’t mention volume in the question – the student has to spot this! There are also a number of different steps needed to get to the answer, so it is easy to make a mistake. Underlining the key words and numbers in the question and then showing working is vital for these kinds of problems.

Speed as well as accuracy is important. Students should practise against the clock and leave time to go back and check for mistakes.

Again, as a general guide, the ISEB 11 plus papers available from Galore Park are a good starting point.

The interview

The interview for St Paul's School will be questions about the student and why they want to come to the school. The school may ask you to bring a personal item to talk about. The interview are generally short (up to 15 minutes). Format can vary but it’s often a ‘one on one’. Sometimes there will be subject specific questions thrown in, such as a bit of mental maths or a question about literary techniques like metaphor. Schools are looking for students who can think for themselves and back up their thinking with evidence, rather than people who will just repeat what they are taught. Students shouldn’t be afraid to have an opinion – as long as they can back it up!

How to prepare

Interviews are as much about personality as anything else, so it can be hard to prepare for this. However here are some clear tips:

  • Be happy and confident - remember to smile!

  • Give examples – if a student says they are interested in sport, they should say what they have achieved. For example, are they on the 1st team for their chosen sport, have they won prizes?

  • Rehearse before the real thing. Get a teacher or an adult who doesn't know the student to go through some questions

  • Read a newspaper - it's good to know what's going on in the world

  • Be prepared to read something out loud - they may ask you to do this

  • Read a book the student enjoys, and be able to talk about it – what is their favourite part of the book, or their favourite character?

  • Do research into the school and be able to talk about why the student likes it - visiting and looking at the website are great things to help with this

  • Choose an item the student is really interested in and can talk about it passionately - for example, if the student loves a particular artist, they could take along a book about them or an example of their work

  • Be honest! If the student gives incorrect information the interviewer will probably be able to tell. If the student doesn’t understand a problem or question, it’s best to tell the interviewer. They will respect the student’s honesty

  • Have questions prepared for the school. This way, the student can show their enthusiasm for the school. Looking on the school website is a great way of doing this. Students could ask about facilities, school trips or sporting activities

For more information and advice, including past interview and exam questions, please contact James M through his Tutorfair profile. A Cambridge graduate James has been tutoring English and Philosophy since 2005 specialising in 11+ and general primary/secondary entrance.


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