1 Crucial Strategy Your Child Needs to Know for Each of the 7 Tests in Scholarships and Selective School Exams

I do a lot of tutoring for selective school and scholarship tests and our online course packages that cover abstract reasoning, verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, reading comprehension, maths, creative (narrative writing) and argumentative (persuasive writing) has helped over 1,700 students.

But there’s always one thing that sticks out in terms of an overall strategy or tactic for each of the 7 parts of a scholarship or selective school test.

In this post, I’ll share it with you using sample questions taken from our dedicated range of selective school and scholarship test preparation sample papers.

For each of the 7 test areas, I’ll post up a sample test question (from our test paper range), I’ll let you know what students generally do and I’ll give you a key strategy that will help your child select the correct answer or write the best written response.

So… let’s now go through each of the 7 areas - abstract reasoning, creative (narrative) writing, numerical reasoning, argumentative (persuasive) writing, reading comprehension, maths and verbal reasoning…

Also, if you prefer, there’s also a video that goes through the key strategy for each of the 7 test areas:


1. Abstract reasoning

The sample test question…


What do most students think the correct is? A – the circle.

What is the correct answer? B – the triangle.

Key strategy

To select the correct answer, you need to make sure that the ‘rule’ or whatever binds a group of shapes together (in this case, 360 degrees) applies consistently. If this rule isn’t consistent (like 3 corners for one shape and 4 corners for the others), it’s likely that the answer is incorrect.  Learn more abstract reasoning strategies through the course.

Why is it the correct answer applying the key strategy?

The question asks you which is the odd one out and there should be a genuine reason for it that makes all the other three shapes similar.

Yes, the circle looks visually different but it is not the odd one out. The reason for this is the circle does have a side - it really has ‘one’ side however this side is curved.

Even then, the three others (triangle, rectangle and parallelogram) aren’t the same in terms of sides because the triangle has three ‘sides’ while the other two have four.

If you went down the path of arguing that a circle doesn’t have a corner while the others do, you then have to say that the others are the same in terms of corners, and they’re not.  The triangle has three corners while the other two have four.  This makes the triangle different from the rest. The key thing that makes the circle, the rectangle and the parallelogram the same is 360-degree angle.  The circle has that, the angles of the square add up to that and it’s the same with the parallelogram.

However, the triangle doesn’t add up to it (it is 180 degrees).

While the circle ‘looks’ like it is the odd one out, this is a trick if you only evaluate it visually.  The key here is to find out what rule binds the other three together and the triangle doesn’t bind with any of the other shapes in a standard rule.  As the three other shapes (rectangle, circle and parallelogram) have 360-degree angles totalled, and that rule holds true for all three, that is why the triangle is the odd one out.

Just looking visually will not give you the correct answer as even then the triangle doesn’t ever fit in with the angles and sides of the other two shapes i.e. rectangle and parallelogram. This is a ‘trick’ and one that’s very common in ACER style exams.


2. Creative (Narrative) Writing

The sample test question…


What do most students write about? They usually write about being trapped in any maze.

What should students write about? The best response would have a storyline about someone being trapped in a maze and needing to get out. It’ll also incorporate the visual elements that you see here – i.e. complex maze with bleached white walls that seem to never end.

Key strategy

You need all three parts working well. First, crafting a story a relating it to the prompt. Second, making sure the structure and order of your story flow well. And finally, how you write it – are you balancing your ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ sentences? Unfortunately, writing is one of those things where you need to get all three of the above right! Learn how to get all these three components of writing right with our monthly writing improvement program.

Note that the ‘maze’ type prompt has appeared in a variation in a past scholarship/selective school test paper.


3. Numerical Reasoning

The sample test question…


What do most students think the correct is? A - 19.

What is the correct answer? D – 21.

Key strategy

There are likely separate rules for different types of letters or numbers or even rows or columns. Find the rule that binds similar rows, columns or types (e.g. numbers or letters together) and be aware that the same rule doesn’t apply always. For example, to get from P to R, it’s counting up 2 units e.g. “P”, “Q”, “R” and same from R to T e.g. “R”, “S”, “T”. So if a student was rushing through this question, they’d do “17” + 2 units = “19” units and select 19 as that’s the first pattern they’ve found.

In reality, there are two types of rules—one for the numbers and one for the letters. The one for the numbers is increasing by 4 units. Therefore, “17” + 4 = 21. We know this is the case because the 2nd and 4th column of numbers are increasing each by 4 units. Learn to ace numerical reasoning with the numerical reasoning course.


4. Argumentative (Persuasive) Writing 

The sample test question…


What do most students write about? They usually misinterpret the question and instead write about how ‘bad’ graffiti is and then write multiple reasons ‘why’ graffiti is ‘bad’ without explaining it in detail.

This is similar to a past scholarship writing prompt.

What should students write about? The best response would have a stance – is graffiti art in their view or not? This is a different stance to whether or not graffiti is ‘bad’.  Once a stance has been established, students should come up with two strong reasons ‘why’ graffiti is or isn’t art and then proceed to give evidence and explanation to support ‘why’ they have chosen their reason.

Key strategy

Have a position (don’t say “it depends”), tell the reader 2 reasons “why” you have chosen your stance and then develop your argument in detail. The bulk of argumentative/persuasive writing relies on the quality of your two arguments so it’s important to do these things right!  Improve your persuasive writing with writing club - a monthly writing improvement program that combines masterclass, writing practice and A+ tutor-led feedback sessions.


5. Reading Comprehension

The sample test question…


What do most students think the correct is? A.

What is the correct answer? C.

Key strategy

Understand the difference between ‘figurative’ and ‘literal’. Many students think that reading comprehension is a ‘find and match’ exercise. You find the keyword and match it with one in the answer. This is why many students would select option A. This is wrong. Reading comprehension is about understanding what a sentence or text is trying to say to us.

There are two parts to this.

The first part is when people say what they really mean (literal). For example, “Mum says I need to wash the dishes today” which means that the mother of this character has asked them to wash the dishes today. Simple right?

The second part is when people say something that has a deeper meaning. It’s figurative or a “figure of speech”. For example, when someone is cold and they say “I am an ice block”. It doesn’t mean they are really an ice block, it just means that they are so cold that they feel like they’re made out of ice.

In this question, it’s figurative. So spilled milk is an accident and when someone says ‘don’t cry’ it means that one shouldn’t get upset. So applying the strategy of understanding what literal and figurative is, you come to the correct answer of C.


6. Maths

The sample test question…


What do most students think the correct is? A or D.

What is the correct answer? B - 2 kg

Key strategy

Isolate out the different parts of this question.

Students who don’t do this would select 12 kg, as their goal in maths is to do some quick calculation and the quickest calculation would be 6 times 2 is 12. Other students may select D as it is the other option if they come to a calculation that doesn’t match any of the solution options – this may be due to incorrect calculations or not knowing how to set up the calculation.

This question has multiple components (we explain this in our maths course) – the box and then the apples. The question asks only for the box. To figure this out, you’d set up a formula.

Box + full apples = 10 kg

Box + ½ apples = 6 kg.

What’s the difference between the 2 formulas? It’s that the first one is full and the second one has half. Because of this, ½ of the apples should equal the difference between the two formulas of 4 kg.

If we know that ½ of the apples is 4 kg. Then 100% of apples should be 4 times 2 and that is 8. So 100% of the apples is 8. If a box + full apples = 10 kg and the full number of apples weighs 8 kg, then the box should only weigh 2 kg (10 kg take away 2).

By isolating the components of the question, you’ll come to the correct answer. That is, the box weighs 2 kg!


7. Verbal reasoning

The sample test question…


What do most students think the correct is? A or E.

What is the correct answer? B.

Key strategy

Patterns can skip – they do not need to apply from one to the next. They can apply to each second one.

From the question it looks like there’s an “S” and then there’s a space and then a “U”. Many students would probably put in “T” because “S”, “T”, “U” are letters of the alphabet that follow each other.

But doing that means there’s no pattern. The key to reasoning questions is that there is an underlying pattern and this pattern is what will give you the correct answer.

Let’s look at the question again. We know that if we skip to each second group we have “BB”, “DDD”, …. “HHHHH”.

So the pattern for each second group looks like it should increase by 1 character and from “B” to “D” it’s 2 units. So 2 units up from “D” would be “F” and there should be 4 of these “F” characters. Therefore the answer is “FFFF” and this holds true because from “FFFF” to “HHHHH” it’s adding one more letter and it goes up 2 units.

So understanding that patterns (which we cover in detail in the verbal reasoning course) can skip is a key strategy in verbal reasoning and one that can help your child ace this part of their selective school or scholarship test.

Your child has only one chance to ace their exam.

And nowadays, unlike when you grew up, it is extremely competitive - your child is usually competing against 4,000+ students.

Hope this post has been useful to you and please leave a comment below.

Next: 5 Common Q&A on Written Expression for Selective Schools and Scholarship Tests


Tara February 28, 2018

Hi! Thank you so much for your information and advise! But i would like to know 'what' aspects or 'topics' that the selective schools mostly include in their exams and also how to do them! Thanks, Tara!

Vi from examsuccess.com.au March 03, 2018

Hi Tara, this generally varies and it depends on the exam you sit. For example, NSW has the set standard of general ability, reading, maths and written expression, but within this, there's a lot of variation as to what is included and it also changes e.g. you may practice a lot of "if kips are pips and some pip are zips etc..." for verbal reasoning but in one year, there may not be many questions of that type. If you want to learn how to do the various types of questions that may present in the selective school tests or scholarship tests, our courses are comprehensive and you can find details here: https://www.examsuccess.com.au/courses

Daniel Pan September 26, 2018

Great article about SST, and much thanks!

Vi from examsuccess.com.au September 26, 2018

No worries Daniel! You're welcome!

AS February 24, 2019

Hey, I need help with reading comprehension, writing and g.a. I get REALLY low marks in practice tests. I need help. I need tips and tricks. PLS HELP! My test is in 2weeks. Selective test. I am really stressed out. I NEED THOSE TIPS AND TRICKS!

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