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

In this blog post, I answer 5 common questions that students and parents ask about preparing for the written expression or writing task of the selective schools test and/or scholarship tests.

The 5 questions are:

  • How does my child prepare for written expression specifically for Academic Assessment Services, ACER and Edutest Written Expression? Will their criteria differ?
  • How many big words (impressive vocabulary) should my child be using?
  • How many writing prompts should my child do for practice?
  • Are long sentences better than short sentences?
  • Should my child write out template essays and memorise them for the exam?

Question 1. How does my child prepare for written expression specifically for the different testing bodies like Academic Assessment Services, ACER and Edutest? Will their criteria differ?

No, not in any major way as a good writing piece is still a good writing piece. The criteria of good writing pieces don’t change drastically depending on the examining body.

An excellent writing piece will generally have three main things in common: great structure, excellent expression and be related to the writing prompt. If you meet these three things, your writing piece would probably (among other things) be considered a good writing piece by all three of the examining bodies (ACER, Edutest and AAS).

Question 2. How many big words (impressive vocabulary) should my child be using?

None. This is a common question and truthfully, you don’t need big and complex words to write an A+ writing piece. While using some big words may be good (if they support your writing piece properly), it’s not a prerequisite.  In fact, one of my past students doesn’t have a large vocabulary range and he wrote a clear, interesting and simple story that was impressive enough to get him a spot at Perth Modern School (a selective school in WA).

In fact, if you purposely write big words that you don’t know how to spell, then you’re saying to the examiner that you don’t know how to spell it. That’s bad.

Even worse, if you use a big word and don’t understand the true meaning of it (and therefore don’t know if the word is suitable for the sentence), then you risk showing to the examiner that you would attempt to use a word for its “bigness” even if it sounds inappropriate.

If you don’t know how to spell the ‘big’ word, you don’t know how to use it and it’s not appropriate for your story - don’t use it!  Even the Academic Assessment Services managing director has said “flowery vocabulary not related to the prompt will be marked down” (Sydney Morning Herald, 2016)

Don’t choose impressive words just because they’re impressive and don’t make them your feature. Your story is your feature and the words you choose support your story. Not the other way around.

Question 3. How many writing prompts should my child do for practice?

The number of prompts that you practice will not largely determine how successful you will be in the exam. For some students, we have practiced on just 5 different prompts, going into detail into each prompt, and they have successfully achieved a spot in a selective school or scholarship after sitting the exam. While we only used 5 prompts, we went into detail into their writing and they re-wrote essays on the same prompt multiple times.

What’s important is how to make your writing better. Exposing yourself to 100s of prompts is unlikely to make your writing better but rather, you have just seen the prompt. This doesn’t mean your writing skills have been honed.

Practising on around 5 – 10 prompts and writing excellent essays (and focusing on your writing skills) should be the primary aim. You could write multiple versions of your writing piece to the same prompt.

Want access to free exam prompts for NAPLAN, selective school and scholarship tests for Year 7 and Year 9? Access them at https://www.examsuccess.com.au/practice-writing-app/grades.

Question 4. Are long sentences better than short sentences?

Neither is better than the other as commonly, I see a mix of both short and long sentences in good writing pieces.

However, it is important to note that long sentences tend to be more complex than short sentences and this is where I see many students add confusion to their writing. They write long sentences to try and get their message across.

Instead of writing long sentences, students can sometimes split a very long sentence into two shorter sentences. Or they can even eliminate information that’s not important to their story.

If you child is adding confusion to their writing piece with long sentences, try expressing the ideas in that sentence into shorter sentences.

Exam Success’ Writing Improvement Program helps your child with writing clear sentences for their important exam.   Find a writing club to join here: https://www.examsuccess.com.au/writing_clubs

Question 5. Should my child write out template essays and memorise them for the exam?


I’d recommend that you write out full length essays to practice your writing. However, writing templates and then adapting them to the prompt is not a good strategy.


First, it’s very hard to write a template essay that can capture the full range of prompts available. Even if you did, you’d probably have to categorise the types of prompts and write approximately 5 – 10 template essays. Then, you’d have to memorise them.

That’s a lot of work for something that doesn’t really enhance your writing, but rather focuses on memorisation.  Lastly, in the exam, you’d have to hope that the prompt is one that you can adapt and if it were, you’d then have to recall the essay and still make decisions as to what to change.

As someone who sees a lot of writing pieces, it’s quite obvious when someone uses a template and adapts. The writing is less fluid and there would be a mismatch between the adapted parts and the parts that are prewritten.

Adapting an essay is like creating a wall out of brown bricks (the pre-written essay) and then knocking out some gaps (figuring where to adapt to the prompt) and then using blue bricks to fill in the gaps (the adapted parts). The change in style of writing is often visible so avoid writing pre-prepared writing pieces.

Writing Club focuses on quality writing through continued practice, want to improve your child’s writing?  Find a writing club to join now! 

Next: General Ability Test - Beware 'fake' figures, check direction and figures aren't always unique


Vivian December 25, 2017

Hi Vi, Thank you very much for your great tips, which are really helpful for us parents to understand the requirement of ACER tests and find out ways to improve children's performance. Regarding persuasive writing, I am just wondering if it matters which opinion a student is for or against ? As the question is normally a bit controversial, will the exam marker more expects a positive opinion (or representing "correct" / "main stream" view) or not? So if the student follows his own thoughts and may choose a negative opinion (depending on the exact topic), will this more likely to get bad impact to his scores? Thanks in advance to your advice! Best Regards Vivian

Lucy January 10, 2018

Hey, My Selective school exam is in 2 months and I am struggling a little bit. I am not allowed to do tutoring...... so what should I do????? I really need to get in! Please help, Lucy

Vi from examsuccess.com.au February 15, 2018

Technically, it shouldn't as you should be tested on the quality of your writing, not your own personal opinion. I do know of a student who took a non main-stream view on a topic and wrote her essay well and got offered a spot.

Abby March 04, 2018

Hi there, I have a selective test coming up In about two weeks. I prepared very well for it, and also went to tutoring classes. My reading and creative writing is really good. I am okay with GA but horrible with maths. My dad purchased some practice online tests from a website called NotesEdu. The maths tests are very hard and I only score a little less than 50%. I only really just need help with maths so could you please give some advice and tips please? it's urgent. Thanks Abby

Victoria July 13, 2018

Uh well, just study and work hard. Do past papers and if u don't know how then ask google. Tutoring isn't necessarily the only way to get in. I never did any toto ring and my parents were always busy so I had to self-learn most of it.

anyonomous April 27, 2019

my acer test is tomorrow for Brisbane state high less than 24h im frEAKING OUTT!!!!!!!!! have any free sample question I want a sample for creative writing and discussion.Im fine with creative but nobody has samples of discussion.My friend wrote test last year didn't pass she not giving me any information. I bought sample book from acer but don't get two written expressions but get the questions I get when I tried got 48/49 questions right. can u reply son as possible pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez ps Vivian whats your child name because my ex friends mum used to have the same name as u his name was sam. to be precise I have 16h and 33left

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