How to Get a Private High School Scholarship

This year, there are over 292 schools across Australia offering academic scholarships.  Academic scholarships offers are decided primarily on a child’s performance on an entrance exam.  These exams are competitive and rightly so - a high school scholarship can save parents $90,000* over six years.

Having won a $165,280 value scholarship from Australia’s No 1 Ranked University and coached numerous children to obtain academic scholarships since 2010, here are three things I’ve learnt about getting private school scholarships.


Your Child doesn’t have to be a Genius but High Scores Don’t Hurt

Many parents don’t bother trying for scholarships because of the misconception that they’re only for geniuses with natural ability.  Around 2% of the population is considered ‘gifted’ and have an IQ score greater than 130 (Post Gazette 2011).  But it doesn’t mean that they will a) apply for a scholarship or b) perform well on the speed-based test.

A Sydney mum, Kate Mannix claimed that the ACER Opportunity Class test returned the same results for her twins.  However, her son was tested independently and was found to have an IQ score higher than his twin sister and mathematical abilities in the top 5% of the population.  Her son missed out on a spot in the ‘gifted’ program (Daily Telegraph 2014).

Scholarships are primarily offered on performance on an entrance exam and past students who have gained scores within the top 10% to 15% of the tested population have usually been offered a spot.

While your child doesn’t need to be a genius, remember that getting a scholarship is a competitive process and the chances of getting a scholarship are much higher if your child’s school grades are in the B+ to A range.  Furthermore, some scholarship applications consider NAPLAN and school reports so doing well academically in school will improve your chances.

Excel in Both Mathematics and English

John** had sat nine scholarship tests but didn’t get an offer.  In all, his mathematic scores were ranked at the highest level (within the top 10%) but his writing was average.  When he improved his writing to be classed in the top 15%, he received a scholarship.  It’s important for your child to be an all-rounder as doing well in only one area is unlikely to get you through, regardless of how well your child performs in their strongest area.

Here are example results based on past students receiving scholarship offers and those that didn’t.



To improve your child’s English, the easiest thing to do is to read every day.  To improve your child’s mathematics, go through some mathematical puzzles and talk to your child about the different ways of tackling the same problem.


Practice Test Taking to Become ‘Exam Smart’

Consider two types of swimmers in a race – the one with natural ability and the average swimmer.  How many times have spectators seen a swimmer at the Olympics with so much natural ability fail to make the cut?  While a lack of preparation doesn’t mean that you cannot get a scholarship, preparation does assist in becoming ‘test ready’.  Furthermore, if a person can’t even swim 25 metres now, it would take years of preparation to even qualify to race in the Olympics let alone win it.

My view is that test preparation is useful for students already achieving a B+ to A average in school to become familiar with the style of the test.  From my experience, it is unlikely to assist a student who is getting mainly C to B grades to gain a spot.

Ideas for test preparation are doing practice questions, managing time and formulating approaches to common types of questions.  All of which can be done at home or with a tutor.  The two major testing bodies in Australia, ACER and Edutest, both have free sample test papers to download as practice.  You can download ACER practice questions here and Edutest practice questions here.

If you’re after a scholarship, research independent schools that your child would like to attend and check if scholarships are on offer.  For the majority of schools, the scholarship application deadline (including participating school in the ACER scholarship cooperative program) closes shortly in the first week of February – Hurry!

Vi Nguyen runs where students and parents can get self-paced online selective school and scholarship test preparation courses, books and test papers. 



Daily Telegraph (2014), Sydney Mum’s Mission to Prove the Education Department Wrong,

Essential Kids (2014) Private Schooling has Little Long Term Payoff,

Post Gazette (2001) Gifted IQ,

University of Melbourne (n.d.), Fees for International Students,

*Calculated assuming you get a 50% reduction in tuition fees over six years and the average tuition fee per year is $30,000.

** Names have been changed/protected for privacy purposes.

Next: Should I send my child to a public or private school?


Desy Rosilawati December 10, 2015

I wish to get more information about private school scholarship for my son. He is currently enrolled in year 8 gifted and talented class at Castle Hill High School. This year he has achieved 2nd place in year 8. Please kindly assist. Thank You. Desy [EDITED: Name removed for privacy reasons]

maria February 18, 2016

my daughter is currently in yr 5 .I would like her to prepare for entrance exam for a scholarship to a pvt school. regards,

Emily February 20, 2016

I'm doing both ACER and Edutest and my scores are around A+ to B- for Maths and English. I have an average speed for doing ACER tests because I went for a mock test but I'm worried that I haven't learned the required parts of Maths to stand a chance. I'm also worried that my school might have lower expectations (maybe that's why I'm getting A+ and B-'s?). If you could give me any advice ASAP it would be a big help. Emily

Tasvir August 05, 2017

My daughter is currently in grade 4. I would like her to prepare for entrance exams (including NAPLAN) for a scholarship to an independent school beginning year 6. Should we enrol her in private tuitions or refer to study materials online and teach her ourselves? Your advice is highly appreciated.

Vi from August 05, 2017

Hi Tasvir, Thanks for getting in touch! Whether or not you do private tuition or teach your daughter yourself really depends on your daughter’s learning style. Referring to study materials online means that your daughter will need to be motivated to learn and be able to organise her time so that she can complete her work. I’ve seen students who currently get As or A+ in school do well with independent learning as they have a level of freedom and can progress faster than what they would if they were in classes. If considering private tuition, cost would be a factor and if you find the right tutor, they can help your daughter improve on her weak points. But... make sure that they’re experienced in entrance exam preparation as that includes knowledge about time management, exam strategy along with content such as reasoning (abstract reasoning, numerical and verbal depending on the type of test) which isn’t necessarily taught in primary or high school. These are just my thoughts as to the benefits/disadvantages for each option and I hope they’ve been useful in helping you make a decision. Kind regards, Vi

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