The Hard Part in the Selective School Tests and Scholarship Exams is Problem Solving, It’s Not the Curriculum!

Parent: “What part of the school curriculum is important for this test?" and "Do you follow the school curriculum?

Me: “The curriculum isn’t particularly important in this test” and “No”.

These are questions that I’ve been getting frequently as parents start organising coaching or tuition for their children in preparation of the selective school and scholarship tests.

Why is the Curriculum Not Important when Preparing for the Selective School Exam or Scholarship Test?

The curriculum is not important in this test because selective school entrance exams and scholarship tests are about testing ability and intellect. That’s through problem solving and practice as opposed to the curriculum where you “learn” information.

Think about the curriculum as creating building blocks for your child. As your child goes up a grade they acquire more building blocks. But… those building blocks are only useful if your child can do something with it. If your child’s school is up to date on the curriculum, your child has all the building blocks they need. For example, basic maths like fractions and angles and writing structures are basic building blocks that are useful for the exam.

Other areas of the curriculum, e.g. general science, geography, social sciences where information is acquired won’t be tested in the majority of selective school and scholarship tests (with the exception of specialised science schools). Rightly so - A person’s intellect should not be measured by how easily they can memorise information. What’s important, is one’s ability to apply and use that knowledge once it is acquired.

Why Don’t You Follow the School Curriculum?

School is there for a reason. To teach students by following a curriculum. Problem solving is not something taught in depth by schools and that’s what we focus on as that’s what the exam really tests.

For example, in school as part of the curriculum, you child may be taught how to solve an algebraic equation e.g. 3a + a = 4a.

While the exam may require you to do it, that’s not what it’s really testing. What it’s testing is your child’s ability to solve problems with the knowledge they already have.

For example, a question such as:

John is 3 times older than Wilson and Wilson and John’s age combined is 80. How old is John?

This question requires four actions from the student:

  1. Requires the student to read the question.
  2. Formulate the problem (think about it) so that they can solve it. That formula is 3a + a = 4a.
  3. Figure out where the information fits into the formula. 80 = 4a so a = 20 and 3a is John’s age.
  4. Solve that formula. John’s age is 20 x 3 = 60 years old.

Can you see here, how at school, all that’s being taught is Point 4 (that’s the curriculum). Selective school and scholarship questions require Actions 1, 2 and 3 - that’s the problem solving part. While the solution involves maths, the maths itself isn’t the difficult part, it’s the thought process and problem solving.

Some people think that problem solving is some kind of hard-to-reach thing that only ‘smart’ people are born with. I disagree with this. In my view, it’s a skill and it’s built up by practicing with practice questions and most importantly, having pre-defined approaches beforehand so that students can apply to many questions to solve it. This is the real preparation needed for the exam.

So when the education department says that “You can’t study for this test”, in a way, they’re right. No amount of ‘acquiring information’ beyond what your child already learns in school will be useful. What will be useful will be exam strategy, problem solving and for your child to learn how to transform the knowledge they already have into something meaningful. provides courses on subject areas tested in selective school and scholarship exams. View our online selective school and scholarship course offering.

Next: 5 Tips on Writing a Persuasive/Argumentative Piece for a Selective School/Scholarship Test


Hima February 26, 2016

hi, just wondering can you please let me know ASAP the things we would be expecting for the tests like for example whats gonna occur in the maths tests and tips for how to imropve

Sign up to post comments

Have A Question?

Get in touch!