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8 plus exams: what to expect

Sep 8, 2023, 12:51 PM

Young boy in a white t-shirt concentrating while writing on a piece of paper at a table

Looking for more information about 8 plus exams? In this article, we’ll help you learn:

  • What 8+ exams are, and who sets them

  • The subjects and skills tested on an 8+ exam

  • Top tips for 8+ success

What are 8+ exams?

8+ exams (8 plus) are taken by children applying for a place in Year 4 at an independent prep school. The exam is normally taken midway through Year 3 (around January time), when children are aged 7 or 8, for entry the following September.

The exam is similar to 7+ exams (for entry to Year 3), but with increased difficulty to reflect the older age group.

Who sets 8+ exams?

Many independent prep schools set 8+ exams for children applying for an occasional place in Year 4 (e.g. when places become available). However, some prep schools have 8 plus as a main entry point which children can apply for.

Some of these schools include:

  • Dulwich Prep

  • Harrodian

  • King’s College Junior School

  • St Paul’s Juniors (previously known as ‘Colet Court’)

  • Westminster Cathedral Choir School

  • Westminster Under School

  • Wetherby Prep School

What’s tested on the 8+ exam?

The 8+ exam varies from school to school. For specific details about your child’s exam, it’s always best to check with your target school.

The content of the 8 plus exam usually follows the national curriculum, including Key Stage 1 content and some topics from early Key Stage 2. Most schools assess English and maths, while some will include additional questions in reasoning.


Most 8 plus English exams include questions which assess:

  • Reading comprehension: skills include reading fluently and being able to deduce and infer information

  • Creative writing: children should be able to write a piece of original writing with a clear beginning, middle and end

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar: children are expected to know their spelling list for Year 3 and 4, and be able to use accurate punctuation, clauses and paragraphs


Maths questions will be based on the full Year 3 syllabus. Some Key Stage 1 topics might be included for easier questions. The Year 3 maths curriculum covers:

  • Number and place value

  • Addition and subtraction

  • Multiplication and division

  • Fractions

  • Measurement

  • Geometry

  • Statistics


Reasoning isn’t always tested on an 8+ exam, as it’s a more advanced skill that your child might not have covered at school. If your child’s 8 plus exam does incorporate reasoning, they might see both verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning questions:

  • Verbal reasoning: this tests your child’s ability to reason and solve problems with written information. This could include letters, words, symbols, and numbers.

  • Non-verbal reasoning: your child will be assessed on their ability to solve problems using visual information. This includes shapes, diagrams, and pictures.

Free Year 3 & 4 worksheets

Help your child prepare for the 8+ exam with these free English and maths worksheets. Download reading comprehension activities and maths questions suitable for ages 7–9.

Download worksheets

What happens after the 8+ exam?

Your child’s test papers will be marked and may be ranked in order with other candidates. Prep schools usually take lots of factors into consideration when offering places, so there might be other tasks or activities to complete. This could include:

  • An interview: usually a one-on-one informal chat with a member of staff. Your child might be asked questions about their interests and hobbies, both inside and outside of school.

  • A group task: this is more common if your child is applying for 8+ as a main entry point. The school might set candidates a group activity – usually classroom-based – to see how well each child works with others.

Most schools also request a copy of your child’s latest school report, and/or a reference from their current headteacher.

Top tips for 8+ success

The content tested on the 8 plus exam varies from school to school, so it’s important to know exactly what your child will be tested on beforehand. To find out more details, check your target school’s admissions page, or contact [email protected]. Atom’s customer support team is on hand to help you understand what your child needs to revise ahead of exam day.

Talk to an advisor

Is your child taking the 8+ exam? Our friendly advisors are on hand to help. Click the LiveChat icon in the bottom of your screen to talk immediately, or send us an email below.

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Here are some of Atom’s top tips for helping your child prepare and build confidence for the 8 plus exam.

Build curriculum knowledge

Your child should build a strong understanding across the breadth and depth of the Year 3 curriculum, covering all topics in English and maths.

Using an online learning platform like Atom will help your child cover the curriculum in bitesize chunks. Atom’s Learning Journeys are fully adaptive, meaning that your child’s experience is unique to them. This helps to stretch and challenge them in areas they feel confident, and help them stay motivated to revise areas they’re finding difficult.

Encourage your child to use the learning resources available in every question. Video tutorials and teacher-written helpsheets develop your child’s independent learning skills. And as they learn, they’ll collect coins and badges to help make the experience even more rewarding!

8 plus English question on Atom

Create a learning routine

The 8+ might be the first exam your child has taken, so the experience is likely to be challenging. Routine is really important for your child to stay engaged and to help structure their revision.

‘Little and often’ is the best approach for any exam – particularly for young children. 15 minutes of learning a day is more than enough to have a positive impact on your child’s progress. Meanwhile, make sure to celebrate every small win with your child. Continue to be their biggest cheerleader, inspire them to learn from mistakes, and help them understand that progress is always positive!

Revise areas of difficulty

Targeting topics your child finds more challenging is essential revision for exams. Working out exactly which topics need more practice is easy with Atom!

You can review your child’s Learning Journey progress via your parent dashboard at any time. We recommend looking at the Topic Breakdown page at least once a week to see which areas they have found challenging. You can then set your child a Custom Practice to support their understanding of that topic. Using Custom Practices alongside Learning Journeys helps bridge learning gaps to boost their attainment.

Non-verbal reasoning topic breakdown on a parent dashboard on Atom

Encourage regular reading

Building strong reading habits is one of the best ways to build your child’s vocabulary, comprehension, and composition skills.

Boost your child's comprehension skills by setting short activities based on their reading. This could include writing a summary paragraph or an alternative ending to the story. Ask your child questions to develop their imagination, such as asking them what might happen next. You can also develop their inference skills by asking them to read between the lines – what might a character be thinking or feeling at this moment?

We also recommend keeping a vocabulary log book at home. Your child can use their log book to write down any new or interesting words they come across while reading. If they're unsure of the meaning of a word, encourage them to try to deduce the meaning by looking at the context. Once they understand it, challenge them to use the word in a sentence.

It’s important for your child to read a range of genres including fiction and non-fiction texts. Download Atom's reading list to find age-appropriate books for your child.

Develop confidence with reasoning

Your child's 8+ exam might include questions in verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Reasoning isn't usually taught at school, so your child might be unfamiliar with these questions.

It's important to introduce reasoning at an easy level of difficulty. You'll be able to see the questions your child is fluent with, and those they find more challenging.

When your child starts a Learning Journey on Atom, they'll see easier questions to start. Learning Journeys are adaptive, so as your child answers questions correctly, they'll become more challenging. As they progress, your child will build the confidence and skills to answer more difficult questions. Short explanation videos are available for every question to help them if they get stuck.

You can also access Atom's Lesson Library for on-demand verbal and non-verbal reasoning lessons. Learn with Atom's teachers as they introduce different reasoning skills and exam-style questions. Your child will also learn helpful exam techniques to support them with this part of the 8+ exam.

Reasoning lessons for Year 3 in the Atom lesson library

Practise exam technique

When your child is confident with the curriculum, they'll be ready to put their knowledge to the test.

An Atom subscription gives you access to unlimited 8+ mock tests. Practice tests on Atom are matched to the relevant curriculum, and include the same question styles used in the real exam. Your child can use mock tests to practise exam technique and test their understanding.

Practice tests on Atom are automatically marked. You'll get an immediate transcript showing their performance across all topics. This will help you identify which areas need more improvement.

8+ maths mock test on Atom

8+ practice papers and online learning

Atom is the award-winning online learning platform that gives your child everything they need to prepare for 8 plus exams.

Your child will build independent learning skills as they work through over 90,000 interactive questions in English, maths and reasoning. Teacher-created helpsheets and videos help them discover new concepts and consolidate their learning.

Atom’s adaptive algorithm keeps your child on their ideal learning path. Questions are tailored to their unique learning style and pace to keep them challenged and motivated.

8 plus practice papers

Unlock unlimited practice tests tailored to your target school and exam. Atom’s practice tests mirror the format and style of real 8+ exams, so your child will know exactly what to expect.

GL 11 plus mock test on Atom Nucleus

Know they’re on track

Atom’s Parent Portal gives you at-a-glance progress reports and detailed transcripts.

You can see how your child is performing in every subtopic, making it easy to celebrate those milestones together.

Progress tracking on Atom's parent dashboard

Prepare for 8 plus success

Begin your child’s journey to your dream prep school today. Use the full features of Atom free for 5 days – cancel anytime.

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