Preparing for the St Paul’s 7 and 8 Plus dictation test: tips for success

Meredith is a tutor with Owl Tutors


Owl Tutor

October 7th, 2019

Preparing for the St Paul’s 7 and 8 Plus dictation test: tips for success

This year, St Paul’s School are changing things up for the 7 and 8 Plus entrance exams, and the English paper will now include a dictation rather than a creative writing task (composition). It is worth considering that other schools may follow suit, and in this blog, Meredith sets out how best to prepare for this exam format.

What is a dictation?

It may sound a bit old-school and like something you were asked to do “back in the day”, but dictation is basically writing down what someone else says. It tests your listening, spelling and grammar skills. Read on for ways to make it a bit more fun!


What might the task entail at 7 and 8 Plus?

A dictation task will usually entail listening to and then writing down the sentences that you hear. The assessor will read a sentence aloud, and repeat it again as you pick up your pencil and write it down. It will then be repeated a third time to allow you to review the sentence you have written and check for errors.


What will schools be looking for?

Schools will be looking to see that your child can listen carefully, write legibly and neatly, use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, and edit their work based on the context of the sentence.

In particular, they will be checking to see if your child understands basic grammar such as capital letters at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns, full stops at the end of sentences, commas, speech marks, question marks and exclamation marks.

They will also be assessing whether your child can hear contractions, such as you’re (you are), he’s (he is), it’s (it is) and write the correct contracted version.

They will be checking to see if your child can identify proper nouns (those that need a capital letter such as names, places and days of the week) and give the word the appropriate capitalisation.

They will try to catch them out with homophones, such as there/ their/ they’re, to/ too/ two, for/ four, your/ you’re, blue/blew, so they will be looking to see that your child can put the word into context to decide the correct version of the word.


How can your child best prepare?

Practise, practise, practise! Practising dictation with your child can help them feel more confident and understand what will help them gain top marks. To make it more fun get them to write down silly sentences, or ask your child to dictate a couple of sentences to you. This will help them to practise composing sentences quickly and get inside the head of the assessor to realise how they can try to trick you with homophones and contractions etc.!

Be sure to discuss any errors together afterwards. The more familiar your child gets with the kind of errors that are possible, the more likely they will be to avoid them during the test.

Keep the practice short and frequent. Five minutes a couple of times a week should be enough.

Some sample sentences to start:

  1. ‘It costs too much money to buy two pairs of shoes.’ (homophone too/ two)
  2. ‘It’s the perfect day for playing with the dog and its puppies in the garden.’ (contraction of it is and belonging its)
  3. ‘I saw four children waiting for the sweet shop to open.’ (homophone four/ for)
  4. ‘Have you seen Charlie and Emma today? They’re waiting over there.’ (Contraction of they are, capitalisation of proper nouns, question mark)
  5. ‘You’re going to get your turn in just a minute.’ (homophones and contractions your / you’re)
  6. ‘The wind blew the white clouds across the blue sky.’ (homophones blew/ blue)
  7. ‘The children took a bus on their school trip to London.’ (belonging their and capitalisation of place name)
  8. ‘”I love autumn!”, said the girl as she danced in the falling leaves.’ (speech marks, exclamation mark, comma)
  9. ‘Alexander made a paper plane out of plain paper.’ (capitalisation of proper noun, homophones plane/ plain)
  10. ‘”Where are the pretty dresses we are going to wear?” (speech marks, homophones where/wear, question mark)


Practising dictation skills can enhance focus and concentration, aid the ability to do one thing at a time, develop the skills of note-taking and reviewing one’s work for common mistakes. These are important skills to master!


N.B. Schools can alter the format of their entrance exams at any point (and not necessarily with forewarning).  It is therefore important to equip students with the core skills and understanding expected at 7 Plus and 8 Plus, and instil the confidence in them to be able to illustrate these in different contexts.



Meredith is a tutor with Owl Tutors

More about Meredith

Meredith qualified as a teacher in Primary education in 2007, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.