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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.