Our Top Tips for Preparing for the NSW Selective High School Placement Test

Written by Josephine Sarvaas and Larissa Isakov.

The NSW Selective School test is fast approaching!!  With a month to go, now is the time to start consolidating months of practice and to perfect any areas of study in preparation for the exam. It’s also an important time to keep maintaining momentum in your study, which will help carry you into the exam.

The last stretch of selective test preparation might sound a little daunting from the outset, but don’t worry!! We’ve got you covered with some advice for how to go about those final stages of preparation for the selective exam. Here are our 3 top tips for each subject.

  1. Keep reading widely to improve your comprehension skills. The texts in the selective placement test often vary in text type and in complexity. For example, you may be given a short story or you may be given a poem to break down and analyse. Clearly, you need to practise breaking down as many different types of texts as possible. 

A great way to practise analysing text types is to try reading a new text a day. We’d recommend that you set a time each day (e.g. in the morning before school) to sit down, choose a text, and read it. This might only take about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a great way to maintain momentum in your study whilst ensuring that your study is manageable. 

To get even more out of your study, we’d suggest two more tips. Firstly, we’d encourage you to focus on text types that you aren’t comfortable with. If you are not comfortable with analysing poetry, for example, spend your time reading as many different poems as possible and analyse them. 

And secondly, you need to be actively engaging with the texts while you are reading them. Write down the central themes explored in the text, any examples of literary devices, and any new words that you aren’t familiar with. Even better, you might choose to read some texts with friends who are also studying for the selective exam and discuss ideas. This way, you are engaging with the text as opposed to passively reading over it without practising any skills. 


2. Keep developing a wide vocabulary. Some of the vocabulary in the reading exam might seem a little unfamiliar to most students. Developing a wide vocabulary helps reduce the chance of this occurring to you. 

For this, we’d suggest that you (1) read many different texts and write down any unfamiliar words (see Tip #1 above). After this, (2) write that word in a sentence. Applying a definition to a particular situation helps solidify your understanding of that unfamiliar word. And (3), test yourself on that word the following day, and one week after you have learnt it. Spaced repetition is key. 

3. Practise past papers under timed conditions. This last tip is very important. Time pressure can often throw students off and affect their performance. Learning how to manage stress under pressure helps you develop time management skills and exam technique, both of which build confidence with completing the exam under time pressure.


  1. Make sure you know how to “show” rather than “tell”. What differentiates good writing from exceptional writing is your ability to “show” something as opposed to overtly “tell” it. Let’s compare the following examples:

A: She walked back to her bedroom, feeling very angry because of what he had said to her. She wondered why he just wouldn’t listen to her!!

B: She stormed back to her bedroom, her heart pounding with the anger of a lion. Why couldn’t he listen to her!! She had only said the same thing to him a million times and he still couldn’t get it!!

Which sample is more interesting to read – A or B? 

Definitely B. Sample A is quite simple; it doesn’t use any literary devices and only “tells” the reader that the main character is feeling angry because of what her male counterpart said to her. In contrast, Sample B uses literary devices such as exaggeration (or “hyperbole”) and strong modality to “show” that the main character is angry. It stands out as the more interesting description to read. 


2. Practise writing under timed conditions. This is important for several reasons. Firstly, timed conditions restrict how much you can write. You therefore need to learn how to make your piece of writing “manageable” under the circumstances. When writing a piece of creative writing, for example, you need to learn how to craft an interesting plot that is not too complicated to the extent that you cannot finish the story in 30 minutes. 

Secondly, you’re also constrained by how fast you can write. Every student is different; some might be able to write very fast, others might be slower. Knowing how fast you can write also impacts how much you can afford to develop your plot, or how many arguments you can make in a persuasive piece. 


3. Get feedback on your work. This last point is probably the most important one. You need to be getting feedback on your work so you know where you can improve next time you write. It is better to write fewer pieces but get exceptional feedback than it is to write lots of practice pieces, get minimal feedback, and repeat the same mistakes in everything you write.


Thinking Skills
  1. Practise time management last. Yes, the Thinking Skills exam is very time constrained. However, first you should learn how to solve the different types of questions and build your confidence in each area before you practise under timed conditions. Doing well in the exam requires you to develop skills in critical thinking. As you develop this skill, you will find that you can solve questions faster. 

Once you know how to solve the questions using a range of strategies, then you can practise time management. 


2. Revisit all practice questions out of order in timed conditions. After you have developed confidence in each area, we’d suggest that you revisit your practice questions out of order in timed conditions. This serves two purposes: Firstly, revisiting the questions in timed conditions helps with exam technique. And secondly, scrambling the order of the questions makes your practice more “unpredictable” which is what you want to get used to. After all, you won’t be able to predict all the questions in your exam!!


3. Revise your weaknesses. You should be focusing your time on the types of questions that you are the least confident in. Try to understand why you keep making errors in a particular area, and explore the reasoning that is commonly used in those types of situations. This way, you are getting far more out of your study than what you would have if you had just focused on attempting as many questions as possible. Quality over quantity. 


Mathematical Reasoning
  1. Know the basics. The questions in the Mathematical Reasoning exam require your to apply your existing knowledge of concepts in the Primary Mathematics syllabus to harder situations. It is therefore vital that you have a solid foundation in all Primary Maths topics. 

Take the following question from 2021’s Mathematical Reasoning Test as an example:


This is a composite area question, where you will need to calculate the area of the shaded square by (1) finding the area of the outer square, and (2) subtracting the area of the smaller white rectangles from the outer square. Completing this question requires a solid foundation in area (how to find the area of quadrilaterals), algebra (how to use the known information to find the length of unknown sides) and multiplication/division (which is necessary to calculate area).

Another important consideration is that you will not have calculators in the exam; you should know how to complete addition, subtraction, multiplication and division manually. You should also know their times tables and division rules off by heart so you can solve simpler problems faster.

2. Be strategic when revising. There are two elements to this. Firstly, you should prioritise revising the topic areas and question types in which you are least confident. Identify your weaknesses by (1) creating a list of all the topics in the Stage 3 Maths syllabus, (2) rating your understanding of the topic (e.g. 3 out of 5 for Area and Volume), and (3) revising the areas with the lowest ratings. 

Secondly, you should be completing selective practice exams under timed conditions. This way, you can learn how to pace yourself in the exam and how to manage stress, thereby helping you become more confident with time pressure in the exam room on the day.

3. When attempting past papers, write down any errors you have made. Having a record of all your errors is important for identifying your weaknesses because you can see if there are any common themes in your mistakes. For example, you might be making a number of errors in area questions, which means that you should focus a lot on area questions in your future study. 

After remedying your weak spots, you can then attempt another past paper and repeat the process.

So your study might look something like this: Past paper -> Record errors -> Study mistakes – > Next past paper -> Record errors -> Study mistakes …. This way, you are learning from their mistakes rather than skipping over them. 


So there you have it: Our top tips for each subject area in the selective exam. We’ll also leave you with one final tip: Pace your study!! Be realistic with how much work you can do in one day. And don’t forget to refresh yourself by taking frequent breaks. 

Good luck!!

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