This article details the perspective of forum user Seth regarding their selective school experience.

Want to chat all things selective schools? Join us!

With the Victorian Selective School Examination just over three weeks away, I thought it would be fitting to help those people who may not know how to prepare or people who simply want some extra tips to help them succeed. I myself was able to use the following, over the course of around two months, to achieve my highest potential. I was awarded four superiors, affording me a position at Nossal High School.

Keep in mind, your chances of entry vary depending on the school you attend at the time of sitting the exam. For example, for someone like myself who attended a somewhat competitive private school, at least one superior was required for Nossal High, while at least three superiors were required for Melbourne High. Although no one from my school was offered a place at Suzanne Cory (purely because they didn’t preference it), there were girls who were accepted into Mac.Robertson Girls’ who achieved two superiors.

Straight away, one tip I can advise you of, although you may be aware of this, is that the official practice papers which many refer to aren’t nearly as challenging as the real deal. While they may represent the format of the real exam, they should not be your primary source of preparation. Okay then, on to the six subjects covered in the exam, from the order of most to least difficult…

(Everyone’s favourite) Numerical Reasoning:

So first off, from my experience, Numerical Reasoning seemed to be by far the hardest test of the exam. Question after question was some impossible number sequence, much unlike the simple ‘+x’ arithmetic sequences you might find in the online practice papers.

Despite this, I can recommend you use trial and error. For example, use the four maths processes (x, -, +, /) to try relating one number to the next. I’m sure many of you will have undertaken some form of tuition for the exam just as I did. However, the sorts of questions being fired at you in the real thing were completely different from what you would expect on the NR tests at tuition.

If on the day of the exam you are approached with patterns including the usage of letters (1A, 2B, 3C, etc), then it may be worth your time to quickly sketch the alphabet. Looking back on my study habits, I remember using Khan Academy as my main source for maths assistance; it can provide assistance with nearly any maths or english topic. Some of the only advice I could give you based on my experiences doing NR, is to familiarise yourself with common number sequences and to do regular brain-teaser questions or IQ tests. An IQ test probably holds the closest resemblance to the real test above any other form of practice.

selective schools

Reading Comprehension:

Just from memory, I can say that RC was possibly the easiest test out of the lot. ‘Well, then why is it second?’ you may ask. This isn’t due to its inherent difficulty, but rather the point that it seemed EVERYONE was confident in doing it. You shouldn’t necessarily worry about RC, but I advise you strongly to read thoroughly through each question – it may just be that the difference between an average and a superior is something like 15%. Although this relates just as equally to Verbal Reasoning, it is almost crucial that you start reading novels routinely in these last few weeks. I will suggest novels such as Animal Farm, but really any somewhat challenging book will be beneficial to your overall performance. Also, when reading these books, make sure to document any words which aren’t in your vocabulary and revise them.

Verbal Reasoning:

The people who excel in VR usually build on their vocabulary for many months if not years. Although I was presented with some questions intended to spot out the uncareful test-goers (e.g. Which is most like confusion: a) Confucius b) perplexity c) awe d) intrepid e) terse) I believe that a strong vocabulary is a key to success here. Despite the lengthy time it takes to develop a strong vocabulary, with enough repetition you should be able to memorise quite a few words before the exam. I have linked below some word lists for those who nonetheless want some last-minute practice. As mentioned in the previous paragraph on NR, for those whose vocabulary is extensive enough, brain teasers will prove great practice for the real exam.


Where do I begin… For me, the topic which I studied by far the most hours on was mathematics. The sheer amount of required concept knowledge somewhat forced me into it; if I wanted to succeed, then I would have to memorise and be able to apply a whole new set of formulas. I recommend investing in Warwick Marlin’s book ‘Understanding Year 9 & 10 Maths’, as it was the main contributor to my success. Despite how daunting the maths may seem, if you’re confident in some fields entailing linear relations, parabolas, surds, index laws, quadratics, arithmetic/geometric sequences, probability, trigonometry (sine, cosine, tangent), binary, circle geometry, logarithms (optional), set notation, polynomials, factorising, permutations and simple and compound interest, then you shouldn’t worry. Like all people I’ve asked agree, maths was the easiest of the tests. This is likely because we would study together at lunchtimes and after school, using our limited time as effectively as possible – I recommend you do the same, either with or without a friend.

selective schools

Essay Component

This was the list of subjects from hardest to easiest. Now to the essay component of the exam. When I attempted the exam, the essay component was different to this year’s format. This year, students seeking entry will write an essay in a thirty-minute time slot, following a ten-minute planning time. Because of this massive increase in the allocated time, I recommend you take advantage of your planning time by scribbling down as many ideas as possible, and perhaps fleshing out your paragraphs.


When practising your persuasive essay skills before the exam, I strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the commonly taught TEEL structure. It is the basis on which many teachers grade essays at your level of schooling and will provide a fixed pattern which you can refine after every practice essay. Another somewhat debated aspect of these types of fast-paced essays is whether you should include the usage of facts to support your arguments. The choice is up to you, but if you’re not entirely sure of the validity of your facts, then it would be better to exclude them. Including a rebuttal as your second body paragraph is a way to both improve the quality of your essay and relieve you of thinking up a third point. Demonstrating this capability to the assessors will likely gain you a higher mark for structure and content, so I recommend you implement this when practising your essays.


I find that when writing a creative essay, there’s always the chance you stray off your main storyline. It is important that you minimize the chance of this happening in the exam; as strict as the time restraints are, you want your storyline to be straight forward and as minimalistic as possible. However, to atone for this sparsity in content, I find that fleshing out each action via the use of descriptive words or emotive language allows you to deliver the quality the assessors are searching for. If you’re running low on time and need to quickly resolve your story’s climax, I find that implementing a plot twist will achieve a dramatic ending, while also saving time for editing. (E.g. A deafening shatter piqued my attention; the floodlights were sabotaged. Immediately, an ominous chill inched up my spine; I was engulfed in darkness – alone.)

School Preferences:

One final thing I feel the need to cover is the importance of school preferences. In short, select your most desired school of choice as your first preference. I know people who put in so much preparation for the VSSE, but because of their preference list, weren’t offered entry into any of the selective schools. Consider your preference choices wisely, either based on realistic expectations of your results or by which school is the most convenient for you to attend.

Helpful Resources:

Selective school video tips
• Selective school discussion forums
Last-minute tips
• Vocab
• Khan Academy
• Warwick Marlin’s ‘Understanding Year 9 & 10 Maths’ Advanced Course
Study tips
• Government-provided VSSE practice tests
• Essay practice topics

Want to chat all things selective schools? Join us!