How to Apply & Prepare for the Selective High School Exam

How to Apply & Prepare for the Selective High School Exam

Placements for Selective Schools are limited, deadline-driven and highly competitive with applications for Year 7 entry submitted more than a year in advance of study. In this article, we offer key dates, exam tips and an overview of the process – from application to the outcome.

Selective Schools have a responsibility to provide targeted talent development, extension, and advanced learning for high potential and gifted students from all backgrounds. High expectations and effective, explicit, evidence-based teaching creates an environment where students are engaged in learning and challenged to achieve their potential across multiple spheres of education: intellectual, creative, social-emotional, and physical.

  • High potential students are those whose potential exceeds that of students of the same age in one or more spheres of education.
  • Gifted students are those whose potential significantly exceeds that of students of the same age in one or more spheres of education.

If your child is high-potential and/or gifted, then you must begin the application process in term four of their Year Five studies. Parents and students will both work to secure a Year Seven placement in one of the 46 NSW Selective High Schools.

Tips for Identifying if your Child has High Academic Potential

Gifted and high potential students often have some, or all, of the following characteristics; they:

  • enjoy learning
  • have intense curiosity
  • display a good memory
  • ask complex questions
  • enjoy learning new and often complex ideas or skills
  • require fewer repetitions when learning new things
  • are creative
  • become intensely focused in their area of interest or passion.

Please keep in mind that these traits are only one way to indicate high potential students. Some high potential and intellectually gifted students may not act like this, for example, due to lack of opportunity, disability or disadvantage.

Ask your child’s teacher if you want advice about whether your child might benefit from attending a selective high school.

The Application Process

Applications open on October 18th and will close on November 16th 2022. Apply: here.

Applications for Year 7 entry to a selective high school are open for one month during term four each year – 15 months in advance of study – and are completed and submitted online.

Once applications open, the first step is to register to receive password-protected access to the online application form. If the registered email address is suspected of belonging to a student, email communication will be disabled, and correspondence will be sent by mail to prevent unsupported student applications. Key considerations for the application process are outlined below.

Parent Contact Details & Documentation

Where parents live at different addresses but have equal responsibility for the care of the child, only the parent with whom the child lives or is residing with at the time of applying, should submit the application. Record the names of two parents if the second parent needs to contact the High Performing Students Team and or make decisions about the application. Where applicable a copy of court orders may be requested, relating to decisions about the child’s education or communication concerning the child.

Four Types of Selective High Schools

There are 4248 places available in 49 selective high schools across NSW for entry to Year 7 in 2023. NSW selective high schools are not zoned so parents can apply regardless of where they live. View map of Selective Schools in NSW.

As part of the application process, you can select up to three selective schools for your child’s placement. You should list these in order of priority. There are Combined (Co-Ed), Boys only and Girls only options with schools being either fully or partially selective. See the full list of NSW selective schools as well as their location and website: here.

1. Fully selective high schools

There are 17 fully selective high schools in NSW. In these schools all classes are academically selective.

2. Partially selective high schools

There are 27 partially selective high schools in NSW taking Year 7 students, where one or two classes are selective while other classes are non-selective for local students. The students in the selective classes participate in separate English, mathematics and science classes. They generally join the non-selective students for classes in other subjects.

Younger or older siblings of students placed in partially selective high schools are not guaranteed approval for an out-of-area placement there if it is not their local high school.

3. Agricultural high schools

There are four fully selective agricultural high schools located throughout NSW. Agricultural high schools are selective high schools which emphasise the study of agriculture—they are a mix of boarding and day placement. Isolated students receive extra consideration for boarding places.

  • Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School — day and boarding places for boys only
  • Hurlstone Agricultural High School — day and boarding places for girls and boys
  • James Ruse Agricultural High School — day places only for boys and girls
  • Yanco Agricultural High School — boarding places only for boys and girls

4. Aurora College

Aurora College offers Years 7 to 10 rural and remote students an opportunity to participate in selective classes for English, mathematics and science through a virtual high school. Students must be intending to enrol in a rural or remote NSW high school (their host school) to be considered for entry to Aurora College. There is a separate application process for entry to Years 11 and 12.

Here is a full list of Selective Schools in NSW and the number of places available in 2023:

School name Number of places
Alexandria Park Community School + 30
Armidale Secondary College 30
Auburn Girls High School 30
Aurora College (Virtual) # 90
Baulkham Hills High School 180
Blacktown Boys High School 30
Blacktown Girls High School 30
Bonnyrigg High School 60
Caringbah High School 150
Chatswood High School 60
Elizabeth Macarthur High School 60
Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School (Boarder places) 66
Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School (Day places) 44
Fort Street High School 150
Girraween High School 120
Gorokan High School 30
Gosford High School 180
Grafton High School 30
Granville Boys High School 30
Hornsby Girls High School 120
Hurlstone Agricultural High School (Day places) 120
Hurlstone Agricultural High School (Female boarder) 15
Hurlstone Agricultural High School (Male boarder) 15
James Ruse Agricultural High School 120
Karabar High School 30
Kooringal High School 30
Macquarie Fields High School 90
Merewether High School 180
Moorebank High School 60
Normanhurst Boys High School 120
North Sydney Boys High School 150
North Sydney Girls High School 150
Northern Beaches Secondary  College Manly Campus 120
Parramatta High School 60
Peel High School 30
Penrith High School 150
Prairiewood High School 60
Richmond High School – Richmond Agricultural College 30
Rose Bay Secondary College + 60
Ryde Secondary College 60
Sefton High School 88
Smiths Hill High School 120
St George Girls High School 150
Sydney Boys High School 180
Sydney Girls High School 150
Sydney Secondary College  Balmain Campus * 60
Sydney Secondary College  Leichhardt Campus * 60
Sydney Technical High School 150
Tempe High School + 60
Yanco Agricultural High School (Female boarder) 30
Yanco Agricultural High School (Male boarder) 30


+ Alexandria Park CS, Tempe HS and Rose Bay Secondary College have targeted places available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

* Sydney Secondary College Balmain and Leichhardt campuses offer places in Years 7-10. Students from these campuses will generally go to Sydney Secondary College Blackwattle Bay Campus for Years 11 and 12.

# Only students who will be enrolled in Year 7 in government high schools in rural areas may apply for Aurora College, the virtual selective high school. This excludes fully and partially selective high schools. A list of participating schools is available: here.

This information has been copied from the NSW Department of Education.

Changing Selective School Choices

You can only change selective school choices by written request up until the due date usually early in Term 2. Changes of school choice cannot normally be made after the due date or after outcomes are released. So, choose carefully, do your research by visiting the school websites, talking to teachers or tutors and weigh up your options well in advance of the application deadline.

Provision for Disabilities & Documentation

If your child has a disability or condition that could affect his or her performance on the test, you will need to request disability provisions for the test during the application stage and provide documentation in the form of a medical certificate or diagnostic document for any disclosed disabilities, medical or behavioural conditions. You must disclose medical information if life-saving medication is required.

Some examples of possible test provisions for students with qualifying disabilities, medical or behavioural conditions include:

  • large print test papers
  • FM transmitters
  • test papers printed on a specific colour
  • separate seating or a seat at the front
  • closer supervision
  • showing answers in the question booklet instead of the answer sheet
  • medications or equipment to be taken to the test centre

The High Performing Students Team has the discretion to refuse to test any student with the potential to exhibit behaviour which may intimidate or harm others unless a parent will be available on-site during the exam to immediately remove the student if required.

Deadlines & Additional Documentation

Strict deadlines apply, no exemptions are made on compassionate grounds and the only circumstance which may be considered for a late application are:

  • parents applying for children’s placement in rural or remote areas where there is a shortage of suitable candidates.
  • both legal guardians can provide evidence to support a claim that “circumstances beyond their control’ prevented them from completing an application.

Please be aware that changes cannot be made to application details online once submitted. Any changes must be sent to the High Performing Students Team in writing so review your submission carefully before submitting. After submitting your application, you will receive a confirmation email with:

1. a copy of the application including a student application number which is required on all communication
2. an ‘attachments cover sheet’ for use if additional documentation is submitted
3. a ‘Principal’s page for provision of school assessment scores’ for NSW non-government school principals to complete.

Where they apply to your child the High Performing Students Team may require the following additional documentation:

  • evidence of previous schooling for students who have studies in the English language for less than 48 months,
  • for students without school assessment scores or Selective High School Placement Test results, a reliable full-scale WISC V IQ report
  • evidence of ethnicity for Aboriginal students
  • an explanation of why the child is older or younger than the usual age range or not in Year 5 when applying.

Remember to use either the ‘attachments cover sheet’ sent with your confirmation email or quote the student name and application number when sending documentations in addition to those provided in the submitted application.

You can view all Applicant Information: here.


The Selective High School Placement Test

The next test will be on May 4th 2023.

In 2023, the placement test is expected to be in a paper-based format.

In multiple-choice tests, every question has equal value with marks only awarded for correct answers. Marks are not taken off for wrong answers. It is better to have a guess rather than leave an answer blank and helps to ensure that you answer all questions on the correct line. Incorrect, double or blank answers score zero.

For the 20-minute writing test students are provided a stimulus image, statement, heading or question. Written responses are double marked by markers trained to evaluate factors such as whether the stimulus topic is addressed, use of language, the organisation of interesting and imaginative ideas and the quality of thinking expressed.

All the normal exam etiquette applies. Students need to follow the presiding officer’s and supervisors’ instructions both during the tests and in the breaks. Raise a hand for help and do not open the question booklet until told to do so.

Students will have one chance to practice multiple-choice questions to make sure that they know how to provide answers. There will be no time warnings during the test so students will need to check the test venue clock to find out how much time remains.

Exam Success Tips

The Selective Schools exam may be the first important test that your child has undertaken so the following tips are universal keys to exam success, no matter what your age or ability.

Tip 1: Know the Structure

Make sure your child has a thorough understanding of the structure of the exams. This includes exam dates, knowing the time given for each paper, number of questions and types of questions. A number of these resources can be found on the NSW Department of Education Website.

Tip 2: Practice with Past Papers

Completing past papers is the best way for students to become familiar with the wording, style, and types of questions they will be given. The Selective School paper has a unique and repetitive structure/layout, so working through past papers is extremely useful to students completing the exam. All past papers have solutions to help students identify their strengths and weaknesses, helping them decide what to focus on in preparation for the actual exams.

Tip 3: Review Mistakes

Students should review their mistakes, not just simply mark the paper and write a final score. Students should reattempt questions they solved incorrectly or work through the solution with a parent, older sibling, or tutor. Revisiting these mistakes is just as important as completing the paper as understanding and avoiding these errors in future will be critical to performing well in the selective school exam.

Tip 4: Plan Your Time!

One of the most common mistakes students make in an exam is not planning their time and running out of time to finish the test. This can be avoided if they are taught how to plan themselves and best utilise their time. Students should have an already established strategy prior to entering the exam – things to consider include:

  • How long is the exam and how many questions are there?
  • If there is a tricky question, should they have a guess or come back to it?
  • How long should they plan, write, and edit for?
  • Should students read the comprehension text or questions first?

To discover which strategy works best for each child, we recommend they complete several past papers and engaging in small experiments to trial what strategies work best for them, and which don’t. They can then use this information to establish a preferred method that they can replicate in the exam. If you would prefer your child to prepare for the exam with an expert, feel free to seek extra assistance from Maths Words not Squiggles, a tutoring company that has helped numerous students excel in their selective school exams.

Tip 5: Practice with Pressure

Once students understand how to manage their time, they must complete exam papers under exam conditions. Exam conditions include sitting in a silent room without distractions, setting a timer and completing the paper without assistance. This environment can be intimidating for students who are unfamiliar with it and therefore it is vital that they become comfortable with it prior to the first exam.

Tip 6: Practice Consistently but not Constantly

It is important for students to study consistently, not constantly, to avoid them feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by their preparation. As educators, we hope that students enjoy the process and see the value in their study and efforts. Constantly practicing for the exam may cause the student to burn out and underperform in the actual exam. Therefore, we recommend practicing selective school questions for 40 minutes to an hour at least 2 or 3 times a week as opposed to cramming in all study the week before.

Tip 7: Place the Focus on Learning Rather than Results

Rather than focusing on exam marks, we should encourage students to focus on the process of learning. If your child has never completed a serious exam or has not discovered there unique exam preparation style, we encourage you to celebrate and enjoy the journey of identifying strengths, weaknesses and study style with them, using the selective school exam as a goal to work towards.

Tip 8: Practice Different Learning Approaches

Everyone is different and learns differently, so it’s important to try at least a few different learning methods. Sometimes it can be boring or ineffective to simply do the same thing over and over again, so changing it up will be the key to enjoying consistent study. Some ideas to make study more enjoyable include:

  • Test yourself by creating flashcards with questions on one side and the answer on the other
  • Study with a friend and teach each other
  • Create a rhyme, song, dance, acronym, or story to help you remember a content heavy or complex concept

Tip 9: Seek Extra Assistance from Experts

Parents are not expected to be experts in this exam, nor to have the time to thoroughly prepare their children for the exam. As such, seeking assistance from experts, such as Maths Words not Squiggles, can be helpful in ensuring students perform their best in the exam. This includes preparing students for the types of questions they will expect, understanding the expectations of exams and which questions they can ask, managing their time, avoiding silly mistakes, learning to perform under pressure, and more! Students may seek weekly Maths or English tuition at a primary level or enrol into our intensive (but enjoyable) Selective School Preparation Course to best prepare your child for the exams.

Tip 10: Maintain Routine on Exam Day

It’s really important that parents and students treat exam day like a normal day. This includes waking up at the same time, eating the same breakfast, packing a usual lunch, etc. Changing up anything on the day of the exam can add to any existing anxieties and create unease. Exam day is just like any other day and the usual routine will help reinforce this.

Tip 11: Remember, it’s just an exam!

As parents and teachers, we should remind our children and students that it is just an exam and no matter what happens, everything will be okay! We should encourage and praise efforts to remove stress from our kids. It is likely that the marks each student receives will not be a surprise, but rather a reflection of their school reports, teacher’s comments, and overall educational performance.

Final Thought:

The idea of completing a Selective School test can be daunting for some students. When dealing with students who are quite gifted, it can be easy to forget that they are still only children, often 11 or 12 years of age. It is important that we manage their stress, anxiety and remind them that we are here to support and guide them. It can be useful for students to learn how to deal with exam pressure and challenge themselves, however, we should never lose sight of what really matters, their self-confidence and happiness.

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