13+ and Common Entrance

About the 13+ & Common Entrance Exams and Our Tuition

Common Entrance exams, often known as CE, are exams sat by children aiming to gain entry into UK selective schools and are set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB). Children can sit them at 11+ and 13+.

The 11+ exams are used by both selective state schools (grammar schools) and private schools, whereas the 13+ exams are used almost exclusively by independent schools. See our 11+ guide here.

Common Entrance structure

For pupils wishing to gain entry at 13+, schools take part in the ISEB pre-test.

The majority of independent secondary schools have signed up for the ISEB tests. This pre-test takes place in the Autumn of Year 6 and allows schools to limit the number of candidates applying for a place.

Each school has a pass mark across the same four online tests (English, Maths, Non Verbal and Verbal) that candidates are expected to reach. If, on application, a student doesn’t reach the threshold, they will not go through to the interview stage. Some pupils may be offered interviews from one school but not another depending on the school cutoff point.

Following the results of the pre test, schools often have their own in house test and interview that pupils have to pass before they are offered a place. Once they have an offer (pupils can and will get multiple offers) they can accept one offer and take the Common Entrance exam at Year 8 for that school. It is still the same exam for all schools but again, there are different thresholds. Exam pass marks may vary from school to school.

The Year 8 13+ Common Entrance exams feature compulsory papers, not just the core subjects of Maths, English and Science but additional exams in humanities and languages such as History, French, Latin, Geography or Religious Studies. Which of these additional exams are taken will depend on the requirements of the individual school. Some schools may also hold verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

The 11+ Common Entrance exams are taken before starting secondary school in Year 6 do not have a pre test and only consist of examinations in Maths, English and Science.

Preparing for Common Entrance

Fee-paying preparatory schools generally spend a lot of time preparing pupils for Common Entrance exams but whether your child is at a prep school or state school, there are things parents can do to help them prepare.

Common Entrance exams are supposed to be hard, but they are not designed to trip candidates up and the content should have been covered in the regular syllabus. Learning resources such as Teach Me Maths videos can help hone skills and knowledge; the ISEB has a list of publishers providing books and other materials that can be useful.

It’s also important to get children acclimatised to the process of taking exams. There are many practice papers available online in order to prepare your child comprehensively. This way, they will know what to expect from the 13+ Common Entrance exams, which is conducive to success.

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