In my consultations with parents from outside of the UK, I am often asked to clarify the Common Entrance. What is it? How important is it? What is the best way to prepare for it? This overview aims to clear up any misunderstandings.
What is it?
Common Entrance was established in 1903 and it has been the standard entrance exam for many of the United Kingdom’s most respected independent schools since then. Its 11+ and 13+ exams are currently used by 250 senior schools.
The content of the exams is all publicly available, as are past papers. Common Entrance 11+ tends to comprise English, Maths and Science – and is only really set by girls’ schools. Common Entrance 13+ tends to comprise ten subjects (Maths, English, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, History, Religious Studies, Latin, French, Spanish , German, Mandarin) and is set by boys’, girls’ and co-educational schools.
- Syllabus information is available on its website: https://www.iseb.co.uk
- Past Papers are available through Galore Park: https://www.galorepark.co.uk
How important is it?
Despite its centrality in the UK’s independent education system, it is likely that the many international pupils who want to study in the UK will not actually have to sit it. Eton does ask for some 13+ papers for international students, but Harrow, Winchester, Tonbridge, Charterhouse and Sevenoaks do not. It is a more popular exam for girls’ schools. Wycombe Abbey, Downe House, St. Mary’s Calne and Benenden all have Common Entrance at both 11+ and 13+. However, Cheltenham Ladies College and Badminton do not.
Whether schools set it or not, its general status has declined in the last decade. Where it used to be the sole academic entrance test, almost every top independent school now expects candidates to pass through a pre-assessment test. Schools set these anytime from two-and-a-half years to six months before a child joins the school. Those independent schools that do make international pupils sit the Common Entrance more often use it as a final reconfirmation of a pupil’s ability, or for setting purposes, rather than as the summit of their admissions process. The pre-assessment tests are therefore now considerably more important for pupils than Common Entrance. Nonetheless, Common Entrance preparation remains essential for many pupils.
What is the best way for parents to prepare?
- In the years before Common Entrance preparation, there is plenty that parents can do to prepare for both the pre-assessments and to ensure that the UK curriculum foundations have been well laid.
- Pre-assessments cover English, Maths and Reasoning. We therefore recommend parents to ensure that these subjects are really well understood in the ages from 9 onwards. Some of this might be overseen directly by parents; for example, we always suggest that parents encourage regular Reasoning practice at home. However, formal enrichment classes, in Maths but especially in English, can also be hugely beneficial.
- Formal Common Entrance preparation should only start one year before the Common Entrance itself. For 11+, this will be the January in the academic year in which the pupil turns 10; for 13+, this tends to be the September of the academic year in which the pupil turns 13.
- This preparation should cover any curriculum gaps as they arise, but should focus on Common Entrance exam technique.
Online Reasoning practice:
- KeystoneTests: http://www.keystonetests.com
- BOFA: http://www.bofa11plus.com/
- Bond 11 Plus: http://www.bond11plus.co.uk/
- Galore Park series: https://www.galorepark.co.uk/english-workbooks
- Westminster Choir School reading list for 8 – 11 year olds:
- Galore Park series: https://www.galorepark.co.uk/mathsworkbooks
For any questions regarding the extent and scope of preparation do give us a call.
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