English is a compulsory part of Common Entrance in almost all cases, but it can be difficult to know how to prepare for the exam. This blog gives guidance on the syllabus and likely requirements of the exam as well as advice on how to help prepare your child.
The Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) publishes a syllabus and provides papers which are used by many schools. However, some schools write their own examinations, so it’s important that you familiarise yourself with the specific arrangements of your chosen school.
If your chosen school is following the ISEB syllabus, your child will be expected to sit two papers: one on prose and one on poetry. Both papers will test your child’s reading and writing skills. Papers set independently by schools are likely to follow a similar format.
The ISEB English exam is offered on two levels. Level 1 is less challenging with easier questions and shortened extracts. However, most schools expect pupils to sit the Level 2 paper.
Your child will be asked to read a poem and a prose extract. The prose extract may be taken from a novel, a play, a biography or a piece of travel writing. Your child will then be required to give written responses to a range of questions that test their understanding of the texts and their powers of analysis and evaluation.
Candidates will be expected to have knowledge of poetic terminology, such as metaphor, alliteration and metre. They will also be asked to comment on how grammar, syntax and punctuation affect meaning.
Your child will be expected to complete two written pieces from a range of options. Some tasks require the candidate to write for a specific purpose: to argue, persuade, explain, advise or inform for example. Others require a descriptive or narrative response. The questions are general and not related to a particular text.
The best way to support your child to prepare for 13+ English is to encourage them to read a wide variety of challenging texts and to ask them about what they are reading. There is no pattern to the extracts that come up on the Common Entrance, but candidates who have prepared by reading and discussing a range of ambitious texts will feel more confident to tackle something unfamiliar. You can also support your child by discussing the written work that they produce, encouraging them to explain and justify their ideas.
Scholarship papers are based on the 13+ syllabuses and follow a similar format to the standard exam. However, the questions are generally designed to provoke more sophisticated answers and will require closer textual analysis and more original imaginative responses.