Almost all private schools admitting pupils in Year 9 will use 13 Plus (often called “Common Entrance”) to select students. The content, structure and expectations of this exam can vary hugely between schools. There is often little common ground on what they are assessing or expecting.
This area of our website is designed to provide information about 13 Plus exams, in a way which is hopefully open and easy to understand. We’ll break down the whole process from choosing a school to the 13+ exam, going via pre-testing and interview procedures. In the menu to the right you can access a list of schools that provide entrance at 13 Plus, and filter these schools by other criteria as well.
Most public schools use 13+ exams to help them select students. These exams are typically around an hour in length, with all pupils sitting papers in Mathematics, English and Science. Many schools also require students to sit papers in Science, Verbal/Non-Verbal Reasoning, and a paper from one or more options from ancient/modern Languages and the Humanities. The first thing to ask is whether the school is setting their own paper, or using the Common Entrance (CE) papers set by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB). Schools using their own exams tend to be more prestigious, and so these exams are normally of a higher difficulty level. With many more applicants than the limited places available, the pass mark will vary from year to year with these schools. Schools will sometimes publish specimen papers, but this is by no means a universal practice.
Students need to be registered with their destination school somewhere between 1 and 4 years before intended entry, with two to three being the normal amount.
“Pre-testing” will occur two or three years before intended entry. This is a process intended to filter down the number of prospective applicants to the school, and (whilst varying from school to school in nature) consists of a series of tests/exams. Increasingly these are computerised, and seem to focus on logic and reasoning (both Verbal and Non-Verbal).
Successful students will at this point be made a firm offer, conditional on their passing Common Entrance papers in the required subjects (these vary by school, but will always include Mathematics and English).
The ISEB set papers across the subjects by level of ascending difficulty. Schools using these papers will usually state their required pass mark and level, and share this information openly with parents. Do be warned that these papers will still be marked by the schools and subject to their discretion. The schools do not release papers once marked, and the ISEB markschemes are quite vague. This all means that comparing required CE scores of different schools is not really representative of the respective “difficulty” of those schools. (One leading Boys school in West London is famous for using negative marking and deducting half a mark for every mistake on their French paper).
13 Plus exams are always sat in the year prior to entry. Exactly when will depend on the school, but common periods are as follows:
– First week in June for the majority of schools using ISEB papers. (There are also ISEB papers set in January and November, but the usage of these is less common).
– Mid to late January for London day schools.
Like anything around Common Entrance there is a lot of variety here, and you will no doubt find several schools that do not fit into these periods! That being said, the majority do seem to follow this pattern.
“No-one fails 13 Plus”, according to many people in the know. Whilst this isn’t strictly true, it is very unusual for a school to reject someone at the examination stage for 13 Plus. The only common occurences of this happening are when parents have pursued an application that hasn’t been approved by the current or destination school.
We heard a wonderful story recently of a large boys Prep school in Dulwich taking all their Common Entrance applicants on a sailing holiday- luckily every single boy on the boat had gained entrance to the school of their choice!