13 Plus Science Syllabus

Science, along with English and Maths, is a core subject at Common Entrance meaning it is a compulsory subject. The Science syllabus and exams are written by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) and the aim of the syllabus is to:

  1. Stimulate curiosity, interest in and enjoyment of science
  2. Help candidates use the body of scientific knowledge they have already acquired and to extend their understanding of science, recognising connections between different areas of science
  3. Enable candidates to use scientific ideas and models to explain phenomena and events and to understand applications of science
  4. Develop an awareness of the impact of developments in technology on the environment and in other contexts
  5. Develop experimental and investigative abilities, paying due regard to safe practice
  6. Develop an ability to evaluate and communicate scientific evidence, and understand the importance of experimental evidence in supporting scientific ideas
  7. Develop an awareness of science as a social and cultural activity which has responsibilities, strengths and limitations
  8. Enable candidates to acquire a sound foundation of knowledge and understanding for future studies, and facilitate the smooth transfer between schools in the independent and maintained sectors of education (ISEB)

At Common Entrance, science teaching is typically split into the three disciplines: Chemistry, Physics and Biology. If your child, prior to starting Year 7, were to flick through the syllabus, they would probably be familiar to some degree with a fair amount of the content already – the course picks up on previously learnt subject matter and expands on it further. There will be, however, some brand new ideas and concepts that will need learning for the first time for example: moments and pressure in Physics; the reactivity series and decomposition in Chemistry; reproduction in Biology to name just a few.

An outline of the key areas and topics can be found in the below.

13 Plus Biology

Structure and functioning of living things

  • Cells and organisation
  • Nutrition and digestion
  • Gas exchange systems
  • Reproduction in animals
  • Reproduction in plants
  • Health

Material cycles and energy

  • Photosynthesis
  • Cellular respiration

Interactions and Interdependences

  • Relationships in an ecosystem

Genetics and evolution

  • Variation, classification and inheritance

13 Plus Chemistry

The particulate nature of matter

Atoms, elements and compounds

Pure and impure substances; physical changes

Chemical reactions

13 Plus Physics


  • Energy resources
  • Changes in systems
  • Conservation of energy

Motion and forces

  • Describing motion
  • Forces and rotation
  • Force and pressure
  • Density


  • Sound waves
  • Hearing
  • Light waves

Electricity and magnetism

  • Circuits
  • Magnetism
  • Electromagnets

Spaces Physics

There are some clear links (and so some overlapping) between the three disciplines meaning that, for example, whilst teaching a topic in Biology, various links (within the Chemistry syllabus) may conveniently be covered at the same time. For example, respiration as a Biological life process is a chemical reaction which has reactants and products.

The entire syllabus for candidates sitting the exams in 2018 can be found here:

There is not all that much difference between the existing syllabus and the new syllabus – there have been some small additions to the new one as well as some movement of previous topics to earlier years.

The exam papers

There are three different exam levels:

  • Level 1 (basic) paper – a single 60-minute paper covering all three sciences together
  • Level 2 (the most commonly taken paper) – each discipline will be tested separately in a 40-minute exam
  • Scholarship paper – a single 90-minute exam with clearly defined and separate Biology, Chemistry and Physics sections.

A handful of questions simply require recall of learnt matter whilst others require higher-level thinking and being able to apply the learnt matter to the question in hand. Using real life situations and / or experiments is becoming increasingly common in the questioning so being able to apply knowledge is high priority. Indeed, the syllabus makes clear reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive learning whereby ‘Remembering’ and ‘Understanding’ are at the base of the pyramid – the basic learning foundations – leading to ‘Applying’, ‘Analysing’, ‘Evaluating’ and finally ‘Creating’. ISEB states in the syllabus that a minimum of 25% of the paper will be based on ‘working scientifically’ which could include: procedures for experimenting; deciding on suitable apparatus; health and safety issues and precautions; presenting results; making conclusions and identifying patterns; ensuring fair testing.