The 13+ Exam is also known as the common entrance exam (CE). It is used to test pupils aged 13 and above in Year 8 to determine if they meet the academic criteria set by Grammar and independent schools for entry.
This criterion varies due to the prestige and places available at the most exclusive schools around the UK.
At 13+, pupils will sit exams in:
Most pupils will also take papers in:
Optional papers are also set for:
In certain subjects, papers are set at different levels (Level 1-3) according to the ability of the candidate or the time spent studying the subject.
The decision as to which level a pupil is entered for is generally negotiated between the junior school they attend and the senior school to which the child is applying.
To find out which level your child will be sitting in the different exams, please contact your child’s current school.
Senior Schools generally offer Pre-tests to engage with potential students earlier than Year 8 and help schools build up a shortlist of suitable applicants for Year 9 Entry.
The ISEB Pre-tests are taken in Years 6 or 7 and are set by GL Assessment - who commonly set the 11+ entrance exams. These tests are taken online, so they can be at the student’s current school under invigilation.
Contrary to the 11+ Exam format, the test is 4 multiple-choice sections, covering all of English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning and takes about 150 minutes total to complete. The split between subject sections changes every year.
They may be taken all together or in different sittings at any time during the ISEB Pre-Tests session (which runs from October – June in each academic year).
Even if applying to multiple schools, candidates only take the tests once in an academic year, and the results will be shared across all the schools applied for.
Following from the Pre-tests are:
Below are some examples of the pre-test questions supplied by ISEB themselves so you can test if you need more support or practice. Can you see how we got the answers?
This section contains several questions based on a passage of writing. It is recommended you read the passage first and then you should be able to answer the questions without having to read the passage again and again.
ISEB is testing for your reading speed and retention and your understanding of the words and language styles used. You will often have to explain what the writer or subject character intended or is feeling.
This section is full of shorter questions based on correcting poor grammar. There will be sentences with mistakes, unnecessary/redundant words and the need to choose the correct form or spelling of a word to fit the sentences.
The maths section has a large variety of maths problems you are expected to solve without a calculator. This requires knowledge of lots of math topics such as geometry, angles, times tables and dealing with large numbers.
There are a lot of instances where the question phrasing is vital to getting the correct answer. Makes sure you take your time before locking in an answer and use a pen and paper to draw anything out so you don’t make a mistake juggling numbers in your head!
Verbal reasoning is testing your agility with words and letters while also checking your level of vocabulary. There are a lot of instances where if you didn’t know the word in the answer you would struggle to get the marks.
As well as making words, you may be expected to solve puzzles like codes where the answers require making or rearranging letters in a word to make new words. Sometimes it helps to write these out on paper too!
Non-verbal reasoning is also testing your problem-solving skills in a different way. Some people can imagine words and letters much better in their head than symbols, colours and patterns and this is what is put to the test here.
Much like non-verbal reasoning, you may be expected to solve puzzles where the answers require you to recognise a pattern and rearrange objects with a specific rule to solve it. Try to notice what is the same and what is different in the examples in the question to figure out the formula.
Depending on the person, it may be more time-consuming than helpful to sketch out your working to help here.
13+ exam content will vary between schools as more prestigious schools will prepare their own, possibly more advanced papers rather than using the ISEB papers.
However, the type of tasks you should be practicing remains the same.
Your child will sit two papers for the 13+ English exam, each of which has both a reading and a writing section. There are two levels for each paper; most pupils sit on Level 2, the standard paper.
Section A - Comprehension / Reading:
Section B - Composition / Writing:
Section A - Comprehension / Reading:
Section B - Composition / Writing:
All candidates sit three papers for the 13+ Maths exam:
The calculator and non-calculator papers are levelled, with Level 3 being the hardest (most candidates sit Level 2).
All pupils will sit the same mental arithmetic test, which is delivered via an audio CD, with pupils writing their answers on a prompt sheet after listening to the questions.
There is not a lot of time to answer before the next question comes!
Candidates will either sit one exam which combines Chemistry, Biology and Physics (Level 1), or three separate exams for Chemistry, Biology and Physics (Level 2, which is sat by most pupils).
All candidates sit the same paper for the 13+ Geography exam, which consists of three sections:
All candidates sit on the same paper for the 13+ History exam. The paper is divided into two sections:
Section 1 - Evidence questions:
This section is divided into three time periods, from which candidates must choose one and answer one overarching question based on the three sources of information provided, and their own knowledge. The 3 time periods are:
Section 2 – Essay questions:
Candidates taking CE TPR at 13+ will sit one paper, divided into three sections for theology, philosophy and religion. You are only expected to answer two questions. Answering one question from any two of the three sections.
The questions in each section are all in a similar format where there are 4 questions to choose from per section and each has 3 parts, requiring longer answers.
The Latin exam involves translation and comprehension of passages of Latin, followed by non-linguistic questions on Greek mythology and Roman life.
The paper is levelled, with Level 3 being the hardest. Level 2 is sat by most candidates. Level 1 is for pupils who have only studied Latin for a short period of time.
The Latin vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance book will be a great resource for practicing with your child and ensuring they have the right knowledge to apply to the exam.
The 13+ Classical Greek paper is levelled, with Level 1 intended for pupils who are new to Greek and Level 2 for those who have studied the language in a little more depth.
Both levels involve some translation and, at Level 2, knowledge of Greek grammar is also tested.
The 13+ French exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in each of these areas at the appropriate level (most candidates sit Level 2).
There is no prescribed vocabulary for the exam, but the French Vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance book is worth picking up.
The 13+ German exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in all of these areas.
Practising vocabulary using a CGP revision book or similar would be recommended alongside talking with a native speaker for the speaking sections.
The 13+ Spanish exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in all of these areas at the appropriate level (most candidates sit Level 2).
There is no prescribed vocabulary for the exam, but the Spanish Vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance book will prove extremely useful.
The assessment is split evenly across comprehension and composition. The following points are what are most acutely assessed, so mastery of these is vital:
The key is in broad and profound knowledge of the below core sub-topics, as well as quick and efficient problem-solving:
Geometry and Measures
Top tips to remember for the Maths paper include:
Make sure your child can show their working neatly so it can be read by an examiner, especially under time pressure.
Most schools will give marks for showing working alongside an answer so it’s a great habit to get into.
These interviews are predominantly to screen some social skills and gauge their potential for assimilating to their prospective school.
They will not often make or break an application but with the higher-performing schools, it can sometimes come down to how relaxed and keen the student comes across in the interview.
Keeping a good posture and smiling, enthusiastic demeanour throughout will help - as will practicing the sort of questions that will be asked.
Questions in these interviews tend to fall into two categories – Standard and Expansive:
Standard - the areas that are often covered in shorter interviews (typically 15-20 minutes) include:
Expansive – in longer interviews that are common with more sought-after schools, bursaries and scholarships, the following might be raised as well as the standard topics above:
It can help to go through these questions with your child or use a family friend to simulate the interview and prepare them for what can be a strange conversation for students of this age.
A good set of general guidelines for effective preparation are as follows:
Schools that conduct their own Common Entrance equivalent to the ISEB tests will often publish specimen papers or past papers on the Admissions sections of their websites. Here are a few linked examples.
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