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Boarding school words dictionary - Exam/admissions language

If you are a parent, who is new to British education and your child is going to boarding school for the first time, you may find it challenging to understand the vocabulary used by these schools. When it comes to exams and admissions you and your child need to understand the boarding school language. This is why we have created this boarding school exam/admissions dictionary. Your one-stop-shop for all examination terms.

If you need some advice on selecting the right boarding school for your child or require assistance with navigating through the application, testing, and interview process, our team of experienced advisers are here to help. Find out more by clicking the button below.

Examination terms

Common Entrance (CE)

​The curriculum studies in Years 7 and 8 of a prep school, leading to examinations in the Summer term of Year 8 which are marked by the parents’ first choice senior school. Recent changes to CE with a move towards more pre-tests make this very complicated for parents - each school is different.

For the most up-to-date details about this, please get in touch.


Taken in Years 6 or 7, this is the first part of the entry process for prep school children applying to most senior boarding schools via CE.

Same applies as above, please get in touch as the dates and details of tests vary from school to school. Advice on up-to-date information is crucial.

ISEB and ISEB pre-test

The examination board, who set the CE exams. Parents are required to register their child via the online portal to enable them to sit the ISEB pre-test for entry to some boarding schools at age 13. ISEB pre-test is taken in years 6 or 7, depending on the requirements of each senior boarding school. It can only be taken once in each academic year. Please get in touch as the dates and details of tests vary from school to school. Advice on up-to-date information is crucial.


Primary Years IB- type programme offered by some prep schools instead of the CE curriculum. Our team can assist you with finding a PSB school.


Covering two years of study, these examinations take place at the end of year 11. Pupils usually take 9-12 subjects.


Alternative to A Levels, they tend to be more vocational and hence continuously assessed, rather than all examinations.

A Levels

Examinations at the end of two years of sixth form. Pupils tend to take three subjects.

IB Diploma

Offered instead of A Levels in sixth form. Students study more subjects. (Higher and Standard level)

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)

Offered as part of the sixth form curriculum for IB or in tandem with A Levels, to show ability for independent study and research into a topic of personal interest.


Top schools tend to offer this in some subjects as an alternative to A Level for that subject. Challenging curriculum academically.


Making an application to study at either Oxford or Cambridge universities.


The application process for applying to British universities.

Entry test language

Taster Day/Stay

When a child is invited to spend time in class with peers, or overnight to stay in the boarding house. Usually, it takes a whole day.

VR test

Verbal reasoning questions in an online or paper-based test.

NVR test

Non-verbal reasoning tests are part of the entry process for my schools. Questions are logic-based.

English Comprehension

A form of test which assesses knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary.

CAT4, APT or UKiSet testing

Online testing process which uses NVR, NR, Maths and English questions to access your child's academic level. Some also evaluate English for those who do not speak it as a first language.


When children are individually assessed for their ability in each subject and placed in a class that supports that ability level.


When children are assessed across all subjects and put into a class that supports their average ability.

School year key dates


There are 3 school terms in each UK boarding school year.

Autumn, Michaelmas, Short Half

Words used to describe the first school term of the academic year, starting in September and ending in early December for the Christmas holidays.

Spring, Lent, Hilary, Common Time

Words used to describe term 2 of the academic year from early January through to the end of March or early April. The end of the term usually depends on the dates of Easter, which move annually.

Summer, Trinity, Cloister Time

Words used to describe term 3 of the academic year from Mid- April to early July when the school year ends.

Half Term

In the middle of each term, there is a break called Half Term, usually lasting one week. (Sometimes two weeks in Oct/Nov)

Exeat or Leave-out weekends

Weekends during the term when all or most of the pupils go home or to their guardians.

Membership organisations

The Boarding Schools Association (BSA)

Represent over 600 of the top boarding schools in the UK and some boarding schools overseas.

Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC)

A professional Association of Heads of the world’s leading independent schools.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC)

A non-profit lobby group that represents over 1300 schools in the UK’s independent education sector.

The Girls’ Schools Associations (GSA)

Represents the Heads of a diverse range of independent UK girls’ schools.

The Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS)

A school’s association with over 670 of the world’s leading prep schools in membership.

School choice jargon

League tables

Published annually via a range of media, they list schools by top percentage grades success in examination results.

Value added

The approach preferred by most experts to evaluate the success of a school.

CAS (Visa application)

For children who require a visa to study in the UK, their chosen school will need to sponsor them for this visa application.

The above list is extensive but is a great starting point for understanding the British education system. If you would like to find out about more boarding school language, please take a look at our other blog on school vocabulary by clicking the button below.

How we can help you find ​​private boarding schools in England

Our education consultants can help you find the right private boarding schools in England for your child and family. We will work with you to understand what you are looking for and recommend the best fit. To get started with us today please get in touch with us by clicking the button below.

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