Public schools usually assess children for entry at age 13, via the Common Entrance or CE examination, which is taken at the child’s prep school in the June of Year 8. Some schools however have an additional assessment or pre-testing process to evaluate children before they go on to seek a place at the school through sitting Common Entrance. This is called the pre-test.

Individual public schools differ in terms of timing and format for the pre-test so it is important to ask the individual school to which you are applying what their pre-test involves and when the process takes place so you can make sure that your child is well prepared. The Head of your prep school will also be able to advise you.

It is most common for this pre-test process to take place during year 7 and it usually involves a visit to the senior school for an interview (with a Housemaster or Housemistress if it is a boarding school) and some testing in either the core subjects and/or verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

The outcome of the pre-test will be that your child is offered a place conditional on achieving the required grades in the Common Entrance exam, a place on the waiting list again subject to Common Entrance results, or they will be declined the opportunity to sit Common Entrance for that particular school.

Should you need assistance in preparing your child for the pre-test, perhaps through a practice interview, please contact us.

How do I apply to an independent senior school with 13+ entry through Common Entrance, as the process seems different for every school?

The application process is a bit of a mine field as all schools handle it a bit differently and there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Some schools ask for pre-testing prior to offering places and other schools don’t. One rule doesn’t cover all – sadly!

As a general rule of thumb, with some exceptions meaning parents should always check carefully with the schools they are considering, registration and visits should be made while the child is in year 5 or 6 and a final decision made by year 7. The child will then sit the Common Entrance test at the end of year 8 for that school, with some schools also pre-testing in year 7.

Deposits to confirm places conditional on Common Entrance results are generally paid between 18 and 21 months prior to entry to the senior school.

Parents, in conjunction with the advice of the prep school, really should know their senior school choice decision by this time. The relationship between the prep school and parent is key and they are the ones who should be advising on which school is right for the child and if it is worth trying for a scholarship. A parent might feel that their child is fantastic at sport and is in all the first teams. However, he might be at a small prep school where most of the children have to be in the first team! Without comparisons it is difficult for parents to gauge their children’s abilities against expectations and so it is best to take advice from the prep school who should know all about the scholarships their senior schools offer. Parents can find information about scholarships on school websites and should take note of what the senior schools require for a child to be eligible as well as looking at past papers to gauge the level.

The Common Entrance list (i.e. the senior school for which the child is sitting Common Entrance) is published centrally and a child can only be down on this list for one senior school. This is the school that will mark their CE papers.

This list is published on 1 March of the year of entry.

If a child doesn’t appear on the list of a school where the parents have paid a deposit to confirm the offer of a place, they will usually be taken off the school list and there won’t be a refund. The place may then be allocated to another child from the waiting list.

Some senior schools are still offering 50% bursaries, but many are now capping at 10%, with means tested bursaries to top up. Most HMC schools have the same ‘Blue Form’ – The Confidential Statement of Financial Circumstances – which needs to be completed by anyone wanting a bursary.

Widening Access Bursaries – most schools now offer these but the criteria to qualify vary from school to school. Most schools offer on the basis of applicants with the most ‘need’ providing they can access the curriculum. St Edward’s for example offers these to families with an annual income below £20,000

Thanks to St Edwards School in Oxford for their assistance with this information.