Tips on applying to an independent senior school with entry at 13+ through pre-testing and common entrance

The application process for independent senior schools 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 and/or interview prior to offering the opportunity to sit for places at 13+ through Common Entrance and other schools do not. One rule doesn’t cover all schools – sadly!

As a general rule of thumb, with some exceptions meaning parents should always check carefully with the schools they are considering, registration with the senior school and visiting it to review the suitability of its provision for your individual child, should be made while the child is in School Year 5 (Age 9 on 1st September) or School Year 6 (Age 10 on 1st September) and a final decision as to your first choice of senior school should be made by School Year 7 (Age 11 on 1st September). Deposits to confirm places, conditional on Common Entrance results, are generally paid by parents 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.

If the school has a pre-testing process, you and your child will be invited to the school during year 6 or 7 depending on the school, to take part in a pre-assessment day. This is likely to involve your child sitting some tests in Maths and English or possibly a more general aptitude test such as Verbal and/or Non-Verbal reasoning tests which may be in paper or online format. It is also likely that they will have an interview with a Housemaster or Housemistress, so it is important to prepare them in advance to answer questions with confidence about their interests, strengths, what they hope to try that is new and why they would like to attend this school in particular. If their first language is not English, they will also need to demonstrate that they have a good enough grasp of spoken and written English to assure the school that they will be able to access the curriculum fully. The school is also likely to contact the Head of their current school to ask for a report on their aptitude, attitude and potential. For this reason, it is very important to listen to the advice of the Head of your child’s current school when making a short-list of potential senior schools. They know your child well and experience of working with senior schools over many years means they are best able to evaluate which school best meets the individual interests and capabilities of your child.

If successful in the pre-test, your child will be offered a place at the school, conditional on their passing the Common Entrance test at the end of year 8. If the school does not have a pre-testing process, you will be asked to confirm that they are your first choice of school and that your child will be sitting Common Entrance for a place at this school.

In addition to the above, it is also possible after pre-test that your child may be offered a place on the waiting list, or declined a place at all. With this in mind, you will need to make sure that you have back-up options ready, should your child not be offered a place nearer to the time from the waiting list, or if they are declined a place at time of pre-test.

Common Entrance, often shortened to CE, is the collective name for the examinations taken at age 11 or 13 for entry into independent senior or public school.

Examinations are taken by all children in English, Maths and Science. History, Geography, French, German, Spanish, Religious Studies, Greek or Latin are also offered. The number and range of subjects taken depends on the entry criteria for the chosen senior school and the capability of the candidate. For example, children who do not have English as their first language are often required to sit fewer subjects, but this is dependent on how long they have been studying in the UK prior to sitting the CE exams.

The syllabus and question papers are set and monitored by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) The exams are supervised by the prep schools and take place in November, January or most commonly June. The papers are marked by the parents’ chosen senior school and each senior school has an accepted CE pass mark, which they expect children to reach to gain entry.

A report from the Head of the child’s current school is also required.

Resources for Common Entrance exam practice at home can be found on the Galore Park website

The relationship between the prep school and parent is key to this process 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 so all senior schools can access it. A child can only be down on this list for one first-choice senior school, as 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, perhaps because it is considered to be their ‘back up’ option, there is a risk in doing this that their child may be taken off the ‘back up’ school list and is unlikely that there will be a refund of the deposit. The place may then be allocated to another child from the waiting list. Honesty is often the best policy here so the senior schools know exactly where they are in your ‘pecking’ order and why. They can then open up the possibility of that place to another child.

For advice on the transition process between prep and senior school, as well as choosing the right senior school for your child, please contact us.