Entrance into Independent Schools
To gain entry to secondary schools, children often have to attend interviews in addition to taking the Common Entrance
Examination. Head teachers' reports are also considered and some secondary schools, particularly the most competitive,
also require candidates to take a pre-test several years before Common Entrance.
The Common Entrance examination allows preparatory schools to teach almost all pupils to a common syllabus, and
provides common basis on which a public school can compare candidates from different prep schools.
Many schools set their own entrance exams, even those that use Common Entrance. Some schools have formed regional
consortia, e.g. London Girl Schools, so that candidates only sit one exam. Exams are often held early in the
academic year prior to entry, so it is advisable for parents to approach the school well in advance.
Many Preparatory Schools also have an assessment procedure for entry and typically take children at age seven. In some cases schools will select from Reception (4 or 5 years old) through observation of the child and an interview
with the parents, At interview schools assess a variety of criteria including the parents’ aspirations, whether
relocation is likely, the ability to pay the fees and the educational support offered by parents.
Registration of interest in the school may need to be made out several years in advance. It is wise for parents to
have multiple options as there is not usual any guarantee that a place will be offered.
Common Entrance Examinations
Common Entrance Examinations (commonly known as CE) are taken by some children in the UK as part of the admissions
process for academically selective secondary schools. Boys take the exam at age 13,
girls at 11 or 13 depending on the senior school. They are set by
ISEB (Independent Schools Examination Board).
Common Entrance allows preparatory schools to teach almost all pupils to a common syllabus, and provides a common
basis on which senior schools can compare candidates from different prep schools.
English, Mathematics and Science are compulsory core subjects and all candidates must achieve a satisfactory level in
these. Other papers can be chosen from French, German, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Geography, History and Religious
Studies. Most senior schools expect candidates to have passed Geography, History, Religious Studies and a language,
but for less selective schools a reduced number of papers are required.
In subjects like Mathematics there are three different papers depending on academic level.
Taking the test
The papers are sat three times a year in January, June (the most common option) or November. Candidates normally sit
the CE exam papers at their own prep schools, on a fixed date. Papers, however, are marked by the preferred senior
school, which mark them immediately. Papers may be forwarded to a second-choice school should the performance fall
below the acceptance level of the preferred first-choice school.
Every senior school has its own mark scheme and own pass mark and this varies considerably between schools. Most
pupils are expected to achieve the required results in the exams as their suitability is assessed by the prep
schools. Failure is an exceptional event.. The Common Entrance exam provides valuable discipline and motivation,
but it rarely determines admission to the senior school.
Past papers are available from multiple sources.
Common Academic Scholarship Examinations
The scholarship process normally consists of a series of papers in the main academic subjects, plus an interview and
Many schools use the CE exam as the basis for awarding entrance scholarships and bursaries, but often also apply
their own further interviews, tests or examinations. Likewise artistic, musical or sporting achievements are not
examined by Common Entrance, but may be taken into account by reports or other means.
There are alternative papers set by ISEB known as Common Academic Scholarship Examinations specifically for
scholarship. They are taken at 13 and based on the 13+ syllabus and are designed to challenge the brightest
Students sitting scholarship papers are general excused the need to sit the Common Entrance examinations.
Some schools accept applications just a year before entry, however for other schools parents may need to register
their child several years in advance, sometimes even at birth. Registration is no guarantee of acceptance, so back
up choices are advisable.
On the other hand many schools (particularly boarding schools) that are technically fully booked many years ahead do
normally have places available for the following year because circumstances change and parents make multiple
Entry to day schools can be very competitive, especially in London.
Registration itself may involve a non-refundable fee.