Independent School Entrance Exams: A Guide for Parents

Published: 13 May 22
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This article provides a guide for parents of children looking to enter their child into Year 7 (11+ Entry) or Year 9 (13+ Entry) at an Independent School in September 2022. Most Independent schools require prospective students to sit an Entrance Exam and if they do well in this be invited for an interview. The Entrance Tests at 11+ for Year 7 Entry and 13+ for Year 9 Entry are usually taken 6 to 9 months before entry.




Each school will have its own timeline for entrance procedures, and parents should look at the Admissions Pages on the website of the individual schools that they are considering for their child, but the following will be typical for entry in September 2021.

  • Families should visit the Schools they are considering on School Open Days (Many Schools are organising Virtual Open Days over the next few months.)
  • October 2021 (or earlier): ISEB Pre-tests taken in Year 7 for Year 9 entry
  • October 2021: Deadline for Entrance, Scholarship and Bursary applications. This may require a non-refundable deposit of around £100.
  • November 2021 to January 2022: Scholarship Assessments for Sport, Music and Drama. 
  • January 2022: 11+ and 13+ Entrance Exam Days; may also be November 2020 and May 2021. 
  • January 2022: Academic Scholarship Exams
  • January 2022: Interviews and Offers.
  • September 2022: Term Begins.



Independent schools are schools that charge fees instead of being funded by the state. They are usually governed by an elected board of Governors and although they must be registered with the government, they do not necessarily have to follow the National Curriculum. There are around 2000 Independent Schools in the UK currently catering for around 8% of the pupils in the UK.



In the UK a Public School is somewhat paradoxically a private school. The name these days is usually associated with the older more prestigious Independent Schools eg. Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Repton Schools and the term derives from the fact that, in the past, they were open to the fee-paying public, as opposed to religious school open to members of that denomination, or private education at home, which was the reserve of the very wealthy.



Independent Schools traditionally offer small classes; a high teacher to pupil ratio; good academic results; and a disciplined though not necessarily formal environment. They also typically provide a wide and well organised co-curricular programme of Sport, Music, Drama, and Art. Some Independent Schools are highly selective academically, while others may specialise in Music, Theatre or Sport. Parents may have a greater choice of schools, not constrained by Local Authority Allocations, especially if the pupils are boarding and not constrained by travel distance.



Common Entrance Exams are taken when a child is in Year 8, to determine the Year 9 intake for an academically selective Independent School. Common Entrance Exams at 13+ are set by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB). The ISEB Common Entrance Exam is a standardised test, which is marked by the individual schools, who can decide on their own pass mark. Prep Schools tend to prepare their pupils for these tests, especially 13+, as that is when the students move on from Prep to Senior. Generally, other State Maintained or Junior Schools do not provide preparation for the 11+ or 13+. Independent Schools with their own Junior schools will mostly use internal exams and school reports to offer places to the pupils at that junior school. Prep Schools will most likely register and enter their pupils for Common Entrance. Students can also be registered via the ISEB website



Senior Schools generally offer Pre-tests to engage with potential students at an earlier stage than Year 8 and to help schools build up a shortlist of suitable applicants for Year 9 Entry. The ISEB Pre-tests are taken in Year 6 or 7 and are set by GL Assessment. These tests are taken online so can be at the student’s current school. The format of the test is multiple choice; including English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning and take about 150 minutes to complete. 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. What may follow from the Pre-tests is: an unconditional offer for strong candidates; or most likely an offer conditional on 13+ Common Entrance results; or in some highly selective schools, not being allowed to apply for the 13+ Entrance.



The 11+ Exam for Independent School entry, like that for Grammar School entry, usually consists of Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. However Independent Schools generally write and mark their own exams. Common Entrance at 11+ consists of English, Maths and Science exams taken over two days. They are set at a high Key Stage 2 SATs level, with extension questions for the more able.



Some Independent Schools set and mark their own 13+ Entrance Exams, rather than use the ISEB Common Entrance Exam. These exams are taken in Year 8, usually in January, though sometimes taken in November or early summer May/June. The core subjects of English, Maths and Science are compulsory and can be offered at more than one level. In addition to these, papers can be taken in a range of subjects such as History and Geography; Spanish, French and German; Latin, Classical Greek and Religious Studies. Modern Languages and the Classics can also be taken at different levels.

The fee for Common Entrance Exam Entry is £115. The fee for other 11+ Entrance Exams and 13+ Entrance Exams is £125.



Most Independent Schools now divert their funds towards Bursaries, to encourage talented children of less well-off families to join their school. Bursaries can be worth up to 100% of school fees, though most are much less than this. The value of the Bursary is determined by means-testing a family's financial circumstances (including income and assets). The threshold for family income, in order to award a Bursary, can be quite high, around £50 to £60k. Bursary Interviews take place throughout the year before entry. Be very honest in answering all the questions and providing all of the detailed information required. Bursary awards are reviewed annually and can flex up and down a little, though the agreed intention is to keep the student at the school for the long term. Be reassured that schools do not publish lists or identify those students who hold Bursaries. Confidence is kept throughout the process.

Most Independent Schools offer Scholarships to attract the most talented pupils to their school. These Scholarships can be focused around academic, sporting, musical or artistic achievement; or some combination of these. Scholarships awarded by the more established and bigger brand schools (Eton, Winchester, Harrow, ...) that have large foundations, can be financially significant. The majority of Scholarships, awarded by most Independent Schools, are now less about the financial value and more purely honorary, resulting in status within the school or a name on the honours board. The majority of these Scholarships are worth between 0% and 10% in fee discount. Be honest ... if your child is doing well, above average in their current good State Primary School, but not the outstanding academic, sports star or musician, then they are probably not destined to become a Scholar. If your child was reading at three, knew all their times tables at four and was reading demanding books at six, then you may wish to have them assessed by a teacher, to give a view on their current achievement and future potential as a Scholar.

Scholarships are highly competitive. You will need to be informed and to have done your research into the various schools. You will also need to invest in time and expertise to help prepare your child for their Scholarships Exams and Assessments. Do not pressure your child, who of course will want to do well and succeed. Approach it with an attitude of "Let us give it a go!"



The answer here is simple: choose the school that will suit your child the best, not the one that he or she is “expected” to attend or one that can give the parent a glow of reflected glory. A child who is not academically very able or driven may well become disillusioned if squeezed into a highly selective academic school. Parents should look at a number of schools and keep their options open, rather than setting all hopes and expectations on one school.

Parents and students should attend Open Days, see the school in action and meet the head, who sets the ethos and values of the school. The school should feel right for the family; after all, it is a long term life-affecting decision.



For any child, the best way to prepare them for any Entrance Exam is to make them believe that they can do it but to manage expectations openly. They should see the chance to get into a school as a possibility, not a necessity and if they don’t get in, it Is because the school was not right for them, not because they have failed in any way.

Whether for 11+ or 13+ it is important to look at the school’s website or contact the Admissions Office to identify the requirements for the Entrance Exam, as they are not the same for all schools. There should also be a clear awareness of the timetable for admissions, such as open days, registration deadlines, exam dates and venues.

Pupils in Prep Schools will most likely be well prepared by the school for Common Entrance Exams. For those pupils not in these schools, it makes sense for them to familiarise themselves with the syllabus and to practise exam papers, otherwise it is not a level playing field. A tutor who has the experience and knowledge of the requirements of the exam can be of real benefit. At 11+ one tutor should be able to cover all aspects of the exam, namely Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning and will be able to develop confidence and exam technique. This will work best for most children if it is approached steadily over a number of months, with weekly sessions. Most parents start 11+ tuition in Year 4 or Year 5. Improving core skills in Maths and English will also be of broader benefit beyond the confines of the 11+ Entrance Exam.

For 13+, which is based on separate subjects, one teacher is very unlikely to be able to cover all subjects, so it may be a case of identifying which subject area needs the most support. It is also important to realise that thorough preparation cannot be achieved in a few weeks. To develop real rigour and polish in the foundation skills; to develop real polish and flair; to develop strong exam technique and confidence often takes several months rather than several weeks. Often parents look to start tuition to prepare towards the 13+ or Common Entrance in Year 6 or Year 7. As with the 11+, any tuition for 13+ will have a broader benefit to the student’s learning and academic progress, which in turn will lead to greater confidence in schoolwork and learning. 

Practice papers and other resources for Common Entrance at 11+ and 13+ are available from Galore Park.

School Entrance Exam tuition should be a positive and enjoyable experience, for both the student and the teacher. It is about each child achieving their personal best, whatever that may be. Teachers To Your Home provide specialist School Entrance Examination tutors who have considerable experience in preparing children for entry into Independent Schools. All of our tutors are qualified and experienced teachers; a significant number working as teachers within the Primary, Prep and Independent School Sectors and have thorough knowledge and experience of the Entrance Examination process.

Other Parent Guides you may wish to read include The 11+ Grammar School Entrance Exam: Guide for Parents 2021

Teachers To your Home provides qualified and experienced School Entrance Exams Tutors across the UK. Lessons are taught at your home and are scheduled at your convenience; whether weekdays, evenings or weekends. If you are considering School Entrance Exam tuition for your child and would welcome some further facts, professional advice or teaching support, please feel free to speak with us on 03300 580908. Our offices are open from 9 am until 7 pm each weekday and from 10 am until 2 pm on Saturday

Our School Entrance Exams teachers provide home tuition right across the UK including: Bath, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff. Chelmsford, Chester, Coventry, Derby, Durham, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, Hull, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth,Salisbury, Sheffield, Solihull, Southampton, Swansea, Truro, Wakefield, Winchester, Wolverhampton, Worcester, York

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