Social Media


UK Boarding School Applications: The Entrance Exam

uk university exam prep
LearnPost Category - LearnLearn - Post Category - SchoolsSchools

Everything you need to know about the entrance exam…

As we’ve talked about in our previous posts on UK school entrance, the stages between choosing the right school for your child and them starting at that school can be time consuming.  Once the interviews and pre-assessments are out of the way and your child has been offered a conditional place at the school, you are in the final stretch and the end is now in sight!  A conditional place means that your child has been accepted at the school, subject to them passing the entrance exams.  Being given a conditional offer means that the school thinks the student is a suitable candidate and should pass the exams.

Read more: UK Boarding School Applications: The First Steps for Mamas to Take

Exams are usually sat in the spring or summer of the year of entrance and you will be told within a few weeks whether your child has been successful.

What is Common Entrance?

Schools will either ask for children to sit the Common Entrance exams or their own exam papers. Common Entrance is now the norm although there are still some schools, for example Winchester, which set their own papers and some schools have different papers for international students.

Common Entrance (CE) is an external set of exams written by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB).  Students will be asked to sit exams in the following subjects:

The 11+ Common Entrance

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Verbal reasoning (some schools)
  • Non-verbal reasoning (some schools)

 The 13+ Common Entrance

There can usually be some exemptions/exchanges made to the following list for international students.

  • English (tiered paper)
  • Maths (tiered paper)
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • History
  • Geography
  • Religious Studies
  • French (tiered paper)
  • Latin (tiered paper)
  • Optional papers in Spanish, German and Mandarin

What is the pass mark for Common Entrance?

There is no central marking system so each school marks its own papers and sets a different requirement for passing. Pass marks vary between schools from 50-65%.

What if my child does not pass?

This shouldn’t happen if there is open and honest communication between the school and parents. Pre-tests serve to reduce failure at Common Entrance. However even students with conditional places do sometimes miss the mark. If this happens, the exam papers can be passed on to a second choice school but there is no guarantee this school will be in a position to take them.

Common Entrance should be the culmination of a carefully monitored process with plenty of preparation to ensure students are in the best position to pass their exams.

royal holloway university london campus


Scholarships are an alternative route into schools instead of Common Entrance. There is a Common Academic Scholarship (CAS) set by ISEB but most schools choose to set their own papers. They test on a wide range of skills including the ability to apply knowledge and the capability for lateral thinking. The papers are extremely academic and challenging, only suitable for exceptional candidates. If a student is invited to sit an academic scholarship but fails to achieve the award, they are normally at least offered a place without the need to sit Common Entrance.

Schools may also offer music, sports, art or all-rounder scholarships. Schools will assess potential candidates in their own way and students will still have to sit Common Entrance papers.

Five tips for acing the exams!

  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation! We cannot stress enough the importance of allowing plenty of time to properly prepare for these exams. Lots of the material set in these papers is brand new to Hong Kong students, in particular aspects of the English and the topics covered by the three science exams. A long-term approach to preparation is highly recommended, this will reduce last minute stress and panic and ensure that your child is given the best chance to do well.
  2. Breathe! The last thing we want is a student to become stressed by the pressure of these exams. A relaxed and confident student will always preform better. We want them to feel excited about starting at the school and not panicked about disappointing family and friends if they don’t do well in the exams. Try and keep any anxiety about the process away from your child and reiterate that you will be happy as long as they try their best. Encourage them to take time away from their books to spend time with friends and make fun plans for them to look forward to once the exams are over.
  3. Last minute revision (once the main body of preparation is complete) can be excellent at reiterating what students have learnt and working on their exam skills including timing, checking work and tackling tricky questions. Consider attending one of the British Tutors Common Entrance revision courses, which we run throughout the year.
  4. Use past papers in the preparation process so that your child is aware of what to expect and is familiar with the layout and format of the exams. However, be very careful not to rely on past papers too much during preparation. They are not a replacement for properly studying the topics and material required to do well in the exam.
  5. Read! Make sure that your child is keeping up with their reading and is reading widely and voraciously. This will help them hugely when it comes to the English exam and will be very noticeable in the way that they approach the comprehension papers and in their own writing.  Even better if they read some poetry too as they will be tested on this in the exam.

Featured Image via Dreamstime, Image 1 via Pinterest

more sassy mama

What's New

We're social

We're social

What we're up to and what inspires us