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Common entrance (usually shortened to CE) is the name of the examination taken for entrance into some senior independent schools at age 11 (usually girls) or 13 (boys and girls).

As a general rule, CE candidates have already been offered a place at the relevant senior school - often by a pre-test in year 6 or 7 - subject to their passing the exams, which are usually taken at their current school. Answers are marked by the senior school according its own grade boundaries. There are different levels of paper to suit the ability of the child and the academic profile of the senior school.

The 11+ CE examination is used mostly by girls’ boarding schools. It consists of papers in English, maths and science and is most often taken in the autumn or spring term of year 6. Many other independent day schools in particular – girls’, boys’ and co-ed - set and mark their own 11+ exams and their candidates have usually not been pre-selected.

The 13+ examination covers eight core subjects: the original three above (at a higher level) alongside modern foreign languages, classics, history, geography and religious education. Just as a school may allow a candidate to drop one of these so might the candidate choose Spanish over French, or  Mandarin. These exams are taken in year 8 in either November or, more usually, the first week of June prior to entry. Candidates for these exams will almost all come from independent prep schools – the term ‘prep’ suggests that their function is to prepare children for entry to senior schools.

There is no fail mark for CE but most schools set their own minimum grade, with those requesting 60 per cent or above usually considered very selective. The most selective school have cohorts of children averaging 70 per cent or more.

If your child has strengths in certain areas but weaknesses in others, check that CE requirements are sufficiently flexible. Some schools require children to reach their pass mark in all subjects, whilst others will look for an average.

The CE syllabus is published by the Independent Schools Examination Board and overseen by members of the three associations which represent the leading independent schools in the UK: The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), The Girls’ School Association (GSA) and the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS). Exams are set by independent school teachers.

Scholarship exams

The most academically able children may take Common Academic Scholarship Exams (CASE) or the senior school’s own scholarship exams instead of CE. Scholarship exams can include papers in, for instance, Latin and Greek, so scholarship candidates are often taught in separate classes to bring them up to the necessary level in all subjects. This, and the fact that scholarship exams are often taken earlier than CE, can be divisive, so prep schools need to handle the year group sensitively to avoid resentment (from children and parents).

Candidates who are successful in scholarship exams are usually given enhanced status at their senior school (different ties to mark them out as scholars, for instance), but fee reductions may be relatively small. However, most schools offer bursary assistance to gifted pupils who cannot afford the fees.

Many schools also offer a selection of drama, sport, art, music and all-rounder scholarships. Sport and drama candidates will need to show evidence of their pitch or stage glories; art scholars will be expected to present a stunning portfolio. Potential music scholars must demonstrate talent (grade 6 or above - grade 8 is not uncommon) and dedication in two or more instruments. All-rounders must show talent in several fields.

Common pre-tests

Common pre-tests (usually referred to as pre-tests) are used in years 6 or 7 to assess potential and weed out weaker candidates at an early stage.

They are age-standardised online tests in maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Senior schools may also ask prep schools for detailed reports about potential candidates. If a child is offered a place at a senior school on the basis of these, he or she must still sit CE or a scholarship in year 8.

The value of these tests is questionable, not least because children’s intellectual development occurs at different rates. Despite the fact that they may unwittingly be denying places to late blooming geniuses, more and more senior schools insist on using them.

Source: Independent Schools Examinations Board ( www.iseb.co.uk)

The Prep School Baccalaureate

  1. The Prep School Baccalaureate (PSB – not related to the International Baccalaureate or IB) is an alternative framework of assessment to CE, developed by a group of prep schools and recognised by a number of leading senior schools. The PSB is a response to criticism that CE is too narrowly focused on final academic examinations and does not recognise pupils’ personal, social or cultural skills. According to its founders, the PSB develops:
  2. ‘Vital skills in independent learning, in the appropriate use of technology, and in critical thinking. The PSB also promotes the development of leadership and team-working in pupils.’
  3. Some senior schools accept the PSB certificate on its own, others use it in conjunction with pre-testing and/or CE exams.
  4. The PSB website, www.psbacc.org, lists the prep schools that offer the PSB and senior schools that accept it.

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