About the 13+ Common Entrance Exam

The 13+ Common Entrance exam is used by senior schools as part of the process for assessing candidates for entry into their schools. Pupils will sit the 13+ exam in either the Spring or, more commonly, the Summer term during Year 8. Papers are also produced in the Autumn term, although these are generally used for practice or mock exams.

At 13+, pupils will sit exams in: 
  • English 
  • Maths   
  • Science 
Most pupils will also take papers in: 
  • French
  • Geography 
  • History 
  • Religious Studies 
Optional papers are also set for:
  • Latin 
  • Classical Greek
  • German
  • Spanish 
  • Mandarin Chinese
In certain subjects, papers are set at different levels according to the ability of the candidate or the time spent studying the subject. To find out which level your child will be sitting in the different exams, please contact your child’s current school. The decision as to which level a pupil is entered for is generally negotiated between the junior and the senior school to which the child is applying.
 

Details of the Exam by Subject

English 

Your child will sit two papers for the 13+ English exam, each of which has both a reading and a writing section. There are two levels for each paper; most pupils sit Level 2, the standard paper. 

Paper 1
Section A - Reading: 
  • Candidates are given an unseen passage of literary prose from a novel, play, (auto)biography or travel piece. The passage is followed by questions which test candidates’ understanding, analysis and evaluation as a comprehension exercise. Passages may be abridged (shortened, with difficult words explained) for Level 1
Section B - Writing: 
  • Candidates are given a choice of five non-fiction essay titles, from which they must select one to write about and demonstrate their ability to write for a practical purpose 
Paper 2 
Section A - Reading: 
  • Candidates are given an unseen poem followed by a series of questions to test their poetic technique and personal response
Section B - Writing: 
  • Candidates are required to write an imaginative or descriptive response to one essay title from a choice of four

Maths 

All candidates sit three papers for the 13+ Maths exam: 
  • a calculator paper
  • a non-calculator paper 
  • a mental arithmetic paper 
The calculator and non-calculator papers are levelled, with Level 3 being the hardest (most candidates sit Level 2). All pupils will sit the same mental arithmetic test, which is delivered via an audio CD, with pupils writing their answers on a prompt sheet after listening to the questions. 
 

Science

Candidates will either sit one exam which combines Chemistry, Biology and Physics (Level 1), or three separate exams for Chemistry, Biology and Physics (Level 2, which is sat by most pupils). 
 

French 

The 13+ French exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing.  Candidates will be assessed in each of these areas at the appropriate level (most candidates sit Level 2).  There is no prescribed vocabulary for the exam, but the French Vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance book is an invaluable resource. 
 

Geography 

All candidates sit the same paper for the 13+ Geography exam, which consists of three sections: 
  1. Global Location – candidates answer questions with reference to a given map 
  2. Ordnance Survey Mapwork - answer questions about an Ordnance Survey map extract
  3. Thematic Studies – pupils are required to answer five questions; one each from five themes

History 

All candidates sit the same paper for the 13+ History exam. The paper is divided into two sections: 

Section 1 - Evidence questions: 
  • This section is divided into three time periods, from which candidates must choose one and answer one overarching question based on the three sources of information provided, and their own knowledge. The three time periods are:
    • Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1485
    • The Making of the United Kingdom: 1485-1750
    • Britain and Empire: 1750-1914 
Section 2 – Essay questions: 
  • Candidates choose one question from a selection of broad essay titles and use their knowledge from any of the time periods they have studied to answer it

Religious Studies 

Pupils will sit one paper from either Syllabus A or Syllabus B for the 13+ Religious Studies exam. The syllabus your child will sit depends on what he or she has studied at school.  

Syllabus A
This syllabus comprises Biblical Studies, Contemporary Issues and World Religions and is the exam most candidates will sit. The paper is divided into three sections:
  • Section 1: the Old Testament
  • Section 2: the New Testament
  • Section 3: World Religions and Contemporary Issues
 
Syllabus B
This syllabus comprises the central doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, Biblical Studies and Contemporary Issues. The paper is divided into three sections:
  • Section 1: the Old Covenant
  • Section 2: the New Covenant
  • Section 3: the origins and practices of the Church, including the liturgical year and church teaching on a range of issues. Pupils may opt to offer a piece of coursework in place of answering the questions in Section 3

Latin 

The Latin exam involves translation and comprehension of passages of Latin, followed by non-linguistic questions on Greek mythology and Roman life. The paper is levelled, with Level 3 being the hardest. Level 2 is sat by most candidates. Level 1 is for pupils who have only studied Latin for a short period of time. 
 

Classical Greek 

The 13+ Classical Greek paper is levelled, with Level 1 intended for pupils who are new to Greek and Level 2 for those who have studied the language in a little more depth. Both levels involve some translation and, at Level 2, knowledge of Greek grammar is also tested.
 

German 

The 13+ German exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in all of these areas.  
 

Spanish  

The 13+ Spanish exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in all of these areas at the appropriate level (most candidates sit Level 2). There is no prescribed vocabulary for the exam, but the Spanish Vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance book is an invaluable resource.
 

Mandarin Chinese

The 13+ Mandarin Chinese exam is divided into four sections: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Candidates will be assessed in all of these areas at the appropriate level (most candidates sit Level 2).  
 

Syllabuses

Further details of what is required for the 11+ exams for all subjects are available on the ISEB website. 
 

How can you help? 

Getting ready for 13+ exams can be stressful, but there is no need to panic. You can make a real difference to how well prepared your child is by making sure that you know exactly what he or she will be tested on. This document has outlined the different exams your child may sit, along with the different levels; to find out which level your child will be sitting in a particular exam, please contact their current school. 

Ensure that your child feels confident with the subjects and topics they will be examined on. The following resources will help: 
 
Past Exam Papers 
Taking a look at past exam papers is the best way to start. These will give you and your child a chance to see exactly what is expected in the exam, and to find out how well your child would get on in a real exam. 

Past 13+ Common Entrance exam papers are available to purchase from Galore Park.  Even if the school your child is trying to get into sets its own paper which is slightly different to the Common Entrance exam, practising with these past papers will help to improve your child’s confidence and exam technique. 
 
Textbooks 
If you notice that your child is struggling with a particular topic, the best thing to do is to revisit that topic with a textbook. Galore Park’s So You Really Want To Learn textbook range is ideal for parents who want to work through a particular topic with their child. The books provide clear and detailed explanations along with questions, so you can be sure your child has understood what he or she has learned. The textbooks are available for: 
 
Revision Guides
A revision guide is ideal if you want to check that your child has learned everything that’s required for the exam. Galore Park has a wide selection of revision resources; the ISEB-endorsed Revision Guides are ideal, containing all the essential information your child will need to know for the exam. 
 
These Revision Guides also contain tips and advice as to how your child can achieve the best possible mark in the exam, and are available in the following subjects:
Practice Exercises  
As they say, practice makes perfect! Galore Park’s Practice Exercises books provide complete practice for pupils working towards the 13+ exams and are ideal if you want your child to practise answering questions on a particular subject. Practice Exercise books are available for: