Breaking down the upcoming 13+ examinations
By Chris Pearse
30 Apr

This blog will provide some useful tips and hints for preparing for the 13+ exams. Many schools set their own 13 plus exam papers, while others use the Common Entrance exam papers written by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB). Often Common entrance written exams at 13+ are sat across a four-day period. The papers vary from 40 minutes to one and a quarter hours, although some tests such as speaking and listening tests in languages and mental arithmetic are shorter. The core subjects are covered – English, Mathematics and Science - and these are compulsory. In addition, candidates can sit papers in a wide range of subjects chosen, from French, Geography, German, Classical Greek, History, Latin, Religious Studies and Spanish. 

Firstly, setting a timetable for your 13+ revision schedule will ensure you cover all the required subject areas. This will help you allocate suitable time to each area and keep you focused on the individual topics that need studying. Highlighters, index cards and plenty of paper can help you create an individualised plan that supports your own learning style. Research clearly shows that flow charts, diagrams and mind maps will help you retain all the facts required. This is particularly relevant if you are more of a visual learner. Try this website to create your planners, and use Galore Park's ISEB approved Revision Guides, Exam Practice Questions and Exam Practice Answers to prepare children for their 13+ Common Entrance exams.


In this subject you will sit a calculator paper, a non-calculator paper and a mental arithmetic test at level 1, 2 or 3. Level 3 is the hardest level, and for levels 2 and 3 you’ll need to learn a bit more than what’s in level 1. There is also the CASE (Common Academic Scholarship Examination) which you may be entered for. The questions in CASE papers are based on the level 3 content. A good starting point with this subject area can be to use the 13+ syllabus content and the National Curriculum descriptors found on the ISEB website to help revise the main topics. You can tick off the objectives learnt once you have revised them. For example, ‘Use conventional notation for the priority of operations, including brackets, powers, roots and reciprocals.'

In the mathematics papers apart from the mental arithmetic test, you can gain marks by showing your workings and if you make a mistake on the final answer, you can still receive marks for your accurate methods or jottings. Even in the calculator paper it is worth jotting down each stage of the calculation. 


There are two Common Entrance 13+ English papers. These involve one reading comprehension paper and a written section. As with many 13+ subject areas it is always important to look closely at how many marks are allocated for each question. This will guide you on the duration you should take in answering the question and indicate how many points to make. During the 13+ English test it is the perfect opportunity to impress the examiner. Use good spelling, punctuation and grammar skills and when revising use past papers to familiarise yourself with the format of the exam. This will help you understand the language examiners use. See this link for past papers.  



The last core subject is Science and you can either do level 1 or 2 exams for Common Entrance 13+ Science. The level 2 exams are a slightly harder. Level 1 has three science subjects: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. You will sit three separate papers for the level 2 exam – one for each of the three subjects. 

When revising for the different Science subjects, creating a set of index cards for each topic will help you focus on the key terminology. A useful website to help with creating these flashcards is: Producing colourful diagrams can help you learn the key facts e.g. drawing and labelling the two types of cells – animal and plant. 

                      science for common entrance series

It is important to practise exam style questions. See below:

A metal fork feels colder than a plastic one because we lose more heat to it by’ 
A. Radiation B. Convection C. Conduction D. Evaporation

(Question sourced from 13+ Science Practice Questions by Ron Pickering)

In summary, it is important to create a clear timetable that covers all the required 13+ subjects. Across the subjects it is important to concentrate on terminology, and if you can use keywords in your answers you will achieve higher marks. Look carefully at the marks offered for each question as this will guide your responses. This blog has only mentioned the three core subjects and it is important to revise the other 13+ subjects you will sitting examinations in e.g. Latin or Geography.  We would also advise parents to check with the respective schools to ensure you are clear on which areas are being tested for the 13+ examination as this can vary from school to school. 

Good luck and don’t forget to be confident in your own abilities!

Chris Pearse is the author of several Galore Park Verbal Reasoning resources.​


Make sure your child is prepared for the 13+ exams with Galore Park's revision resources, reviewed and endorsed by ISEB:

                   13+ revision resources

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Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Revision, 13, 13 plus, 13plus, Common Entrance, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, revision, Revision Tips

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