13+ PARENT CASE STUDY - How to tackle so many subjects in so little time
By Jane Gillespie - a London mum
17 May

Thanks to Jane for sharing her family’s 13+ revision tactics. An entrance exam veteran, she has tackled the 11+ twice in the last 2-3 years and her son is now sitting 13+ Common Entrance. 13+ Common Entrance can seem overwhelming and here, Jane shares a very honest account of her 13+ experience.
“It is such good preparation for GCSE,” say the other parents. “You’ll be so glad your son did Common Entrance!”
Maybe their words will come true but many a time in the past 18 months, I have wished that the “good preparation for GCSE” had come at the time of the actual GCSE exams – not with my boys aged 12 and 13.
There is no getting around the fact that Common Entrance is a really tough exam – there are a lot of subjects with virtually no choice, and the syllabus for some (geography springs immediately to mind) is nearly as broad and theory-heavy as the GCSE one.
As there is no point despairing if you are locked into Common Entrance with your son or (in some, but rarer situations in London especially) your daughter, what do you do about it? Somehow, the demands have to be juggled.
Of course, your prep school should help. But even teachers at our prep school, which is wise to Common Entrance and has staff highly versed in their subjects and in the exam, do throw up their hands crying “there’s just so much to learn!” There is. And geography is not the only offender.

Religious studies

The religious studies syllabus is, in a nutshell, a big chunk of the Old Testament, a big chunk of the New, a whole slew of Contemporary Issues and then two world religions, all to be remembered in great detail by a brain not yet fully into its teens.
So, the Religious Studies 13+ Revision Guide endorsed by the Independent Schools Examinations Board  – is essential.
We’ve narrowed revision down to 10 Old Testament and 10 New Testament topics and have selected Christianity and Judaism as the two religions. For further focus, the 13+ Exam Questions and 13+ Exam Answers books have helped – especially in the Contemporary Issues topics. The books help you to align the stories and parables from the Bible with the modern-day philosophical issues – it’s down to a (nearly!) manageable size.


The same with the dreaded geography: look in the revision guide for the diagrams which are labeled “You will need to learn this diagram” and embark upon a one-a-night programme of learning to draw them. If your child learns the annotations at the same time, plus a case study for each of the sections of the exam, you’re more than half way there. Then – learn the geographical locations and teach them Ordnance Survey map skills – that’s two more sections of the exam covered. Use the questions and answers books for examples and I promise you, you will feel less overwhelmed.
The revision guide and questions and answers books are essential for Common Entrance because of this rather vast range of the course. Flash cards are very good for history dates and essay points – easily gleaned from the revision guide if your school doesn’t come through on them. It’s good to look at a past paper or two as well, as you can whittle down the mass to learn by conquering the structure of the exam. Yes – it is good practice for GCSE I suppose (not to mention A Level and University finals…)


If your senior school will allow it and Latin is not your child’s strength, I would personally advise plumping for taking Level 1 and learning the 200-word essential vocabulary list. My son does not have the brain for languages, which makes Latin a subject which simply has to be passed.
French gives us similar problems – but the books have links to online aural help for both the listening and speaking parts of the exam. For the speaking, we’ve written out especially difficult words phonetically to help him pronounce them with a chance of passing.


Core subjects

My son had to sit for his 13+ place at 11 so it’s been like doing the 11+ followed by the 13+ - which is not at all easy. Exhaustion and sheer weariness of exams and revision (and never-ending weeks of CE mocks which blight every half term and school holiday in Year 8) are major enemies.
So we have focused on the subjects which were taught in school in the years to Year 6 – but rather lightly, given the focus on exams taken at 11.
English and maths – because of that focus – and as long as they are decently taught at school, should not need much revision. For maths, I would recommend the questions and answers books to plug any holes – plus past papers. It’s the geography, religious studies, sciences, history and languages of this world of CE, which are the horrors.
Oh yes – the science. It’s all three of course. Formulas and flash cards are our mantra and again – just try not to be overwhelmed. But don’t shy away from the topics which your child may find particularly bewildering – again the revision guide will help. Keep it simple and work steadily to the level needed – but don’t move on until they have got the initial material in their head.

The hardest thing of all is juggling time - especially in order to ensure you have time to fill the holes in knowledge near the end. Our prep school gave nearly 25 past papers for the week of February half term in Year 8 and by the time you’ve done them, the filling-the-gaps time has gone. But I think the gaps are usually more important that repeating what you know.
It’s such a huge step up from 11+, the shock of 13+ takes a while to sink in. But there are resources available, which will help. In many ways, the best thing we have is an offer from the school we want which does not specify an exact 'pass' mark – it means there’s flexibility and we are not chasing the 75% (or much higher!) for some London schools. And of course we’ll have a term or two before we have to start on the next leg of this journey… choosing the subjects for those GCSEs.
Best of luck for your 13+ revision journey.

View the whole range of 13+ exam practice questions, perfect for perfecting exam technique and covering every subject at 13+ Common Entrance and endorsed by the Independent Schools Examinations Board.


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