How to pass scholarship exams
By Adam Muckle
17 Sep

Scholarship exams set by many independent schools are a series of subject specific and general papers which require much greater depth of knowledge than the Common Entrance curriculum and its examinations. There is a Common Academic Scholarship Exam and also individual ones set by the schools themselves, such as Eton, Westminster and Radley.

In my experience preparing children for these exams, they are meant to be tough, meant to be challenging and are a real test of a child’s potential and character. If awarded the scholarship, the child may not only have a reduction in school fees, but perhaps more importantly, it is a serious and prestigious achievement that will be one for the annals.

There are broadly two types of candidate for scholarship: either the student has received their conditional offer following pre-tests or, if there has been no offer made, it’s scholarship or nothing. Knowledge of the Common Entrance syllabus should be a given. Scholarship pushes beyond this, closer to GCSE and sometimes borderline A-level quality of questioning. With these tests, however, the focus seems to be on how children think and work through problems, as well as how they can write, all in a relatively short space of time.

Therefore this can be quite a daunting prospect for a 12-year-old preparing for these exams and sitting them at 13. My role as a tutor is to guide them through the preparation process, to motivate, to mentor, to encourage, to teach independent study skills, and often to teach beyond the Common Entrance syllabus for Latin and classical Greek, as well as structuring and developing their written work.

Sometimes the teaching has to be done at an accelerated pace, but always consistent with the student’s pace and how much information they can absorb in the time. I cannot vouch for maths and science subjects for these exams, but the subjects which are writing-heavy do not require specific subject knowledge beyond Common Entrance, but rather ask general questions which require children to think laterally about subjects. Children must deploy analytical skills they have been taught at Common Entrance to essay-length, quality answers.

A big part of the preparation is getting children used to writing at length in a short space of time. First, planning is key. Getting a flexible structure in place for the children to go on autopilot in the exam saves time. It also makes them think more methodically than feeling a sense of fear when faced with a tough question, at a loss to come up with ideas.

Children aiming for the scholarship are expected to read widely; much more widely than a typical 12-year-old would do. As well as recommending more challenging books and reading material, both fiction and non-fiction, I would recommend a poetry anthology, an encyclopedia and dictionary. There are also good websites on developing and memorising vocabulary for different languages. At times, I would recommend TED-ED, TED Talks, The Week magazine, books like Matthew Syed’s You Are Awesome and Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall to improve the student’s motivation, knowledge of current affairs and world-awareness.

Families would tend to start contemplating and preparing for the scholarship exams up to a year or year and a half prior to the exams. However, real and substantive preparation begins the summer before Year 8 starts. Children will then have covered the bulk of the Common Entrance syllabus to be in a position to extend their knowledge and feel confident in tackling past paper questions.

If your child is ambitious and has a good attitude to work, is disciplined, diligent, determined, a resilient and positive person, up for a challenge, then the scholarship is definitely worth considering. Talk to your current school about whether your child is capable enough and whether there is a realistic prospect of success. Schools often put on extra classes for scholarship candidates.

Whatever the result of the scholarship exams themselves, your child will have gone on a journey of discovery and be in a good position to hit the ground running as they start senior school.

Adam Muckle is originally from Belfast and studied Classics at Durham University. After training as a Barrister, a chance conversation led him unexpectedly to tutoring. Over the past 11 years, Adam has tutored in London, throughout the British Isles, Europe, Asia and online. He is an Honorary Fellow of The Tutors’ Association, the professional body for tutoring in the UK, and served as its President from 2016 to 2019. For more information, please visit

Galore Park is the exclusive distributor of real past papers from ISEB, the Independent Schools Examinations Board, including Common Academic Scholarship Examinations (CASE). Find out more and order online here.

Tags: CASE, Common Academic Scholarship Exams, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, Independent School Examination Board, independent schools, ISEB, revision, revision prep, scholarship, school entrance exams, schools, Tutor

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