13 Plus Common Entrance Tutor
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"You injected a great dose of confidence in both them regarding the GCSE and A level process, including in Sergio who was in tears before meeting with you because he didn’t think he could ever get better at handwriting characters. He came out of the lesson jumping, believing that he can do it, and already spent today 20 minutes writing sentences with the characters he knows. Thank you so much to you and Jessica."Ana G, 13+ parent, May 2021
Since 2000, the compulsory Common Entrance subjects have been narrowed to just maths, English and science, supposedly to give students from state schools more opportunities.
However, exams can be taken in many other subjects, including RS, geography, history, languages, Latin and Greek. 13 Plus Common Entrance is used as the final hurdle by a lot of independent schools in the UK, including many of the most competitive, a few of which also use ISEB’s Common Academic Scholarship.
For some of these schools, Common Entrance is their main form of entry assessment, while for others it is just the final of many hurdles.
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Assessment & School Search.
As above, we can provide a confidential, independent assessment of your child's ability in English, Maths, Verbal and non Verbal reasoning, plus help with interview confidence for Pre tests, 7, 8 and 11 Plus.
For 13 Plus and 13 Plus Scholarship our assessors also cover science, history, modern and ancient languages. Our school search team can also provide advice on school choices and the admissions process.
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The Common Entrance - In Depth.
Is it time to overhaul Common Entrance?
13 Plus Common Entrance has been exactly the same for almost 20 years, and many people aren’t happy about it. Not only does it cause enormous stress to pupils in Year 8, at an already difficult age, but as so many independent schools already have their own alternative assessments before or as well as Common Entrance, and with so many pupils applying from abroad, is it still fit for purpose?
What else do schools do?
Many schools are already using a pretest (such as the ISEB Pretest, or UKIset for students abroad), which is taken in Year 6 or 7, to narrow down their pool of applicants. As well as a reference from the pupil’s current school, a CV, interview/assessment day and their own school-specific test, one has to ask if 13 Plus Common Entrance should still be mandatory on top of all these additional requirements.
Just to give one example, this is how Harrow currently shape their admissions process:
- Reference from the boy’s school at the end of Year 5
- ISEB Common Pretest. Prospective student’s take the age-adaptive test in maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, with the strongest invited to assessment.
- The Harrow Test. When students visit the school early in Year 7, they will also sit Harrow’s own assessment. This involves two interviews, with a House Master and a Senior Beak (teacher), an hour-long computerised English and maths assessment and a 20-minute written essay.
- Students are given offers, either of a guaranteed place (with or without a place in a particular house), a place on the waitlist, or no offer.
- Offers are subject to satisfactory performance at Common Entrance, or in Harrow’s own Academic Scholarship paper.
What does this all mean? Many schools have a similarly lengthy process, so for the vast majority of applicants, their destination should be decided long before they actually sit Common Entrance, and will have dragged out over the best part of three years.
Even Eton, the most ambitious and competitive destination for many students/parents, say this on their admissions website:’The number of boys with conditional places who subsequently fail to qualify at 13 is very small’.
If so much work is put in at 10 and 11 to find out a student’s academic potential, extracurricular interests and suitability or ‘fit’ for the school…why bother with 13 Plus Common Entrance? A student cannot suddenly ‘win’ a place at a better school with fantastic Common Entrance results if they weren’t previously offered one, and unless the results are absolutely catastrophic, very few schools will rescind a previously made offer. So what’s the point?
The purpose of these prior assessments – especially interviews and school-specific tests – is to find out whether the student is the right fit for the school. More academically competitive schools will expect pupils to perform above the level required by Common Entrance, while less academic schools may be less concerned about Common Entrance results anyway.
Is there a better way?
Already, it seems that a lot of schools are working harder to assess applicants long before 13 Plus Common Entrance. Some top schools, such as Haberdashers’ and WInchester, have long used their own entrance exams instead of relying on Common Entrance.
Common Entrance generally relies on factual recall, and is the sort of exam for which pupils at certain prep schools will naturally be at a massive advantage. These schools will have been preparing pupils rigorously since year 5 or 6, ensuring they are well-placed when it comes to exam day. Naturally, many of them also will have had tutors for weaker subjects – or most subjects in some cases – obscuring their natural ability. As such, a lot of schools also have alternative assessments for pupils applying from state schools or from abroad, perhaps reflecting the shortcomings of 13 Plus Common Entrance in its current form.
Schools often want to see how a student can think independently, analyse unseen material and respond to something on their toes, instead of in an exam for which they will have been rigorously prepped. Unfortunately, these skills are the opposite of what’s tested at Common Entrance.
Are there other benefits to reforming Common Entrance?
Absolutely. It’s well-known that British students are the most frequently examined in the world, and 13 Plus Common Entrance is just one part of that. In the current system, the last two years at prep school are geared entirely towards Common Entrance preparation, which can only put additional pressure and stress on students.
Minerva founder, Hugh Viney, believes it’s time for a change: “We’ve seen, over many years, how worked up students can get over Common Entrance, with it often affecting overall mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes, they even lose their joy for particular subjects, because 13 Plus Common Entrance preparation can be so tedious and formulaic. It seems ridiculous when so many of these students have already worked hard to secure a place at their chosen school, for them to go through this additional stress. It hasn’t been reformed for ages, and we believe there could be a better way.”
So, what if most students already knew where they were going by the end of Year 7? That would open up a whole host of possibilities for what Year 8 could be used for.
For one thing, instead of doing exams that can be damaging to mental health, as has been suggested by many education leaders, some of that time could be put towards PSHE (physical, social and health education). Usually this only begins once at senior school, but as the vast majority of students will have smartphones and social media accounts by Year 8, there can be no harm in introducing it earlier. Issues such as cyberbullying, sexual health and consent, wellbeing, and how to identify mental health difficulties in oneself and others and seek help, could only do good for pupils aged 12 and 13, who will be reaching a time of rapid and dramatic change in their lives.
Arguably, this would prepare them far better for the new setting of a senior school, and their difficult teenage years, than the arduous Common Entrance process, culminating in up to 14 or 15 highly stressful exams at the end of it all.
Furthermore, the time could be used for more independent, self-directed learning – another skill that is increasingly important as students get towards GCSE, A-Level and even university. Perhaps students could plan and execute a year-long project, with the help of teachers, or work on something in groups, developing skills like collaboration, compromise and teamwork, that are so vaunted by future employers.
We are hardly about to see the back of Common Entrance, certainly not in the immediate future, but with changing demographics at independent schools, and schools trying harder and harder to get the ‘right’ pupils, it seems less and less fit for purpose, and more like just another hoop for already over-burdened pupils to jump through.
The highly competitive 11+ London Consortium (previously the North London Girls’ Consortium), representing some of the top girls’ schools in the country, has already revised its admissions process to a more straightforward Cognitive Ability Test, in order to take some pressure of applicants.
Perhaps instead of a full set of exams, 13 Plus Common Entrance could be replaced by more casual assessments across Year 8, that could be handed to senior schools for the purposes of streaming, and knowing where a student may be weaker/stronger on arrival. It goes without saying that some students, who may be brilliant, will still struggle more than others in an exam setting.
For now, ISEB Common Entrance remains widely used and well-respected, and is trusted by many schools, teachers and parents. However, it seems clear that it is not necessarily the healthiest possible end to Year 8, and there could definitely be a better way.