Common Entrance Exams

A complete guide to the Common Entrance Exams. We take you through everything you need to know about the 7-plus, 8-plus, 11-plus and 13-plus Common Entrance Exams.



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Meet Mya

"I have years of experience helping students ace their Common Entrance exams and secure places at competitive private and grammar schools."

What is the Common Entrance?

Common Entrance is a set of examinations taken during Year 6 (Age 11) or Year 8 (Age 13) to qualify for entrance into grammar schools or independent schools.

It is a selective admissions process with a set of exams in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. The more familiar term is the 11-plus or 13-plus exams. 

At Tutor House we provide tuition for all common entrance ages including 7-plus, 11-plus and 13-plus.

💡 Did you know: Common Entrance is one of the oldest exam processes in Britain? It was introduced in the early 1900s and still used today in England and Northern Ireland.

What is the Common Entrance process?

The Common Entrance process is incredibly competitive; there are usually 10 applicants for every one spot available. 

The admissions process to independent and prep schools will vary — there is no standard process. The first step is to register your child for the top schools. Usually you will want to apply for 3 or 4 different schools to secure a spot for your child.

The next stage will be the testing process, when your child will sit the common entrance exam. All schools will ask for references and reports from previous schools to assess their character. 
Once your child has been successful in the exam they will be invited for an interview, schools may interview individually, in groups or in pairs, with or without parents. If your child has any learning difficulties, a psychological report will be required. 

Finally, if your child passes the common entrance tests and interviews, you will reach the acceptance stage. You will receive a written letter specifying the period in which you must reply — this is usually between two to three weeks. Failure to respond in the period set will result in losing your place in the school.

How to register your child for Common Entrance

All private schools require you to complete a registration form and pay a fee (between £100 to £300) which is non-refundable.

You should register as early as possible, usually 18 months before your child is due to sit the common entrance exams. Despite this, many schools accept registration until they are full.

Get a FREE Common Entrance consultation

Whether you are thinking about enrolling your child for the 7+ or are already helping you child prepare for the 13+, our Common Entrance tutors are here to help.

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How are Common Entrance exams marked?

Mark schemes are provided by the exam board (ISEB) but some schools may have their own criteria to follow in the marking process. 

The common entrance exams are assessed and marked by the school teachers and senior members of staff from the school your child has entered.

What is the Common Entrance pass mark?

There is no fixed pass mark as schools like to set their own grading criteria. However, the common minimum grade is 55-60% to pass.

Some more selective schools may require a pass mark of 70% or more. Check with your chosen school’s board to find out which grading scheme applies to your child.

Why choose an independent school for your child?

There’s a general acceptance that children thrive in independent schools as opposed to state schools. Independent schools are generally equipped with better facilities, specifically for sports, technology, performing arts and languages. Latin is a very popular academic choice in private schools.

Independent schools provide pupils with extra knowledge outside of the national curriculum, character-building and skills that allow your child to excel in their future. 

Entrance to independent schools also improves your child’s chances in applying for high-ranking universities, like Oxford and Cambridge. Statistics show that a greater percentage of children go onto higher education due to the knowledge acquired from independent schooling.

What is the difference between state schools and private schools?

The main difference is the lack of funding in state schools, which can mean that your child may not receive the appropriate educational or social support. The average annual fee for private tuition costs £14,000 per child — this is funnelled into your child’s academic progress. As parents, you also have more power to get what they want from the school from being the principal investors.

State schools usually assign one teacher per 30 children in a classroom; whereas private schools assign one teacher per 9 pupils on average. Due to this, private school teachers have more flexibility in deviating from the national curriculum, allowing them to be passionate. This is a more fun and exciting learning environment than one experienced in state schools, which is more heavily regulated by the government.

However, private schools often set much more homework and require pupils to engage in extracurricular activities. You may find your child becomes overwhelmed and struggle to cope with the demands. Despite this, the high expectations from private schools will encourage your child to work harder than at a state school.

Want to make sure your child succeeds in their Common Entrance exam?

Our Common Entrance tutors have years of experience helping children of all ages secure places at their desired schools.

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How can I apply for a scholarship?

If you have your heart set on your child going to a private school but cannot afford it, you may be eligible to apply for a scholarship. Our experts can help you find the schools in your area that have scholarship programmes and the specific criteria.

Almost all schools have scholarship programmes in order to attract talented pupils. Whether your child has an aptitude for arts, sports, music, choose the discipline most applicable to your child.

If you consider your child to be an “academic superstar” then you are likely to be able to apply for a scholarship. You will want to look into the Scholarship and Bursaries Service and your chosen school’s requirements. Once your scholarship application has been approved, your child will still need to sit the 11+ or 13+ exams.

⭐ Top Tip: Make sure your child wants to go to private school and is prepared for the application process. Be honest when you register and give a complete overview of your child’s tuition and academic progress.

Why choose Tutor House Common Entrance tutors?

Our common entrance tutors are highly-trained and DBS checked, readily prepared with past papers and exemplar answers. Many have also worked as common entrance examiners and taken the tests themselves!

Tutor House will provide ample opportunities for your child to demonstrate their newly acquired skills and potential under test conditions.

Since most pupils will opt to be taught in larger groups as opposed to 1:1, they will benefit from competition with peers who are also prepared for the entrance exam.

  • Algebra
  • Addition
  • Measurement
  • Division
  • Number and place value
  • Multiplication
  • Ratio
  • Proportion
  • Geometry
  • Fractions
  • Percentages
  • Statistics
  • Subtraction
  • Decimals

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Common Entrance English

The English section of the 11-plus is composed of a reading and writing section, in which the child’s understanding of poetry and prose will be examined. Whatever version of the 11-plus exam your child takes, the topics are the same.

What topics are included in the common entrance English test?

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Creative Writing
  • Comprehension
  • Literacy
  • Vocabulary

Pupils are also expected to demonstrate knowledge of the following concepts: Antonyms, Synonyms, Homonyms, Compound words and Word groups.

⭐ Top Tip: Find Common Entrance past papers and answers

A great way to help your child improve their reading and writing skills is to practise and compare to exemplar answers.

Common Entrance Verbal Reasoning

Despite Verbal Reasoning being a huge component of the 11-plus tests, it is not taught in most schools. Verbal reasoning is a test of skill rather than learned knowledge — which can be one of the more challenging aspects of the 11-plus.

In this section of the 11-plus test, children are given 80 questions which evaluate a student’s ability to think constructively by reframing the concepts. Essentially, verbal reasoning is the idea of thinking without words. This allows the examiner to evaluate the ability of the student to think constructively around their vocabulary.

⭐ Top Tip: Vocabulary

Your child should be aware of key concepts like antonyms and synonyms, and understand how to describe a word without using the original one. For students to be successful at this stage of the 11-plus, pupils should have a wide vocabulary (of approximately 2000 words).

What topics are on the verbal reasoning common entrance test?

  • Process verbal information (Comprehension)
  • Apply logical thinking and problem solving
  • Determine word meaning
  • Follow written instructions
  • Find a letter to complete two other words
  • Solve codes based on letters and numbers
  • Spell accurately
  • Identify letter sequences

⭐ Top Tip: Read

Children who are widely read perform better at this stage of the 11-plus. Try to encourage reading as a hobby or include 30-minutes of daily reading into their routine. For examples of what books are best to help with the 11-plus test, speak to an expert here.

Common Entrance Non-Verbal Reasoning

Put simply, Non-Verbal Reasoning tests your child's ability to process graphic and pictorial information, as well as their spatial awareness (how objects related to each other in space). 

Students are given 40 minutes to complete 4 sections. Each section contains 20 questions giving students 10 minutes to spend on each section. There are two different formats:

1. Standard format is where answers are written directly onto the test paper.

2. Multiple-choice format where students are given a separate booklet for their answers.

⭐ Top Tip: Learn outside of school

Non-verbal reasoning is another lesson not specifically taught in schools. Students should take time to practice this section to ensure they are prepared ahead of their 11-plus exam.

What is on the Non-Verbal Reasoning test?

  • Problem-solving
  • Logical thinking
  • Ability to follow patterns and rules
  • Application of maths skills (specifically rotation, reflection and symmetry)
  • Ability to work systematically

What is the Common Entrance pass mark?

There is no fixed pass mark as schools like to set their own grading criteria. However, the common minimum grade is 55-60% to pass. Some more selective schools may require a pass mark of 70% or more.

Check with your chosen school’s board to find out which grading scheme applies to your child.

How can I support my child through their Common Entrance exam?

Firstly, make sure you check what format your child’s Common Entrance exam will take. There are many different formats, which changes what your child does and doesn’t need to learn. 

Like all exams, practice makes perfect. Make sure you start preparing well in advance of the Common Entrance exam to allow your child to build up their confidence in their skills, giving them plenty of time to engage with practice papers, perfect their time management and refine their exam technique.

⭐ Top Tip: Find a private tutor

If your child is struggling with any aspects of the Common Entrance exam prep, or would like some additional support prior to the exam, we provide experienced Common Entrance tutors who are well versed in coaching pupils to perform to the best of their ability on exam day.

To ensure your child secures a place at the secondary school of their choice, explore our range of experienced Common Entrance tutor.

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Our Common Entrance tutors have years of experience. Get started with a free trial lesson today!

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