The 13-plus Common Entrance Exam

Our Common Entrance experts take you through the everything you need to know about the 13-plus.

What is the 13-plus Common Entrance Exam?

The 13+ Common Entrance exam consists of a set of rigorous tests set by selective independent secondary schools. It usually focuses on content taught at KS3.

The 13+ tests are part of the standard ISEB assessment, although individual schools can devise their own Common Entrance (CE) papers. Schools that set their own tests are more often more prestigious and of a higher difficulty level than those set by the ISEB.
It’s important to note that the content, structure, and expectations of the 13-plus can vary widely between each school.

👋 Remember: Pass marks fluctuate from year to year. This is generally calculated according to the number of applicants and spaces available per school per year.

What age do children sit the 13-plus exam?

The 13+ test is usually sat in Spring or Summer of Year 8 when your child is 12 or 13 years old. This is for students wishing to gain entry into Year 9.

When do children sit the 13-plus exams?

There are 3 opportunities for your child to take the 13+ tests: November, January and May/June.

What does the 13-plus exam consist of?

The 13+ is notoriously competitive. 13+ papers require the student to have developed their exam technique, critical thinking, whilst also assessing their English, Maths, Science Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning skills. In some cases, additional humanities subjects are required.

The 13+ Common Entrance encourages students to consolidate their knowledge gained from their understanding of the subjects taught under the National Curriculum.

13 + Maths Paper

The 13+ maths paper will test pupils’ secure knowledge and understanding of mathematics concepts. There are 3 maths tests: calculator, non-calculator and a mental arithmetic paper.

The following concepts will be examined:

  • Number place value
  • Properties of numbers
  • Positive and negative Integers
  • Fractions decimals
  • Percentages calculations
  • Pencil and paper procedures
  • Estimations/Approximations
  • Checking solving problems
  • Using appropriate operations to solve problems
  • Shape and size shapes
  • Angles
  • Perimeter and area

13+ English Paper

The 13+ English paper consists of a range of topics designed to test your child’s understanding of prose and poetry, as well as reading on both practical and descriptive/imaginative text.

Your child will need to be able to:

  • Demonstrate that they can analyse the text
  • Express themselves clearly, precisely and eloquently on paper
  • Respond to open questions in a thoughtful manner
  • Display a good grasp of grammar, spelling, punctuation and appropriate style suited to varying tasks
  • Write creatively

Our tutors will prepare pupils for Level 5+ and ensure they are confident to pass the 13+ maths and English paper. It is important that pupils practice under exam conditions with an expert who knows the 13+ process inside out.

13 + Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning

Non-Verbal reasoning tests indicate the potential ability and future academic results your child is likely to achieve. Verbal Reasoning tests your child’s understanding and knowledge of the language. The larger your child’s vocabulary, the better they will do in these tests.

Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) tests require recognition of similarities, analogies, patterns in unfamiliar designs — which can include series completion, codes and analogies. These tests indicate a pupil’s ability to understand and assimilate new information independently of their language skills. 

There is no set syllabus for NVR or VR tests. However, our experiences show that the more a child is exposed to the wide range of these tests the better their score in entrance exams.

It’s important to remember that subjects selected are dependent on the particular school your child is applying to. Always check with the school to make sure your child is prepared for the correct 13+  exam content.

⭐ Just so you know: Tutor House will support your child in developing their verbal reasoning skills by incorporating regular testing to help keep your child learning new vocabulary weekly as well as practising with past VR papers to ease their nerves. We also use a range of NVR material to familiarise your child and to remove their fear.

13+ Science

The Science Common Entrance Exam tests not only the student's knowledge of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, but also the cultural context of such disciplines. 

13+ Humanities and Languages

For the 13-plus exam, children could also sit a variety of humanities subjects, most commonly Geography, History, Religion & Philosophy. If your child is studying any languages, there may also be specific questions on this subject too. 

The different versions of the 13-plus exam


The Independent Schools Examinations Board exams follow the outline of the National Curriculum.
The paper is split into three levels:

  • Level 1: For students achieving lower marks in lessons who are unlikely to achieve a 40% pass will sit the one-hour paper.
  • Level 2: A 40-minute paper which is the standard set for pupils.
  • Level 3: The hardest of the 13+ papers for students achieving the highest marks in lessons.


The Common Academic Scholarship Exam is taken instead of the regular 13+ exam at the highest level for those seeking a scholarship. Please note that guidelines and marking schemes differ for this type of test.

How much does the 13+ exam cost?

The Board tries to keep the exam fees low. For children taking the exam in the UK, the 13+ exam fee is £125. For students taking the 13+ for one subject it costs £25. These fees are the same for the CASE tests too.

How can I support my child during the 13-plus exams?

Making sure you get the right support to prepare your child for these examinations is key. Most students find the 13+ challenging. Some children find the topics in the 13+ exam new as they are unlikely to cover them in school. For this reason, many parents choose to seek help outside the school system for their child’s 13+ exam.

13+ tutors near me?

Looking for a “13+ Tutor Near Me” has never been easier than with Tutor House. With our supply of 13+ tutors, we can help give your child the best possible chance at passing the 13+ tests. 

13+ tutors will go through the questions and provide detailed reasoning so that the child gradually moves away from dependent learning to mastering the techniques. Weekly testing will help rank your child within the group so that they understand how they are doing in comparison to their peers and what more they need to do to improve.

1:1 tuition ensures your child can practise & perfect their exam technique, timing and understanding of how the papers are structured.

⭐Top Tip: Don’t click on the first tutor you see.

Seek a tutor that matches your personal needs. Whether you want in-person or online tuition, someone budget-friendly, or require specific experience and religious background, we have the exact tutor you’re looking for at Tutor House. Call an expert and book a free trial today.

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