Guide To The Common Entrance Examination (2024)

Discover the essential details of the Common Entrance Examination (CE) in 2024 – your comprehensive guide to this key step in securing admission to prestigious UK independent schools. In this article, you will learn about the latest updates on the CE, exam structure, preparation strategies and more.

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What Is The Common Entrance Examination?

The Common Entrance Examination (CE) is part of the selective admissions process for independent schools in the United Kingdom, typically taken at the age of 13. This examination is administered by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) and serves as a crucial step for students seeking admission to prestigious public and independent schools). Basically, when you join a preparatory school (ages 8-13), you’ll be studying to prepare for the Common Entrance Examinations which is a pre-requisite for many prestigious secondary schools in the UK.

Who Should Take The Common Entrance Examination?

The Common Entrance Examination (CE) is taken by independent school pupils in the United Kingdom as part of the selective admissions process. Typically, students take this examination at the age of 13, although some independent schools use different test papers to select students at the age of 11. It’s important to note that while the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) sets the examination papers, each school independently handles all other aspects of the admissions process, including marking the scripts and conducting interviews or assessments.

How Much Does It Cost To Take The Common Entrance Examination?

The fees are as follows (as per 2024):

Note: Fees cover the costs of the setting, printing and despatch of papers, and associated administration.

  • Examination fee when taken in the UK – £140
  • Examination to be taken in the EU, including channel islands – £200
  • Examination to be taken outside the EU – £220

Common Entrance Examination Structure

At 11+ level, the examination includes two English papers, along with separate examinations in Mathematics and Science.

For the 13+ level, the Common Entrance Examination comprises the following components:

  • Mathematics: Three papers, including a mental mathematics paper, written non-calculator, and calculator papers.
  • English: Two papers.
  • Latin, Classical Greek, Geography, History, and Religious Studies: One paper each.
  • Science: Students have a choice between Physics, Chemistry, Biology, or a combined Science paper.
  • Modern Languages: Students can choose from French, German, Mandarin, and Spanish. Assessment includes written, spoken, and listening papers for these languages.

It’s important to note that the compulsory papers are Mathematics, English, and at least one science subject.

In some 13+ subjects, there are three alternative levels:

  • Level 1: Designed for those who would score under 40% on Level 2.
  • Level 2: A more challenging paper that requires a deeper knowledge base.

These alternative levels apply to French, English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Science (Level 1 candidates take a single Science paper, while Level 2 candidates sit three separate papers). Additionally, Latin and Mathematics offer Levels 1, 2, and 3.

Level 3 is the highest level, demanding a superior level of knowledge and skills compared to Level 2. Most other subjects have only one level.

For scholarship candidates, there is a more advanced scheme called Common Academic Scholarship. This scheme includes single Scholarship papers in Mathematics, Geography, English, French, Science, History, Religious Studies, and Latin. Scholarship candidates do not sit the regular Common Entrance papers; instead, they take the Common Academic Scholarships (CASE). The syllabus is similar to CE, except for Latin, which requires knowledge beyond Level 3. These scholarship papers are intentionally more challenging than the standard ones.

The choice of examination papers a candidate takes can differ based on the specific requirements of the senior school they are applying to. In general, most senior schools anticipate candidates to include Mathematics, English, Science, Geography, History, Religious Studies, and perhaps one or two language subjects in their examination.

However, there are situations where schools may not offer the complete range of subjects or where students have varying strengths, leading to a reduction in the number of papers required.

The admission criteria are entirely determined by the senior school, and in some instances, achieving high performance in every subject may be necessary, sometimes even reaching up to 70%. Additionally, certain schools may specify that students should not attempt Level 1 papers or insist on the completion of Level 3 papers if they are available.

Preparation Strategies For The Common Entrance Examination

Here are some general strategies that will help you prepare for the CE.

1) Timely and Consistent Preparation:

Students are encouraged to start their CE preparation early to cover the vast syllabus systematically. Consistent practice and revision play a crucial role in achieving success.

2) Seek Guidance:

Many preparatory schools offer guidance and support to students preparing for the CE examination. Experienced teachers can provide valuable insights and help tailor study plans to individual needs.

3) Mock Examinations:

Taking mock CE examinations under timed conditions helps students become familiar with the exam’s format and builds confidence.

4) Engage A Tutor:

Parents can also opt to engage a tutor. Experienced tutors provide targeted guidance and personalised instruction, helping students navigate the comprehensive CE syllabus with confidence. They assist in developing strong subject knowledge, honing critical thinking skills, and mastering exam techniques.

Taking The CE Exam

Taking the CE exam? Here’s what you need to know.

The Common Entrance Examination (CE) offers candidates three opportunities per year to sit the papers, with examination sessions held in January, June (the most common month), and November.

These examinations take place from Tuesday to Friday, providing flexibility for candidates. Typically, students take the CE exam papers at their preparatory schools, adhering to a fixed date but not a fixed time.

The unique aspect of CE is that the papers are marked by the preferred senior school, often immediately after completion. If necessary, arrangements can be made with the prep school to forward the papers to a second-choice school if the candidate’s performance falls below the preferred first-choice school’s acceptance level.

Furthermore, the CE examination serves as the foundation for awarding entrance scholarships and bursaries at many schools. While Common Entrance assesses academic abilities, schools may also conduct additional interviews, tests, or examinations as part of their admission process.

It’s important to note that artistic, musical, or sporting achievements are not directly examined by Common Entrance but may be considered through reports or other means, allowing schools to evaluate a candidate’s well-rounded qualities.

What Happens After Taking The CE Exam?

After taking the Common Entrance Examination (CE), several steps follow in the admissions process, which can vary slightly depending on the individual school’s procedures. Here is a general overview of what typically happens after taking the CE exam:

  1. Grading: The CE papers are usually marked by the preferred senior school. This is often done promptly after the completion of the examination to expedite the admissions process.

  2. Acceptance by Preferred School: If a candidate’s performance meets the acceptance criteria of their first-choice senior school, they are offered admission based on their CE results. This is a significant milestone for students seeking entry into their preferred institution.

  3. Second-Choice School: In cases where a candidate’s performance falls below the acceptance level of their first-choice school, arrangements can be made to forward the examination papers to a second-choice school. This allows candidates to have an alternative option if they do not secure admission at their preferred institution.

  4. Scholarships and Bursaries: Many schools use the CE exam results as a basis for awarding entrance scholarships and bursaries. Candidates who excel in the CE may receive financial assistance or recognition for their academic achievements. However, it’s important to note that schools may also conduct further interviews, tests, or examinations as part of their scholarship selection process.

  5. Additional Assessments: Some senior schools may require additional assessments beyond the CE exam. These assessments could include interviews, specialised subject tests, or evaluations of non-academic talents such as artistic, musical, or sporting achievements. These assessments aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s abilities and potential contributions to the school community.

  6. Final Admission Offers: Once all assessments and evaluations are complete, senior schools extend final admission offers to successful candidates. These offers include details about enrolment, fees, and any conditions that need to be met before joining the school.

  7. Enrolment and Transition: Accepted students and their families complete the enrolment process, which may involve submitting necessary documentation, paying fees, and attending orientation programs. After enrolment, students transition to their new school and begin their academic journey.

For international students who didn’t go to prep schools, the admissions process is slightly different. Here is the general process:

  1. Contacting Senior Schools: International students or their parents/guardians typically initiate the admission process by contacting the senior schools they are interested in. They may do this directly or through educational consultants or agencies that specialise in assisting international students with school placements.

  2. Entrance Requirements: Each senior school may have specific entrance requirements for international students. These requirements may include academic qualifications, English language proficiency tests (such as the IELTS or TOEFL), and sometimes standardised assessments like the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) or other school-specific exams.

  3. Application: International students are required to complete the school’s application forms and provide supporting documents, which may include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a copy of their passport.

  4. Interviews and Assessments: Many senior schools conduct interviews with international students, either in person or via video conferencing. These interviews help assess the student’s suitability for the school and provide an opportunity for the school to learn more about the student’s background and aspirations. Some schools may also require subject-specific assessments or additional tests.

  5. English Language Proficiency: As English is the medium of instruction in most UK schools, international students are often required to demonstrate proficiency in English. This may involve submitting English language test scores or participating in language assessment interviews.

  6. Visa and Immigration: International students, depending on their nationality, may need to obtain the appropriate student visa to study in the UK. The school or educational consultant may assist with visa application processes or provide guidance on this matter.

  7. Financial Documentation: International students may be required to provide evidence of their ability to cover tuition fees and living expenses while studying in the UK.

  8. Acceptance and Enrolment: Once a senior school reviews an international student’s application, interviews, and assessments, they will extend an offer of admission if the student meets the school’s criteria. Upon acceptance, the student can proceed with enrollment, which involves completing necessary paperwork, paying tuition fees, and preparing for their transition to the new school.

It’s important to note that the admission process for international students can vary from one senior school to another, so it’s crucial to carefully review each school’s specific requirements and procedures. 

Additionally, international students should be prepared to provide documentation that supports their academic qualifications and demonstrates their readiness for the educational program offered by the senior school.

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We hope that this guide has provided you with a comprehensive breakdown of the Common Entrance Examination. Remember, the admissions process and entry requirements for senior schools in the UK may vary between school so it is important to check on the requirements. You can also consult us and we can help you do all the heavy lifting, ensuring you have a hassle-free application process to your dream school.

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