Across the UK, almost every independent school you look at will give pupils an entrance exam before they are allowed in. This tests their academic ability and future potential. For lots of parents looking to get their child into the private schooling system, entrance exams can be stressful. However, by educating yourself on entrance exams and how they work, the process will become much less nerve-wracking. The key to success is early preparation and planning.
For the ultimate guide to independent schools and their entrance exams, including when they are, what content they include and how to apply, keep reading.
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What is an independent school?
An independent school, also known as a private school, is an institution which does not receive funding from the government. Independent schools are attended by students who pay termly fees instead. These are what fund teachers’ pay, heating bills and other day-to-day expenses.
As part of being a separate institution from the government, independent schools are allowed to make their own decisions on certain matters. For example, they can choose the curriculum they wish to follow. Check out this article from Think Student for more information on this principle.
Lots of private schools also tend to shorten the term time by extending the length of the school day. This means both pupils and teachers can then have longer holidays. For more information about what an independent school is, read this article from Think Student.
What are independent school entrance exams?
One of the many things independent schools can choose to do is be selective in who they accept to the school. When applying for schools, the only limitation on state school children is generally their catchment area. However, for private school children, applying to school includes taking an entrance exam.
Independent schools can choose any test they like for the entrance exam. However, lots of private schools opt to use the 11 Plus exam, which you can read more about in this Think Student article.
Essentially, the 11 Plus exam covers four main subjects: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. Reasoning involves showing children a series of logic questions involving words, numbers and shapes which tests their general intelligence.
The 11 Plus exam is not written by independent schools themselves. The test is released by GL Assessment, so every student across the country answers the same questions. This can be both positive and negative.
It’s a bonus that your child will take the same test as other pupils entering the school because it gives them fair chances of getting in. However, the 11 Plus is fairly difficult, which is why some independent schools choose not to use it as their entrance exam.
For the best possible chances of being accepted to a private school, it may be a good idea to find a school which does not use the 11 Plus.
Check out this article from the 11 Plus exam website to find out more information.
What is the 13 Plus exam?
Although the 11 Plus exam is the far more common examination, students who are looking to join a school in Year 9 have to take the 13 Plus exam.
The test has the same structure as the 11 Plus but with more difficult content. What happens is GL assessment takes the same style of test but increases the difficulty of the problems and decreases the time allowed.
Some independent schools are structured so that Year 9 is the main entry point as opposed to Year 7. These are the schools which will require a 13 Plus test score in order to consider a student’s application.
The 13 Plus is also a popular option if your child was unable to enter a private school in Year 7. Due to the high difficulty of the 11 Plus, some students do not achieve high enough scores to be accepted.
However, taking the 13 Plus exam gives your child two extra years to practice and improve their skills. Lots of these students find that by the time the 13 Plus comes around, they then manage to achieve the required acceptance scores for Year 9.
For more information on the 13 Plus exam in general, have a look at this article from Think Student.
When are independent school entrance exams?
Entrance exams are generally taken in the run-up to the new school year. Depending on when a pupil is starting, the test is usually taken 3 or 4 months prior to their arrival. This gives the school enough time to mark the tests, compare them to other pupils and contact parents with a decision.
However, if the school you are applying to requires your child to take a nationally recognised test, such as the 11 Plus exam, the papers are sat much earlier. When an independent school writes its own tests, it can mark them quickly and provide parents with feedback after a few weeks or months.
However, the 11 Plus exam has to be marked by an external assessor. This means the school has to send the papers off and wait for them to be marked and standardised before they can contact parents. This process takes a lot longer, so your child will probably have to sit the test in September the year before entry to the school.
For more details on when the 11 Plus exam is taken, click here to read an article on Think Student.
At what age do you take independent school entrance exams?
Entrance exams are taken at different ages, depending on when it is your looking to join a school. If the school you’re looking at is particularly selective, your child might have to take a test just to get into Year 3 or 4. However, other schools will only start giving children compulsory entrance exams from Year 7 upwards.
As the name suggests, the 11 Plus exam is taken at age 11 or 12.Older children must take the 13 Plus test instead. Once they reach GCSE age, a student’s GCSE results will be used to decide whether they can join a school.
The 11 and 13 Plus exams are standardised tests. What this means is that the raw mark a child scores is adjusted depending on when they were born.
If two children score the same mark but one is younger than the other, the younger child’s standardised score will be higher. You can read more about the 11 Plus marking and standardisation system in this article from Think Student.
Why do independent schools have entrance exams?
Independent schools are not run by the government. They receive no funding towards their daily expenses, hence why students have to pay fees. However, this also means that they can be selective in who they decide to accept.
As a school, the more able the children you teach are, the higher their exam scores will end up being. In terms of a marketing perspective, a school looks much more desirable to parents if they achieve good GCSE and A-Level grades.
Independent schools pride themselves on having smaller class sizes, which is one of the reasons lots of parents look into private schooling their children. However, in order to keep class sizes low, the school can only accept a certain number of pupils into each year group.
Often, the entrance exams are used if a year group is oversubscribed. The school needs to make a decision on which students to let in, and the exams can be a good indicator of which students will achieve better results.
Finally, it makes teaching that little bit easier. Contrary to the belief of most students and parents, teachers work extremely hard. They often stay for late nights and mark work over the weekends and throughout the holidays.
When they are given lower ability children to teach or have a disruptive student, it just makes their job even more difficult and tiring. In order to look after the wellbeing of their teachers, schools will decide on how difficult a pupil might be based on their entrance exam. They will often base this decision on other factors as well, such as references from previous schools.
For more information about independent school entrance exams, check out this page from the Teachers website.
How hard are independent school entrance exams?
The difficulty of an entrance exam can depend on several factors. The first of these is the notability of the independent school in question. For example, the entrance exam for Eton, probably the most highbrow of all private schools in the UK, is extremely difficult.
In comparison, the exam for your local independent school should be much easier.
Another factor to consider is whether the school has written their own exam or not. Generally, schools which write their own exams do so because they believe the 11 Plus is too difficult.
That said, see if you can dig up any information about the difficulty of a school’s test beforehand to get an idea of what your child will be up against.
It is also a good idea to do some research into the popularity of a certain school. If the private school you’re looking at is frequently over-subscribed, this is a good indication that the pass mark will be higher than other schools.
Above all, the difficulty of the test is decided by how easy or difficult your child finds the content. The more practice they get in, the better they will get at answering the questions quickly and in the right way.
A child that has never seen verbal and non-verbal reasoning before, no matter their academic ability, will struggle.
Remember that practice makes perfect. To give your child the best chances of success in their entrance exams, give them plenty of practice workbooks to look at. This will help them to feel prepared on the day.
For further information about the difficulty of entrance exams, and the 11 Plus exam in particular, have a look at this article from Think Student.
How do you apply for independent school entrance exams?
The process for applications can vary slightly from school to school. However, they all follow the same basic timeline. Generally, your child will need to take the 11 Plus exam before applications open. If the school writes their own test, it will be taken after you put in your application.
Applications for the following academic year will open from around October but will stay open throughout the year until around May. Once your application has been submitted, your child will have to attend a test session (if they have not completed the 11 Plus).
For more information about when to apply, check out this article from the Which School Advisor website.
The school will then ask for a reference from your child’s previous school. They may also ask for an interview.
Around 3 or 4 months after your application has been submitted, you will be told whether the school has accepted your child or not. Application forms can be found on the school website and will usually need to be completed either online or on paper and posted.