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Just how hard is Common Entrance?

(21 Posts)
Dearlittleflo Tue 07-Feb-17 11:34:17

My son (Y6) has a couple of 13+ offers and we are currently trying to decide which school to accept. Both offers are conditional on a score of 70 at Common Entrance.

He is a very bright and academically minded boy. However, he's not at a prep school- we therefore haven't been given any guidance at all on how difficult this result would be for him to achieve, nor will he be prepared at school for the exams. I'm happy for him to have some tutoring on exam technique and to cover any part of the curriculum that he hasn't done at school (if any) in order to give him a fair shot. However, I don't want him to have a miserable Y8 and a ridiculous amount of tutoring.

It would be great to get a view from anyone who has been through this (or is going through it). Thanks.

LIZS Tue 07-Feb-17 11:40:30

Is there no alternative entry route for non prep/overseas pupils? 70 is relatively high but not necessarily hard to achieve for a bright child. It is very specific though. Could you transfer him to a prep for years 7 & 8? Bear in mind other children will do little other than practice papers during y8 at a prep.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 07-Feb-17 11:40:48

Contact both schools and explain that your DS isn't in a prep, they should have an alternative exam for him to sit. Most schools offer an alternative bacause of families returning from abroad or potental boarders sitting from overseas.

Dearlittleflo Tue 07-Feb-17 11:43:14

Thank you. Both schools offer a scholarship paper which you can sit instead of CE (and means you can avoid CE if you do well enough, even if you aren't offered a scholarship). Maybe that would be a better route? I will ask.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 07-Feb-17 11:45:02

Scholarship is much harder than CE, so that is not your best alternative, there usually is another route sitting just Eng/Maths and the sciences so just ask.

LIZS Tue 07-Feb-17 11:47:43

Scholarship papers are usually extensions of CE syllabus, roughly gcse level but can be more discursive.

EleanorRigby123 Tue 07-Feb-17 12:01:47

Sorry not clear to me whether you have specifically asked the schools whether they have a non CE route for children at state/abroad. There are very few schools that do not.

I would not even attempt CE if you are not at an 8-13 prep. It is actually a very tedious syllabus and exam and I suspect its days are numbered.

All the schools want to know is whether your DS is performing at grammar school standard. So the scholarship papers - which are more general in nature - give more scope for this.
Your DS would not be expected to do all the maths questions, though if he is clever he may be able to attempt them. The last ones are usually off syllabus and aimed at identifying the very gifted mathematicians. Nor would he be expected to do any MFL papers unless he had studied a language for a couple of years. If you do choose this route, It is worth while getting hold of the papers and looking at them so he is not thrown by format and scope.

Has your DS done a pre test for these schools to receive these offers? If so, that means they are pretty sure he is at the required standard. And remember that with the exception of a very small handful of schools secondary boarding is a buyers market.

Needmoresleep Tue 07-Feb-17 12:12:28

We knew three boys who took CE for a very selective school without being at a Prep. One was totally exceptional, top of his year group, so probably could have taught himself. The parents of a second said it had been very hard work. He was essentially having to study a different syllabus in a number of subjects on top of the work he was doing at his good 11+ private school. The third failed in just about every subject, despite being clearly bright enough. He has recently been offered a place at a very top American University.

Most people, once they have a conditional offer, transfer their sons to a 13+ prep school. The prep schools love them, as they love to have very selective schools on their destination school list.

I would talk to the school and see what they suggest.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Tue 07-Feb-17 12:24:36

This should give you an idea of what he will be expected to know

Dearlittleflo Tue 07-Feb-17 12:42:56

Thank you, everyone. The schools are selective so he has already done pre-tests, assessments and interviews to get to this point.

I don't believe that either school offers a non-scholarship, non-CE route- IIRC at one of the open days someone asked whether her son would have to sit a Latin people if his school didn't offer this, and was told that he might drop that paper but not the rest, which suggests to me that there isn't a specific non-CE route.

For my son, he's at a good, academic school so hopefully will cover the curriculum required- he just won't have the specific CE preparation.

I will give the schools a ring and see what they say.

MrsBernardBlack Tue 07-Feb-17 12:43:29

CE is not hard as such, but it is obviously much more straightforward in a school that fully understands the system and used to preparing pupils for it. Doing it on your own risks missing some vital element of the curriculum, or

I agree with PPs that you need to speak to the admissions officers of the schools and ask their advice, not just rely on the website.

LIZS Tue 07-Feb-17 12:47:16

Don't assume, ask ! Not all prep schools offer Latin at that level, Spanish is often an alternative so you cant know the other child's background. Where would you propose he sits CE exams as it is normally taken at the current school then sent to the first choice school for marking.

EleanorRigby123 Tue 07-Feb-17 16:03:08

Pretty sure that that answer will have been to a parent with a child at a prep which DOES prepare for CE. These children are expected to take the exam. They can usually take an extra maths, MFL or general paper if they have not done Latin for long.

I would be interested to hear if anyone can name a secondary which insists on ALL entrants taking CE/Scholarship regardless of educational background. If such a school does exist, I think it could be challenged on diversity grounds. All these schools claim to be attempting the diversity of their intake - and offering bursaries etc in line with their charitable status. Obviously to insist that all had to take CE - ie that all had to have been in a private school before entering - would make an even bigger mockery of this.

OrlandaFuriosa Tue 07-Feb-17 16:09:01

Eleanor, at least one school I know insists you take its entrance exam, but if you haven't done Latin you aren't expected to do that bit!

Foxesarefriends Tue 07-Feb-17 16:12:18

My ds sat a different test for Tonbridge school as was from a state primary, this was four years ago.
In my experience, the schools either adjust for this or offer separate tests.

EleanorRigby123 Tue 07-Feb-17 16:18:15


So you mean they insist on CE/Scholarship from all regardless of educational background?

Most schools I know have their own exam for non CE candidates.

trinity0097 Tue 07-Feb-17 18:37:46

You can't sit CE unless at a prep school registered to register candidates for CE. you need to speak to the admissions department about what to do next, I am sure that they will have other routes that can be followed?

Needmoresleep Tue 07-Feb-17 18:44:15

Eleanor, as far as I am aware London schools like Westminster and St Paul's expect entrants to take CE or their own scholarship exams. And with a pass mark of 70+ in each paper.

Dearlittleflo Tue 07-Feb-17 20:03:59

Thank you, everyone, for these comments. I have spoken to the school we are most likely going to accept- they have confirmed that they only have their own scholarship exam or CE as options so there is no other route. They were quite reassuring though about boys coming from schools other than prep schools- seems there are some in every year, mainly from independents (as we are) plus a few from state schools.

Trinity, anyone can register for CE. If your child is not at a prep school you can register them yourself and find somewhere for them to take it, or they can sit the papers at their normal school provided someone can invigilate.

EleanorRigby123 Tue 07-Feb-17 21:31:08


Yes, I think you are right about Westminster and St Pauls. I imagine it is because they are predominantly day schools, particularly at the younger end, so the majority of state school applicants would enter at 11+. Presumably not worth their while setting their own exam at 13+ as there will be few if any applicants who are not at prep schools. And the handful coming back from abroad could attempt the scholarship papers.

OrlandaFuriosa Tue 07-Feb-17 23:38:29

Um, I don't think they necessarily use CE. And yes, they are concerned about access. That's prob why they don't use it,

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