Chapter 5 : How can I prepare for the 13+ exam?

The Common Entrance Exam is a challenge for every candidate, given the scope is so much larger than that of the 11+. For a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to apply for the Common Entrance at 13+, please see our Curriculum Guides.

These exams are set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board, and moderated by the individual schools themselves. They tend to be broken down like this:


1) Maths
  • Decimals, Fractions, Powers, Roots
  • Algebra
  • Reading data from graphs and diagrams
  • Geometry
  • 2D and 3D shapes
  • Complex addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
  • Word problems

Candidates shouldn’t encounter any unexpected surprises, but they may be expected to use their knowledge in different ways to usual. They also need to be able to consolidate topics from their entire primary school education.

The best way to keep on top of this is regular maths practice, focusing on difficult aspects.


2) English

This is usually split into two papers, and covers much of the same material as the 11+:

  • Paper 1:
    Literary Prose Comprehension – a passage followed by a few questions which test understanding.
    Writing – candidates will usually choose one of 4 essay titles and complete a short composition.
  • Paper 2:
    Unseen Poem Comprehension – questions which test understanding of poetic technique and responses.
    Creative Writing Piece – candidates will usually be asked to write a descriptive piece.

This section is all about understanding and imagination, which candidates can develop by practicing their story-writing skills. You can also get your child into the habit of summarising stories in order to develop their interpretation skills.


3) Science

This part of the exam will usually cover aspects of science lessons that children have done in school:

  • Forces & Movement
  • Materials
  • Environment
  • Human Body
  • Plants & Organisms
  • Electricity

A considerable chunk of the exam is How Science Works, any aspect that is explored further in secondary school. This is all about practicing safe and reliable experiments, and how to conduct yourself in the lab.


4) Further Humanities Subjects

These papers vary depending on the individual, but the most popular are:

  • Classics
  • Religious Education
  • History
  • Languages (French, Spanish being most common)

Since these are specific subjects, most children can benefit from focusing on them with a tutor, in order to delve deeper into the topics and organise their time. Take a look at our 13+ Tutors here.


5) Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning

Just like in the 7+ and 11+ exams, this section of the 13+ needs to be practiced regularly, with assessment papers available online and in most bookshops in the UK.