Exam Preparation

The 13+ Common Entrance exam is used by a selection of prestigious independent schools including Eton, Harrow, St Paul’s School, King’s College Wimbledon, Dulwich College, and Wellington College. Taken in the Spring or Summer Term of Year 8, the 13+ exams assess a child’s ability across a broad range of subjects and use an exam format comparable to GCSEs.

Each year, The Golden Circle successfully prepares students for 13+ admissions at highly competitive independent schools. Using a new and exclusive AI-powered benchmarking assessment tool – the Academic Profiling Test – we offer a thorough, initial assessment to identify a student’s strengths and areas of improvement. Informed by data, we give parents evidence-based recommendations on the best schools for their child and create a 13+ route map to optimise results.

We keep a close contact with parents, providing weekly lesson reports so they can keep track of their child’s progress. For any parents new to the process, we have developed this beginner’s guide, so that you know what to expect as your child approaches the 13+ exams.

The 13+ process

1. Registration

Depending on the school, you will need to register your child 1 to 4 years before the start of Year 9. Early registration (4 years in advance) is required by schools such as Eton and Harrow which use a Pre-Test for children in Year 6 or 7. Other schools like Wellington College accept 13+ applications through a Late Admissions Route when your child is in Year 7.

The Pre-Test, taken in November of Year 6, is designed to assess the cognitive ability of a student through exams in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Students who meet the standards set by the schools will receive an offer on the condition that they pass their 13+ exams. There are few practice papers for the Pre-Test so in-house papers are used, designed by teachers who have experience of the admissions process and an in-depth knowledge of what schools are looking for.

To learn more about school choices, read our blog How to Find The Perfect School For Your Child

2. Prepare with the right papers

London Day Schools offer papers in Maths, English, Science and French. ISEB Common Entrance papers are used by other schools and include papers on a wide range of subjects including Humanities and Classics.

There are three levels of assessment that ISEB 13+ candidates may choose from (Levels 1-3). Your prep school will advise you on which level is appropriate for your child. Level 2 is the most popular choice among students. Students may also take the Common Academic Scholarship exam, used to identify candidates with a particular talent. This may help your child to receive an academic scholarship and reduce school fees.

3. Sitting the 13+ exams

Your child will take the 13+ exams in the Spring or Summer Term of Year 8. There are three core compulsory subjects: English, Maths and Science. Students need to demonstrate strong skills in at least two of them. In addition, students can also sit exams in optional subjects like Latin, Greek, Geography, History, Spanish or German.

When do they take place?

The 13+ Common Entrance exam is sat in Year 8. We recommend checking the school websites for specific exam dates. There are three exam series for the ISEB 13+ exams – in the Autumn, Spring, and Summer Terms, with the most common time to take them being in early June. The dates for 2022- 24 series can be found here.

The core papers


The English exam uses two papers to assess reading, comprehension, and writing skills.

    • Paper 1: Students are given a passage from a literary text and a series of questions that will evaluate their skills on understanding, comprehension, analysis, and evaluation. For the writing exercise, they will need to select one of the five non-fiction essays titles proposed and use their persuasive writing skills to develop a compelling piece.
    • Paper 2: Students will be given a poem followed by a series of questions to test their analytic skills. For their writing exercise, they will need to choose one essay title and write a creative piece. Developing model paragraphs, inspired by your child’s favourite books, is one way to prepare for this paper.


Students sit three papers in Maths: Calculator, Non- Calculator and Mental Arithmetic. The first two are levelled (Level 3 is the hardest and Level 2, the most common). All students take the Mental Arithmetic paper, which is delivered via audio.


Students may choose between two options. They will either sit one exam which combines Chemistry, Biology and Physics (Level 1) or take three separate exams for those subjects (Level 2, sat by most students).

How to prepare for 13+ exams

Making sure your child feels confident and prepared for the exams can make all the difference. There are many resources available online, including ISEB past exam papers, study skills revision guides and textbooks aligned with the 13+ Common Entrance syllabus.

An experienced Common Entrance tutor with in-depth knowledge of the examination process can also help you to navigate preparation. We asked them for their top tips on helping children to overcome exam stress and reach their full academic potential:

  • Plan for 12-14 months of focused revision. A slow but steady study routine is better than last minute cramming! This could involve 3 x 10 minute mental arithmetic exercises per week, 30-minutes of reading before bed, and a sacred weekend slot to make progress through an ISEB approved textbook
  • Mock exams. As exams approach, use free online past papers to familiarise your child with the format of the test. Taking them under timed conditions will help your child to get a feel for ‘the pace’ of 13+ exams.
  • Reading and writing exercises: Practising text comprehension, analysis and practical writing will be helpful to develop the necessary skills for the exam.
  • Keep an eye on your school websites and newsletters. Schools use the 13+ assessment process to get to know the characters, strengths, and personalities of each candidate. Their newsletter should provide insight into the school ethos and personality, as well as information on their examination process and what is expected.

At The Golden Circle, we provide families with guidance, support, and tuition for Common Entrance exams. Visit our Insights to discover more about exam preparation, or get in touch with us via our website to learn more.

We wish you the best of luck with your applications.