Over 200 independent secondary schools use the same entrance exam, called Common Entrance (CE); some also use a common scholarship paper (CASE, the Common Academic Scholarship Exam).
The CE papers are set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) and the answers marked by the senior school for which the child is entered. Each school sets its own pass mark that reflects the demand for places; thus the pass mark for one school may be 70%, for another 45%. If you fail to gain entry to your first choice, the scripts are automatically forwarded to your second choice if you have made one. The results are not collected centrally. CE is a rare area of education, free of league tables.
The exam is taken at age 11 or 13 (depending on the senior school). The subjects covered are English, maths and science; at age 13 they may also take papers in a modern and/or classical language, history, geography and religious studies.
Prep schools traditionally prepare pupils for CE. They will be geared to CE either at age 11 or at 13 (depending on the schools they regularly feed) but rarely both. It is important to ensure your chosen prep and secondary schools dovetail.
If your child is at a school that does not normally enter candidates for CE, get advice from either the senior school you are interested in or the ISEB. Do this early so your child has time to prepare. Syllabuses and past papers are available on the ISEB website, www.iseb.co.uk
Schools that use CE often have an alternative exam for applicants of non-standard age and sometimes also for pupils from schools that do not prepare for CE.