ISEB – Independent Schools Examinations Board

ISEB – Independent Schools Examinations Board

What is the Common Entrance?

The Independent Schools Examinations Board is probably best known for producing the Common Entrance examinations which boys and girls sit to gain entry to some of the best independent schools in the UK and overseas. The examinations are set by highly qualified and experienced teachers from the country’s leading schools and are widely regarded as the gold standard for assessment at 11+ and 13+.

Common Entrance is the name for a set of examinations taken by boys and girls for entrance to senior independent schools at 11+ or 13+. The syllabuses are devised by the Independent Schools Examinations Board which is composed of Heads from the three Associations which represent the leading independent schools in the country: The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, The Girls’ Schools Association and The Independent Association of Prep Schools. The papers are set by examiners appointed by the Board, but the answers are marked by the senior school for which a candidate is entered.

Candidates may normally be entered for Common Entrance only if:

  • they have been offered a place at a senior school subject to their passing the examinations


  • they are entered for internal marking, in which case the papers are marked by the candidate’s junior school

The examinations are usually taken in the candidate’s current school. 11+ candidates sit examinations in English, Mathematics and Science when they are in Year 6, usually for girls’ schools. 13+ candidates also sit examinations in these core subjects, alongside papers selected from a wide range of humanities, languages and classical subjects.

The 11+ examinations may be taken in the autumn or spring term of Year 6 prior to entry to senior school the following September. The 13+ examinations are taken in the autumn, spring or summer term of Year 8, again prior to entry to senior school the following September. Senior schools decide at which stage in the year the examinations are to be taken.

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ISEB Common Pre Tests:


The Common Pre-Tests are designed to give senior independent schools information about prospective pupils’ attainment and potential, prior to further assessment in Year 8. The tests are commissioned from GL Assessment which has long been associated with providing high-quality and reliable assessments in education. The tests are normally taken in Year 6 or Year 7 when a pupil is aged between 10 and 12.

The key features of the tests are:

  • they cover verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and mathematics
  • they are online and adaptive
  • they are in a multiple-choice format
  • they take about two-and-a-half hours to complete (English 25 minutes, mathematics 50 minutes, non-verbal reasoning 32 minutes, verbal reasoning 36 minutes)
  • the four tests can be taken together or at separate times; in the candidate’s own school, at the senior school for which he or she is entered or at an independent testing centre
  • candidates are registered by the senior school(s) for which they are entered
  • results are available to all senior schools which register the same candidate and therefore a candidate need only sit the test once for a range of senior schools
  • full technical support is given to schools which use the tests
  • the tests are unique to ISEB and are standardised for the independent sector

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