Making an Entrance: A Quick Guide to School Exams

Most independent schools around the world have some form of entrance test, which in some cases can be a very competitive process. We take a look at some of the tests and offer a few tips for relocating parents.

Teacher helping students
The perceived benefits of a UK education mean that it remains a highly popular choice for overseas students. Independent schools have a reputation for success – producing high achieving, confident students who are well placed to thrive in the future workplace.

UK independent schools

This means that competition for some independent schools is extremely fierce and new applicants have to demonstrate strong academic credentials and that they are suitable for the school’s unique learning environment.Most private schools' admission processes involve an entrance exam and an interview. Some schools set their own exams but many use national tests that are set by examination boards such as the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB).For students who have not grown up in the British school system and are applying from overseas, the process can seem overwhelming. Each school sets its own admissions criteria and there is no standard method for applying. 
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UKiset online assessment

UKiset is an online assessment for any international student that determines their suitability to study at some of the UK’s leading independent schools. Over 270 independent schools use the test, including some of the UK’s best-known schools such as Eton and Winchester College.The results of the test indicate how well the student compares to British children of the same age in the UK system and are used in conjunction with other assessments to determine their suitability for studying at the school.The online test enables students to sit it wherever they are in the world. It measures four skills:
  • Non-verbal reasoning (using images and diagrams to solve problems)
  • Verbal reasoning (using words to solve problems)
  • Maths
  • English
The student selects which schools they would like to send their test results to and their profile is then sent to the schools' admissions teams. The benefit to families is that it is a single entry test that can be used to apply to multiple schools, removing the lengthy preparation involved in sitting tests for individual schools.Many schools also insist on students having a UKiset profile before they will consider an application.Fiona McKenzie, Director of Gabbitas Education in the Middle East notes some of the benefits of the UKiset process. “There are many great things about this test, one is that it is a test you can’t actually prepare for. So, it has elements of a cognitive ability test but it is also an essay and assesses their grasp of the English language without being a disadvantage to international students. It also strips out verbal reasoning and works in line with their English language level. It ultimately assesses a child’s overall academic potential and works out their truer potential.”
Related articles from the Spring 2018 issue of Relocate Magazine:

Prep school admissions

To gain a place at a Preparatory School for students aged eight to 13 during the normal admissions rounds, pupils sit the 7+ entrance exam which normally focus on maths and English but may have some reasoning tests involved.The test is normally quite short and is held at the chosen school on a specific date. The process may also involve an interview.

Post 11 school applications

At the age of 11 or 13, children preparing to go to independent secondary schools take the Common Entrance (CE) exams, which are set in either a full range of subjects or just the core subjects such as English, maths and science. The tests are taken over two days (11+) or four days (13+).In some schools where competition for places is fierce, even before reaching this stage children are required to sit Common Pre-Tests in Year 6 or 7. The results from these then determine whether a child is suitable to sit the CE exam for their chosen school.With such a complex and competitive process involved, it is vital that parents ensure that they have all of the facts before deciding on schools and making financial commitments.

American and international schools

The Secondary Schools’ Admissions Test (SSAT) and The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) are American-based testing systems used by independent schools around the world. Like UKiset they assess the student in areas such as non-verbal reasoning and maths and then rank the student against other students within the same grade.The tests can be taken either online or at one of the global test centres.

Tips on preparing for entrance exams

  • Set realistic targets taking into account the academic ability of the child and their natural abilities
  • If hiring a private tutor, ensure that they have experience of tutoring for the specific test the child will be taking
  • There are some excellent resources that parents can use with their children, the SSAT has an official guide which parents can order here. In the UK, many useful resources are listed on the Independent Schools Exam Board (ISEB) website 
  • In addition to regular study, it is important that children also spend time doing practice examination papers to get them used to the format. Many good resources such as the Bond 11+ Books include practice exams
  • The child is likely to have an interview and enabling them to practice beforehand – perhaps with a friend or relative – will help them to get used to a process that may feel very alien to them at this stage
Find out who won the Relocate Awards 2018 new category: Inspiring Future Careers – Best Employer & School(s) Initiative, celebrate best practice and network at the Relocate Awards Gala Dinner on 10 May, book here.
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Learn more about UK school admissions in the Spring issue of our magazine

For related news and features, visit our Education and Schools section.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  ©2018. This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Relocate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein. 

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