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Entry to UK boarding schools

Public Examination

Interviews and Tests

All UK boarding schools use interviews and entrance tests to determine a) whether to accept a pupil and b) which class to place them in for different subjects.

Each school determines both the type of tests and the levels at which they will offer places. There is no standard. Some use the traditional Common Entrance, many now use UKiset, others have their own. You need to decide which schools you will apply to and then find out what their entry requirements will be. At ITS we have years of experience of preparing students for this process for a huge variety of schools, from the very famous to the not so famous (but equally good).

Parents should note that the aim is not to cram for the exam but to teach children the gaps in their present curriculum compared to the UK curriculum so that they will be able to perform in the entrance assessment AND be ready to join their peer group on arrival in the UK.

You may be applying to schools independently, through a “free” agency or through a concierge service. Whichever route you use, make sure you find out which interviews and tests will be required and when. ITS will then plan out your child’s preparation to maximise their chances of success. Your plan will include interview theory and practice, approaches to reasoning tests and content teaching and familiarisation for subject tests at the appropriate level.

Please read the following FAQs. If you have a specific question that is not dealt with here, please contact us. We will send you the answer and add the question to this page for the benefit of other parents.

To start the process of preparation, whether you have already chosen schools or not, please complete our booking form.


Frequently Asked Questions


The Common Entrance Exam is a type of test used by UK private schools, including top boarding schools, as part of their student selection processes. The first Common Entrance Examinations took place over one hundred years ago. There are two types of Common Entrance Examination:

The 11+ is sat by students in UK Year 6 (equivalent to Hong Kong P6) who are applying for entry into UK Year 7.

The 13+ is sat by students in UK Year 8 (equivalent to Hong Kong F2) who are applying for entry into UK year 9, which is the year before students begin their GCSE studies.

The Common Entrance Exam is set by ISEB

ISEB stands for the Independent Schools Examination Board. ISEB is responsible for setting 11+ and 13+ Common Entrance Examination papers.

Students applying for places at UK boarding schools are likely to be asked to take entrance tests. Most schools are likely to ask international students to sit their own test papers or the online UKiset, rather than the Common Entrance Examination. Fewer and fewer schools use Common Entrance for international students. However, if your child is at prep school in UK already and looking to move up to senior school, they may well face the CEE 13+.

This varies according to the age of the child:

Overseas Students applying for places in UK school Years 7 through 10 - Almost all schools that require entrance tests will ask students to sit papers in Maths and English. They may also require them to sit papers in Science, Verbal Reasoning and/or Non-Verbal Reasoning. A few schools may ask students to sit papers in other subjects.

Overseas Students applying for places in UK school Year 12 (Sixth Form) - Students applying for places in Year 12 are likely to have to sit tests in some or all of the A Level, Pre-U or IB Diploma subjects that they are planning to take. As students who have been studying in the Hong Kong education system no longer take HKCEEs, UK schools have no formal test results to go on when offering places and are therefore likely to place more emphasis on entrance tests. If you are unsure which subjects your child will be tested on, contact us and we will help you with your query.

The dates and locations for entrance test sittings vary. Some schools require students to take entrance tests at their premises in the UK. Others are happy for students to sit tests in their home country. Schools that allow testing overseas may require tests to be administered in a specific location (e.g. the British Council, the student’s current school or at a particular educational consultant’s offices). Exams take place at any time between November and May of the academic year before entry.

ITS is able to provide invigilation services for many schools’ entrance tests. Contact us for the latest information on school entrance test policies, dates and locations.

One school may set 60% as an average on the papers whereas another may require 50%. Parents will always be told what the particular school expects prior to the examination being sat. For candidates whose first language is not English, there is some flexibility. They may be allowed dictionaries and up to 25% extra time. They may be allowed a lower pass mark in the English papers. Parents should remember that there are no fixed benchmarks. Every student is different, as is every school, and you can ‘negotiate’ the entry requirements.

Schools are almost certain to set a pass mark for each paper, but they may not make this mark available to applicants. This is because the number of students that pass the exam may be greater than the number of places are available. Factors other than exam scores may then come into play. For example, a school may choose a student who has achieved a pass mark but who has scored lower than other candidates, if they will contribute to the school in other ways, such as in music or sport. Students should aim to do their very best in tests, rather than focusing on what they need to do to achieve a pass mark.

Many overseas students have no public examinations at the time when they apply for a UK Year 12 entry. A student can address this by taking IGCSEs. The results will provide a formal, independent assessment of their knowledge of a particular subject. Taking IGCSEs offers another benefit. UK school entrance tests are based on the UK National Curriculum. A student who has taken an IGCSE in a particular subject will be familiar with the National Curriculum; a student who has not done so may have gaps in their knowledge. A student can, of course, address such gaps through tuition with ITS. Having done so and if time allows, they might as well take the relevant IGCSE. However, we should emphasise that their is no requirement for students to take IGCSEs. Schools will generally be happy assess students' performance based on entrance tests and school reports. ITS is a fully accredited Edexcel exam centre. Students can take a full range of IGCSEs. All subjects are available in our Hong Kong schools or via our online school by live lessons with the same teachers.

Maths is taught differently in the UK compared to Asian countries. There are some topics that UK students will have covered with which Asia-based students might not be familiar. They may also encounter words with which they are not familiar or have difficulty understanding the instructions that they are meant to follow. For example, most entrance tests require students to show their workings as well as their answers. A student who gets every answer right, but fails to show his or her workings will perform poorly. Maths problems are often hidden in problem-based scenarios written in English. Weak English language skills can get in the way of being able to show maths ability. Even a very strong mathematician may therefore need some help to learn how to do UK Maths.


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