Pupil's Success Story
The Common Entrance - Preparing for it and Sitting the Exam
“I took my Common Entrance in the Spring of Year 8, which gave me a place at my secondary school. It is important to take your common Entrance seriously for two reasons.
1. Common Entrance is an exam that you have to pass (different schools have different pass marks) in
order be accepted at certain schools.
2. Common Entrance results often determine the sets and streams you are divided into in the first year.
Common Entrance covers a whole range of subjects which I found challenging because you have to
organise and juggle your revision across a multitude of subjects, some of which I did not particularly like.
In my experience, I revised by practicing a lot of past papers because exam technique was one of my specific challenges. You can buy papers but they can also be found on the internet for free. At school we were told to do six hours a day of revision in the Easter holidays. In my opinion smaller concentrated bursts of revision worked well for me. I personally find mind maps unhelpful and time consuming. However I like writing concentrated notes on notes cards which I kept in my pocket in the run up to the exams so that I could refer to them frequently. One of my friends recorded themselves reading key information and they had it on their phones so that they could listen to it on the way to matches etc. So I really think there is no right way to revise, it is just about finding what works for you e.g. are you a visual learner, can you learn from just reading or listening to something etc.?
Common Entrance is definitely a lot less work than preparing for an Academic Scholarship. However Common Entrance can be daunting, especially if you are required to achieve a certain percentage in order to gain a place at your senior school.
The day of the exam:
It is obviously very important to get a good night’s sleep before the exam and have a good breakfast, I recommend boiled eggs. I personally reviewed notes on the morning of my exam but some people may prefer to relax on the morning before the exam. Being organised, such as packing your bag beforehand with pencil case and everything else you will need for the exam reduces stress on what is already a stressful day. Make sure you know, or your school has told you, the exam rules, such as no phones and clear pencil cases. In the exam itself I really recommend having a highlighter in order to highlight key information in the question. Timings are really important so it is good preparation to practice the exam papers under timed conditions beforehand and during the actual exam to make sure you are always aware of how much time you have left because I remember particularly the RS and History exams being very tight for timing for me.
It is really important to stay balanced and healthy before and during exam season. You should not revise all day everyday; it should be balanced with exercise and hobbies and socialising.
At the time I had not been diagnosed as dyslexic but if you do have a learning disability then make sure you have the necessary support in place such as a reader, or a laptop or extra time etc.
I found it really, really important that once I had done an exam, to mentally bin it and move on. If I had a bad exam in the morning, it sometimes affected my performance in the afternoon. That is why when you have finished an exam, you have to bin it and move on because there is nothing you can do to change it. When I did Common Entrance all the exams took place over one week, so it was pretty intensive and stressful but once it was over we didn’t have to do any more work for the rest of the summer, which was fabulous!
On results day we were called in individually to hear our results just before we did our school play. Everyone got into the school they wanted to, however we were not told specific percentages necessarily. For some schools they just tell you a grade boundary which is set at different levels for different schools. For example at my school, the pass mark was 40% but the highest grade was an A at 60%. An A at another school was 80%. This is because some schools are non selective (take almost everyone) and others are highly selective and have high pass marks. Despite the pass mark being only 40% at my school, some people didn’t get this and they were still accepted into the school. If a school is high up in the academic league tables, you can bet it will require a higher Common Entrance pass mark. Some of my friends had a back up school which had a lower pass mark than their first choice.
I did a couple of scholarships on top of my Common Entrance exam. Scholarship assessments which are not for academic scholarships are often much earlier than Common Entrance exams, therefore there was a gap between the end of the scholarship assessments and the beginning my Common Entrance exams where I could catch some r and r (rest and recuperation) and cram revision. I remember some of my friends who were doing Art and Music Scholarships as well as Academic Scholarships, had all the assessments at about the same time of the year because the Academic Scholarships are much earlier than the Common Entrance.
At my school we did end of year exams in year 7 and were put into sets for Scholarship and Common Entrance based on the results of these exams. However I reckon the teachers also base it on the last year or two of school work.
It might have changed now but for Geography we did some coursework for the Common Entrance. It was good to get that out of the way and to know I already had a certain percentage of the marks for this when I entered the exam.
I had a brief stint of tutoring in the run up to the exams, which I found really useful because I could focus on specific topics that the teacher did not have time to go over again in class.
In my experience, if you have worked consistently in the last few years of school, so that you have a good foundation in all of the topics, then there is less work to do when it comes to revision.
My six top tips for Common Entrance are...
1. Preparation is key: start revising earlier in the year
2. Don’t stop doing sports and socialising (in moderation!)
3. Find out what revision methods work for you
4. Practice past papers and get feedback from teachers
5. Make sure you are clued up about the format of the exams e.g. timing, rules etc
6. And lastly, it will be worth it in the end because you get a long summer holiday off with no homework
I was fortunate to get an All-Rounder award to my school. By passing the Common Entrance and winning an All-Rounder award, I was able to be given a bursary and so gain a place to the school. This enabled me to go to a lovely school where I am enjoying boarding school life and the range of opportunities that it offers me.”