13plus Scholarship: The best resources to pass the hardest 13+ exams

"The imposing quadrangle at the historic Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire.  Lupton's Tower in the centre dates from Tudor times."
Eton College, Windsor

13plus scholarship exams, are not like the 13+ entrance tests or ISEB pre-tests, and have a reputation of being notoriously tricky. However, with no set syllabus and with different schools asking for different things, it can be hard to know how and what to revise. 

13+ scholarship exams: What do they entail?

Scholarships vary from school to school. Some independent schools, such as Eton and Westminster, write their own scholarship papers. Others, such as Brighton College and Stowe, use assessments set by ISEB – the Independent Schools Examinations Board. (A comprehensive list of secondary schools that use ISEB papers is available on their official website.)

In most cases, children will take multiple tests covering a range of subjects. Some of these – such as Maths, English and Science – will be compulsory. Others will be optional, designed to play to the strengths of individual students. What’s more, if your child is an external candidate the assessment process may be more rigorous and require references from former teachers.  

It is also important to remember that exams aren’t everything. Some head teachers like to interview pupils as well, although this usually takes the form of a relaxed conversation and requires significantly less preparation. 

Revision Tips

How your child prepares for the 13+ scholarship will partly depend on which papers they are taking – for example, whether they are taking extra science papers, or additional languages such as Latin and Greek. 

However, here is some general advice about the revision process and some useful resources for the compulsory Maths and English tests.

13 plus workbooks

Available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and lots of other retailers, 13+ workbooks are a great starting point for revision – particularly for subjects like Maths and Science. CGP and ISEB publish a variety of study books containing hundreds of exam-style questions, with all answers listed in the back. 

13+ Past exam papers: 

Lots of independent schools have archives of past papers on their websites. These are perfect for getting children used to the type of questions that come up and the format of different assessments. Eton’s King’s 13+ Scholarship Exam and Westminster’s The Challenge are an excellent resource of past exam papers going back several years. Regardless of which school a child is preparing for these papers are challenging and provide excellent exam practise.

13+ Scholarship Resources: Go up a level to GCSE

13+ Scholarship exams are deliberately difficult – significantly more difficult than the standard 13+ Common Entrance exam – and competition is fierce, particularly at prestigious schools such as Wellington and Harrow. GCSE higher tier textbooks will familiarise children with more difficult questions. For example, a maths scholar would do well to cover some further algebra and ratios problems. The BBC’s GCSE Bitesize website also has an array of questions and easy-to-read explanations. If your child likes revising on the computer, the MathsWatch revision CD is also a fantastic resource. 

Data practice

Geography and Science scholarship papers often present students with graphs and tables of data to analyse, and ask them to apply their existing knowledge to real life scenarios. This can be daunting if you have never practised it before. It’s worth paying particular attention to data questions in past papers therefore; focus on how to read the questions very carefully, paying attention to every detail. 

13+ Scholarship Tuition

Once you’ve implemented our revision tips if your child finds a particular subject difficult, or needs to be challenged in certain areas, one-to-one tuition can be very valuable. The 13+ team at Hampstead & Frognal Tutors has successfully prepared students for top private schools across the country, helping children achieve their full academic potential.  If you would like we have a simple 13+ tutor request form here and we can contact you to arrange a free telephone consultation.

13 plus Online resources

There are so many educational websites and apps out there, it can be hard to know where to start. For Maths revision, Kahn Academy, MyMaths and BBC Bitesize are rigorous and reliable. Meanwhile, Duolingo is an excellent free app for language learning, and Memrise is good for vocabulary practice. 

13+ Scholarship Exam syllabuses

Where possible, find out in advance what topics your child will be tested on. ISEB publishes a very detailed list of syllabuses, setting out exactly what could come up in its assessments, which is available on the ISEB official website. Meanwhile, some schools provide their own academic scholarship syllabus. Harrow School, for example, sets out the format of its exams so children know what to expect. A similar document is available every year for Charterhouse. A quick search on 13+ admissions Charterhouse would get you to the dedicated page on Scholarships.

Read, read, read

Reading is one of the best ways for pupils to prepare for an English Scholarship paper. Encourage your child to read widely – fiction and non-fiction – and pick out particularly tricky passages for them to focus on. This will stand them in good stead for comprehension tests, which often quiz pupils on tricky pieces of prose and poetry.

Practise creative writing

Creative writing is a major part of most English scholarship papers. Come up with some article, short story or poetry ideas for your child to write about. This will help them get better at writing against the clock and being imaginative on the spot. 

Hold a dress rehearsal

Hold a couple of sample papers back and, shortly before the exam, ask your child to sit them under strict exam conditions. This will get used to the time pressure and help them feel more confident when the big day arrives. 

Scholarships versus Bursaries

If you are concerned about school fees, bursaries are another option to consider. While scholarships are based purely on academic, artistic or sporting ability, bursaries are means tested and tend to be more generous, covering full or partial fees, as well as uniform and school trips in some cases.

Useful Websites

ISEB Pretest Schools

King’s Scholarship Exams for Eton

Westminster Challenge Papers