British Independent School Examination

"The 13+ Common Entrance examination is strongly supported by many of the top prep and independent senior schools in the UK"
Independent Schools Examinations Board

Since forever, it seems, British independent schools (paid "public schools") have educated children with a view to their continuing education in the public school system. It wasn't uncommon for middle-class families to send their kids to prep schools at an early age, a hangover from those days when one hired a nanny to take care of the kids as they grew up.

For the upper middle classes one can often expect to be sent to a prep school between the ages of eight and thirteen, with a view to attending a High School. Pupils are taught in the core subjects of English, Mathematics and General Science, and schools have options for other subjects, notably classical langauges (Latin and koine Greek), modern languages, History and TPR (Theology, Philosophy and Religion).

The exam is normally taken at age thirteen (the "13+"), though some schools have a test at age 11 (the "11+"). It seems that girls' schools most often use the 11+ exam, as girls' independent schools (at least in England) follow the same age track as state schools (where secondary education begins around that age). The 11+ examines only the core components, however.

The test is set by the Independent Schools Examination Board ("ISEB)", but is taken and marked at the local school. According to the ISEB website, an examination in Mandarin Chinese is also available as an online test, marked automatically. The exams are normally sat in July, but can also be taken in the January or November (some schools use these as "mock" exams to enable the students to cram for the real test).

When I was eleven I was sent to a prep boarding school near Oakham in England. My parents considered that public school education would be better for me, would build character (code for "toughen me up"), which it did. I remained at this school for 2½ years, during which time I took the 11+ exam (often used as a kind of trial exam at this particular school). I must not have done quite well enough, because when I was pulled out at age twelve to attend state school, I was sent to a lesser school rather than the grammar school as was expected of me. I can't have done too badly either though, because two years later I was admitted to a grammar school in Norfolk.

Of course I didn't get to take the 13+ itself, but what I remember of the curriculum pretty much fit in the categories above. My particular school was run by a Doctor of Theology and was of course strongly Church of England, so we were all inculcated in Latin and to some extent, Greek. There was a strong emphasis placed on Protestant theology, but from talking to the older boys there was clearly also a focus on general philosophy in the last two years.

Good grief, how quickly one falls back into those memories, and the language of classism! I can still hear the cries of the new boys, weeping for their lost mummies, and voices of all the upperclass boys, mocking the common classes. But this is what made The Empire great.

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