The evolution of entrance exams

Sponsored: Julia Martin, chief executive officer of the Independent Schools Examinations Board, discusses the Common Pre-Test, created in partnership with GL Assessment

The pandemic has tested schools and teachers as never before. Yet, despite the challenges of the past 15 months, the independent sector has stepped up to provide high-quality remote learning for tens of thousands of students and has quickly learnt how to best use technology to keep schools running effectively.

Coronavirus-hit schools had to completely rethink how they ran every element of their operation and that included a reappraisal of how to manage their entrance examination process.

We know that transition is an important stage for schools, teachers, parents and pupils alike. Virtual open days are one thing, but how do you get around the logistical challenge of prospective students sitting your exams and managing those expectations? When traditional on-site exams are not possible, what other options are there to support school transition?

The online Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) Common Pre-Test (CPT) was already being used by numerous senior schools before the pandemic struck, but many more have seen its potential over the recent months, with numbers doubling in the last year.

It’s an adaptive, multiple-choice exam for students in Year 6 or Year 7, standardised for the independent sector, and created in partnership with GL Assessment. It tests verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and mathematics, and the results can be used alongside a school reference and interview performance to assess each candidate.

Senior schools like the adaptive nature of the CPT because it provides a test that caters for children of different abilities. They also appreciate that it can be taken in a student’s own prep school or at an independent test centre. And, because the test is online, schools have the benefit of receiving the results quickly. Results that not only measure a candidate’s attainment, but their potential too.

From discussions with heads of admissions and registrars, it’s clear that they find the CPT an incredibly useful way to understand how a student may perform in the 13+ Common Entrance and even GCSEs in the future.

Senior schools like the adaptive nature of the CPT because it provides a test that caters for children of different abilities

The head of admissions at Wellington College, which has used the CPT for the past seven years as one part of its detailed admissions process explained that they “value it as a very helpful way of assessing academic ability and potential in conjunction, critically, with contextual references from schools.”

The process of onboarding schools onto the CPT is something that ISEB has worked hard at. It’s very quick, and the organisation has developed a sophisticated back-end system that streamlines the process for both the schools overseeing the test and those waiting on the results.

By listening to its school customers, they have built their needs into the system and tackled some of the complex administrative challenges of sharing test results for candidates between schools.

Another aspect of the CPT is that parents like it, too. Their children only sit a single set of tests with the results then shared with multiple schools. And age standardisation of the data is also something that everyone appreciates. The CPT considers whether a child is a summer baby, or one of the oldest in their school year. It’s one more way for a school to ensure that its entry process is fair, whatever time of the year the test is sat, and therefore one less thing for a parent to worry about.

The point about age standardisation was also felt worthy of note by the head of admissions at Wellington who observed that the school “finds the standardisation to be robust and the age-adjusted nature of [the test] is helpful. The results align well with other standardised assessments that we ask our pupils to do when they join and, hence, remain relevant to us when the pupils enter Year 9.”

As we come out of the pandemic, there are many elements of school life that will return to ‘normal’, but equally this is a time when we can learn some lessons from technology and adapt certain aspects of school routines that really need modernising. A standardised common test reduces the number of examinations pupils may have to take and, with an increased focus on student wellbeing post-pandemic, it provides a confident marker of pupil performance in one established digital assessment that is recognised by a raft of independent schools across the country.

We’ve heard a lot about the lost learning that our children have had to endure this past year. Children can miss a lot of school if they take a series of similar admissions tests at different schools and the online CPT really is a smart and effective way to cut down on this.

To find out more about the ISEB Common Pre-Test, please visit GL Assessment’s website

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