The Northern Ireland transfer test: Common Entrance Assessment (CEA)

Northern Ireland secondary transfer test guide for parents
Since the 11+ was discontinued in 2008, pupils in Northern Ireland have taken a transfer test for grammar school entry. We explain what's involved in the Post Primary Transfer Consortium test and the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA).

Which schools require an 11+ pass?

In 2008, 11+ exams were abolished in Northern Ireland in an attempt to make the education system more equal. However, many of the grammar schools in the country quickly responded by producing their own entrance exams, or transfer tests, to avoid becoming mixed-ability comprehensives.

The schools then began to collaborate with each other on testing arrangements, and there are now two consortia of schools in Northern Ireland – the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC) – which both use an entrance assessment as part of their selection criteria. A handful of schools belong to both consortia, so you can decide which entrance test you would like your child to take.

The PPTC is made up of 35 schools:

The AQE is made up of 34 schools:

What do the PPTC tests involve?

Children taking the tests of any of the PPTC schools will sit papers in English and mathematics. All questions are multiple-choice. The mathematics test starts with three familiarisation questions, which are worked through with the children, and six practice questions. The main assessment is made up of 45 questions in 45 minutes. The English test has three familiarisation questions (comprehension) and seven practice questions (four spelling and three punctuation), which take 20 minutes to complete. The main assessment then begins, where children have to work through three reading passages and 60 questions in 50 minutes, which aims to assess their skills in comprehension, spelling and punctuation.

The PPTC tests are often referred to as the GL Assessments.

What do the AQE Common Entrance Assessment tests involve?

Children taking the tests for any of the AQE schools will be assessed on their English and mathematics ability, based on the present primary school curriculum. The Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) consists of three one-hour tests, which the children will take on three different Saturday mornings. Each paper includes both subjects and includes standard format questions in maths with some multiple-choice questions in English.

What version of the test is used?

The PPTC use tests developed by GL Assessment. 

The AQE test produces the CEA itself.

How do you arrange for your child to take the test?

Registration packs for the PPTC schools are available from any of the assessment centres or via the website. You will need to nominate your three preferred assessment centres, and return the registration form by post to the school which you have named as your first choice assessment centre. You'll need to provide a recent passport sized photograph of their child and a birth certificate with their registration form. One registration form covers all the schools listed and the outcome of the tests can be shared among the schools.

In order to enter your child for the AQE CEA you need to fill in an application form which is available from the AQE office or any of the participating schools, or can be downloaded on their website. Once completed, it should be posted or delivered to the AQE office. Parents must include three passport photographs of their child with the form, along with a copy of their birth certificate. There is also a fee of £45 to cover admin costs, payable at the time of registration, although this is waived for children in receipt of free school meals. Parents are also able to indicate on the form should they wish their child to sit the test in Irish.

Where are the tests held?

PPTC tests are held, where possible, in your nominated assessment centre. The CEA takes place at the AQE grammar schools, and you're asked to name your preferred three venues on your registration form.

What is the pass mark?

For PPTC schools, the test scores are formally standardised to take account of differences in children's ages. Valid standardised scores range from 69 to 141.

For AQE schools, your child's best two scores from the three assessments are used to calculate the CEA result. AQE feel this gives all children the best opportunity to show their true potential, while allowing for them to have an 'off day'. You can opt to enter your child for only two of the three tests, but in this case, both of your child's marks will count towards their final result. Pass marks vary from school to school so AQE strongly advises parents to contact their preferred schools to find out the minimum scores accepted by them in the past three years.

How can I help prepare my child?

Once you register to sit the entrance exam for any of the 35 PPTC schools, you're sent a registration pack which details the topics being assessed by the exam and includes samples of the English and mathematics practice and assessment papers being used, as well as a sample answer sheet.

Sample test papers and answers are available for free download from the AQE website, and you can also buy full past papers.

Transfer Test Papers sells printed and downloadable mock tests and preparation booklets for both the CEA and GL Assessments Transfer Test.