It has been a staple of private education for more than 100 years, with young children competing in a series of gruelling tests for places at some of the UK's most prestigious schools.
But the Common Entrance exam - used by 250 senior independent schools to determine who gets in - is set to be overhauled, or even dropped, amid concerns that it produces children who are spoon-fed with facts but do not know how to learn.
From September, a small group of preparatory schools, with the support of leading public schools including Harrow School, Marlborough College and Uppingham School, will begin trialling a Prep School Baccalaureate. This will enable schools to assess pupils in all their activities, from core academic study to sport, drama and music.
Pupils will even receive grades for their "skills and attitudes", such as how well they learn and whether they display leadership qualities, and will leave school with a portfolio of grades and an average overall mark to present to secondaries.
The approach is in stark contrast to the Common Entrance exam, which tests pupils only on their core academic ability.
The idea for the baccalaureate came from The Beacon School, a prep in Amersham, which began to develop its own leaving certificate in 2007. Eight schools will be running the two-year baccalaureate from this September, with five or six more doing so from 2014.