The ISEB Common Pre-Test is taken by many students applying to entry to independent senior schools. This article explains what the Pre-Test is, how it works, and what you can do to prepare for it.
What is the ISEB Common Pre-Test?
The ISEB Common Pre-Test is a pre-cursor to the 11+, usually taken in Year 6. The Pre-Test is an age-standardised exams used to assess a pupil’s attainment and potential prior to entry into a senior school.
The Pre-Tests are most commonly used by competitive independent senior schools (you can see a list of which ones here) to assess whether the candidate is suitable for the school before going ahead with their application. This helps the schools deal more effectively with the increasing demand of applications they receive. If the candidate is successful they will usually be offered a place, conditional on them passing the Year 8 Common Entrance Exam. It is important to note that the Pre-Test is a precursor to Common Entrance or Scholarship exams, which they will still be required to take.
The ISEB Common Pre-Test is a ‘shared assessment’ which a wide range of senior schools (around 75 in total) accept, including Eton College, Wellington College, St Paul’s, Harrow and Westminster. Candidates’ results will be shared amongst the schools to which they applied to so they will only need to sit the exam once.
Our webinar about the ISEB Common Pre-Test features explains the entire ISEB process; answering some challenging questions from parents including:
- Is the test tutor proof? How can I reduce my child’s anxiety around the test?
- Is it wise to rely on online adaptive preparation tools such as Atom?
- How does the ISEB pre-test fit into the wider context of 11 Plus and 13 Plus and school entrance exams?
- When should I start preparation for the ISEB pre-test?
- Is there an allowance for students sitting the ISEB pre-test who have SEN, a learning difficulty?
If you prefer to listen to a Podcast:
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ISEB Common Pre-Test Tutors
SLT provides expert tuition to help your child prepare for all parts of the adaptive, online ISEB pre-test. Each of the tutors listed below is known personally by us, and we will take care to match a tutor with just the right character and teaching style to help your son or daughter excel at literacy, numeracy and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Working with a tutor gives who is familiar with the particular entry requirements of specific day and boarding schools will provide invaluable advice about what the school is looking for.
Alex is a specialist Maths tutor who works with students from 11+ to Oxbridge level. Additionally, he works with students on their Oxbridge admissions.
Faizel is a qualified Primary School Teacher and has worked in one of London's top Independent Prep Schools. He specialises in Entrance Exam Preparation at 7+, 8+ and 11+.
Callum specialises in English and Maths tuition from 7+ up to GCSE, including 11+ and 13+ preparation. He is experienced in teaching children with special educational needs, particularly with English and creative writing.
Beth is a highly experienced tutor who has worked around the world, specialising in English tuition.
Verity specialises in online tuition, with a particular focus on English, 7+, 11+ and UKiset tuition.
Rajiv is an Entrance Exams specialist, specifically English, Maths and Science for the 11+ and 13+ exams. He also teaches Science and Latin up to GCSE level.
Matthew is a highly multidisciplinary tutor, with a particular specialism in Science, English, Maths and competitive Exam preparation, including the 13+, TSA, PAT, MAT and STEP exams.
Alex specialises in English and Maths tuition and has taught many of our home schooled students.
What does ISEB stand for?
ISEB refers to the Independent Schools Examination Board. If your child is applying for a place at an independent senior school, they will most likely sit the online Common Pre-Test that is provided by the ISEB as part of the admissions process.
Why do schools use the ISEB Pre-Test?
The Pre-Test is popular with schools because it narrows down the number of candidates to consider early in the process, reducing their assessment and administrative burden further down the line. It also means that they can make an offer (albeit a conditional one) to a strong candidate as early as possible, potentially ‘securing’ that candidate from competing schools.
For parents, the Pre-Test provides clarity on which schools their child might be accepted by, meaning there may be fewer applications to complete and higher chances of success. However, there is a lot riding on the Pre-Test for an assessment taken by children as young as 10. If your child has an off day or is a later developer, they may not be able to do themselves justice in their application.
What does the ISEB Pre-Test assess?
The Pre-Test includes four tests; mathematics, English (reading comprehension and grammar), verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.
- The English test assesses reading comprehension (this will cover fiction, non-fiction and poetry), cloze sentences (where keywords are covered up and students must use context clues to determine the missing word), SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and shuffled sentences (in which students must re-order a sentence where the words have been jumbled up).
- The maths test assesses mathematical ability relative to their national curriculum stage.
- The verbal reasoning test assesses thinking and problem solving with words and letters.
- And the non-verbal reasoning test assesses thinking with shapes, space, diagrams and pictures in both 2D and 3D formats.
What is the format of the ISEB Pre-Test?
The ISEB Common Pre-test is an online, multiple-choice test in mathematics, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. The test is usually administered and taken in the candidate’s prep school or the senior school to which they have applied. Each section can be taken separately or together, as decided by the school which administers the test.
The standard time for the four tests combined is 2 hours 15 minutes. Each test has its own time limit for completion. There is a progress bar at the top of each screen that indicates how far through the time they are so that candidates can pace themselves. This can be hidden by the candidate if they find it distracting.
The individual time allowed for each section is as follows:
- English – 40 minutes (there is no additional time allocated for the reading part of the comprehension. The reading and writing are included in the 40 minutes).
- Non-Verbal Reasoning – 30 minutes.
- Verbal Reasoning – 25 minutes
- Maths – 40 minutes.
When the test is being taken there are no practice questions before the ISEB Pre-Test begins but a pen and paper are allowed for working out in each section. Each question has multiple-choice answers and the candidate must select one before continuing. They will not be allowed to go back once an answer has been submitted.
How is the ISEB Pre-Test scored?
The ISEB Common Pre-test is age-standardised. This means that the test will be adaptive depending on the age of the candidate. For example, a child taking it early in Year 6 who may be young for their year group will not be disadvantaged compared to an older Year 6 child.
The difficulty of the questions will adjust based on the answers given. Each applicant will start with a medium-level question, and those who answer it correctly gradually move on to more challenging questions. This means that candidates may recover from a wrong answer which will allow them to attain a score that matches their own ability. It also means that children shouldn’t worry if they find the test harder as they go – it means they are doing well.
The final mark is known as the Standardised Age Score (SAS). This is calculated based on a child’s attainment, the difficulty of the questions and their age respective to their peers i.e. the number of questions answered correctly relative to their peers. Their result is then released directly to the senior schools which the candidate has applied for.
Each school will interpret the results differently depending on what they are looking for. As such, there is no set ‘pass mark’. When the mark is released to the senior school, they will use their standardised results to compare your child’s mark with those of the other children applying that year. More academically selective schools will be looking for a higher SAS average. Please note, however, that both parents and prep schools are unable to request their child’s result from the ISEB as the result will only be released to the senior schools which you have applied to.
How to prepare for the ISEB Pre-Test
It is important to remember that the aim of the test is to demonstrate your child’s potential, rather than their current knowledge. The ISEB has released a tips sheet for parents and guardians who would like to support their child’s preparation at home.
Having successfully helped many families prepare for the Pre-Test, we are pleased to share our own top tips for success:
- Leave plenty of time
No matter the assessment, we always advise beginning your child’s preparation at least a year in advance. This is especially the case for younger children who may never have prepared for an exam before. A regular course of preparation can reduce the pressure, ensuring they enjoy their learning and give the best account of themselves on the day.
- Build up your child’s skills
The fundamental skills needed for the ISEB Pre-Test can be built up in a fun, engaging way a long time before the test itself. To improve a child’s vocabulary, comprehension and grammar skills, there is still nothing like a good book! Instilling a reading habit in your child will stand them in good stead for the Pre-Test and for many other academic challenges further down the line. The same is true of maths. Traditional techniques like practising mental maths and times tables can go hand-in-hand with more modern approaches, such as online maths games, to boost your child’s numeracy skills. (BBC Bitesize is a good resource here.)
- Target your preparation
With a solid foundation of verbal and numerical skills, your child will be well placed to prepare for the specific questions they will be asked in the Pre-Test. ISEB does not release past papers but an experienced Pre-Test tutor will be well versed in the types of question your child will be answering on the day. They can target specific skills that need extra attention and ensure your child is as confident and well prepared as possible. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to book an expert tutor to support your child’s preparation for the Pre-Test and/or Common Entrance.
How to register for the ISEB Pre-Test and deadline
Parents and guardians may register their child through the ISEB Guardian Portal here. The registration is completed through a simple online admissions platform and there is no fee attached to the registration. Once submitted, you may login to your portal in order to edit or change your child’s registration if necessary. Once registered, you must check with your prep school and/or senior school(s) for the dates they will be holding the test.
The test may be taken anytime between October and June of the academic year. Although senior schools may set their own personal deadlines to ensure they see the results in time for applications. Once the test has been taken, the senior schools will be able to login into the ISEB to collect their candidates scores.
ISEB Pre-Test dates for 2023/24
This academic year the ISEB Pre-Test can be taken from 2nd of October 2023 until the 28th June 2024.
A pupil can only take a test once within a twelve-month period. If a candidate has taken more within that period, the first test result will be the one that stands.
The average mark in the Pre-Test is 100 and the top mark is 142. There is no set pass mark and different schools are free to set different entry requirements. However, for the most academically selective schools, it is best to aim for a mark above 120.
Around 75 independent schools in the UK use the ISEB Common Pre-Test. Some of the most well-known schools using the Pre-Test include Downe House, Eton College, Wellington College, Stowe, Brighton College, Winchester College, King’s School Canterbury, Tonbridge School, Dulwich College, Harrow, St Paul’s, Westminster, Radley College, Charterhouse and Marlborough College.
“Because of Russell’s efforts over half term, Doug’s marks in his Common Entrance improved so much! I can’t thank him enough”.
Mrs. T, 11+ Preparation
“Erin made the whole process of the 11+ simpler and instilled great confidence in my son and the belief in himself. Always well presented, punctual and reliable. We would have no hesitation to recommend Erin to anyone”.
Mrs. G, 11+ Preparation
“Adam was a wonderful tutor, who worked hard to build up a rapport with James. James was offered several places and an academic scholarship.
Mrs. S, 13+ Preparation