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06 November 2020

ISEB Common Pre-Test - An Essential Guide

With an increase in the use of the ISEB Common Pre-Test for entry to senior schools at both 11+ and 13+, here are the facts:  

The Common Pre-Test, which is designed by GL Assessment, is set by the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) and taken in year 6 or Year 7 depending on the entry requirements for specific senior schools. The Pre-Test consists of four adaptive, multiple choice, online tests in Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, English and Maths. Adaptive means that when a pupil answers a question correctly the level of difficulty increases and, if they are finding a level too hard it will become simpler, thus each child will be challenged to achieve at the highest level they are able. The tests take around two and a half hours if taken consecutively and are completed, where possible, at the child’s prep school. This academic year, we have scheduled the ISEB Pre-Test for the week beginning 16 November. The tests will be taken over two days with the English and Verbal Reasoning tests on day 1 and the Maths and Non-Verbal reasoning tests on day 2.

Format of the Pre-Test
The English Test is a comprehension followed by some punctuation, spelling and grammar questions and takes a total of 25 minutes. The Verbal Reasoning element takes 36 minutes and contains six different types of Verbal Reasoning question. The Non-Verbal Reasoning element takes 32 minutes and contains three different types of non-verbal reasoning questions. For both these tests, there are practice questions at the start of each section. The Maths Test takes 50 minutes and has 36 questions to answer. The questions are worded using simple English and mathematical vocabulary and range from simpler ordering questions to more applied, multi-step word problems. There are practice questions at the start of this test too.
The ISEB Pre-Test is designed not to require any preparation and the ISEB does not offer any practice papers or tests. At the Hampshire School Chelsea we incorporate preparation for senior school entrance tests, including the ISEB Pre-Test, into the curriculum starting at a young age with reading, number skills and cognitive development all playing an important part in how well a pupil will perform. From year 2, we provide preparation during timetabled Critical Thinking lessons. Familiarisation of adaptive tests is embedded from year 5 and we provide practice using online adaptive programmes and the ISEB demo (
There is no pass mark as every school has different requirements and uses the test scores in different ways. The ISEB Pre-Test generates a standardised score based on the age of the child, the level of difficulty they achieved and their accuracy. This means that if a child is young for their academic year, the results will be adjusted to give an age-adapted score and the child will not be disadvantaged when compared with an older child. This is similar to the way in which the Cognitive Ability Tests (CAT4) are scored, which our pupils are familiar with.
Selective schools will use the ISEB Pre-Test score, along with the prep school’s reference including the CAT4 scores, as an initial cut off point. Most schools will then invite successful pupils back for a further test and/or group activities and an interview. After this, they will offer a place, a waitlist place or no place. Unfortunately, because the tests can only be sat once per academic year and cannot be re-taken. Fortunately, the senior school will have sight of the school’s reference and the child’s CAT4 scores, and if there is a significant discrepancy in the pupil’s performance the senior school may contact us to see if there were any circumstances affecting the child on the day. Equally, we will contact the senior school if a child had a wobble while taking the test. Therefore, although the ISEB Pre-Test is an important element of the admissions process for an increasing number of senior schools, it is not the only source of evidence for an offer of a place. The foundation for success in the ISEB Pre-test starts in early years and our Pre-Prep where we aim to foster a love of learning and facilitate rapid development in reading, numeracy and cognitive skills that enable the successful application of knowledge to problem-solving. Parents are able to monitor their child’s potential for success in the ISEB Pre-Test with reference to the CAT4, NGRT, NGST, PASS, PTE, PTM and PTS annual standardised results which are published to parents.
For further information regarding the timing of standardised assessments please refer to the school's Assessment Policy. For support with applications to senior schools, I am always available for consultations or please contact Mrs McDonald, Head of Academic.
Dr Edmonds


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The Hampshire School Chelsea

15 Manresa Road, Chelsea
London, SW3 6NB

Tel: +44[0] 207 352 7077