The ISEB Common Pre-test: Your Questions Answered

The ISEB Common Pre-Test, commonly referred to as the ISEB Pre-test, is an adaptive entrance exam used by UK senior schools as part of their admissions processes.

With Eton College, Harrow, St Paul’s and Westminster among some of the first schools to introduce the ISEB Pre-test, the recent evolution of entrance exam processes has prompted an increasingly universal adoption of the test across UK selective schools.

The following guide answers the most frequently asked questions around the ISEB Pre-test and provides you with a general overview of how to tackle it with your child.

What is the ISEB Pre-test?

The ISEB Pre-test are widely used, computerised, adaptive and age-standardised tests designed to provide independent senior schools with information about a pupil’s current attainment and potential.

The adaptive nature of the test allows schools to measure a pupil’s academic potential and identify suitable candidates across a level playing field by taking into consideration whether the child is one of the oldest or youngest in its year.

What does the ISEB Pre-test involve?

It consists of four multiple-choice tests in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. It is adaptive, which means that the test will adjust its level of difficulty depending on how the child has answered up to that point.

The tests can be taken separately or together, however, each test must be finished in one sitting once started.

What does ISEB stand for?

The ISEB is the Independent Schools Examination Board. It is the examining body that sets the Common Pre-test increasingly used by the independent school sector.

Which schools use the ISEB Pre-test?

The extensive list of schools that use the ISEB Pre-test as of 2022-2023 can be found here.

How long is the ISEB Pre-test?

In total, the tests take approximately 2.5 hours to complete.

What is a good ISEB Pre-test score?

There is no pass or fail mark and results are not shared with parents. The test provides the schools with a standardised score, based on the age of the child, their accuracy and the level of difficulty they achieved. Each school has different requirements and uses the scores in different ways. For some schools, the main drivers are the interview and the reference from the child’s current school, with the ISEB Pre-test results used in the initial screening.

Can you retake the ISEB Pre-test?

The test can only be taken once per academic year and, as a rule, cannot be retaken. However, some schools will place a child on a waiting list and allow them to retake the test the following year, but this is not based on the test score alone.

Is the test accessible for children with English as an Additional Language (EAL)?

Yes. For children with EAL, the provision of a bilingual dictionary may be requested. Schools may decide that not all elements of the test are suitable for assessing a candidate with EAL, but this is decided on an individual case basis.

Is the test accessible for children with Special Education Needs or Disabilities (SEND)?

Yes. Accessibility features have been built into the online testing platform and access arrangements can be made in order to support candidates with SEND. The senior schools must be informed and should approve any provisions or adjustments prior to the test being taken.

How to prepare for the ISEB Pre-test?

Although the official guidance is that it is not necessary for children to prepare, the very nature of the tests may cause children who are unprepared to buckle under the pressure and fail to perform to their full potential. Preparation is therefore crucial. Here are our top tips:

Know what to expect. The Pre-test challenges pupils with a large amount of unseen material and complex, multi-step problems. Children must therefore have developed a solid basis of skills for confronting these difficult tasks, as well as the resilience not to be thrown off by the timer on screen.

Practice. Online practice tests, past papers and textbooks enable students to familiarise themselves with the structure and content of the test.

Enlist the help of a tutor. In addition to other resources, it is strongly recommended to work in conjunction with a tutor. Guided tuition can help develop crucial exam skills and provide strategies for tackling tricky comprehension questions. Of equal significance is the opportunity for one-to-one support from a tutor in building the reading and arithmetic skills necessary to succeed in the tests.

Think well in advance. Parents should also be mindful that it is necessary to grow these skills over time. With the prime point of intake being Year 7, a good time to start preparing for the ISEB is when children are heading into Year 5 . In doing so, by the time they take the tests, children will be well-positioned to secure a place at a school that speaks to their true individual ability and needs.

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If you would like some guidance around preparing for the ISEB Common Pre-test please contact us, Bruton Lloyd tutors are available to help.