The Real Scoop on The ISEB Common Entrance Pre-Test



The ISEB Pre-Test is aimed at providing a platform through which independent senior schools can gather information and measure a pupil's academic potential.

The test therefore aims to identify  the potential of a student rather than focusing solely on their academic ability.

The ISEB can be challenging for new parents to understand, however, this article will guide you through some of the main facts concerning it.

Key Facts About the ISEB Common Pre-Tests

• It’s usually taken by pupils in Year 6 who are ages 10-11.

• It provides a measure of ability and potential.

• It tests English, Maths, Verbal, and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

• It takes about 2.5 hours to complete.

• The text is taken online and is not paper-based.

• The questions are adaptive (correctly answered questions will lead to harder questions).

• The Maths and English tests are based on the National Curriculum.

• The tests are multiple-choice style.

• The tests are used by competitive independent schools to select which pupils could potentially be a good fit for their school.

• Candidates can only take a test once per academic year. 

• The test can be taken at a child’s current prep school.

Why should your child sit the Pre-Test?

Sitting the Pre-Test helps to measure pupil's learning over a given period. It provides independent schools with evidence that pupils have satisfactory proficiency at KS2 level and have the potential to excel in KS3 and KS4 exams.

Furthermore, it gives teachers the opportunity and ability to establish, one or two years in advance, the academic potential of the pupil transferring to their school.

Ultimately, schools need to know if pupils meet their academic standards. If a child passes the Pre-Test, they are usually offered admission, although they are still required to pass the Common Entrance exam at 13+.

Each school has the power to decide on how they use a child's Common Pre-Test results. Competitive and popular secondary schools often use the Pre-Test to shortlist pupils.

Which Schools require the ISEB Common Pre-Tests?

The ISEB Common Pre-Test is of the most popular pre-tests available.

The following schools use it:

Ardingly College

Bedford School

Benenden School

Bloxham School

Bradfield College

Brighton College

Bryanston School

Canford School

Caterham School


Cheltenham College

City of London School

Culford School

Dauntsey's School

Eaton Square Upper School

Eton College

Harrow School

Headington School

Hurstpierpoint College

Marlborough College

Monkton Combe School

Mount Kelly College

Oratory School

Palmers Green High School

Radley College

Reddam House School

St Paul's School

St Swithun's School

Stowe School

Tonbridge School

University College School

Wellington College

Westminster School

Wetherby Senior School

Worth School

Source: ISEB website

Are there other Pre-tests?

There are three primary forms of Pre-Tests; ISEB, UKiset and CEM. 

Can You Prepare for the ISEB Common Pre-Test?

Although most schools claim that tutoring isn’t necessary, we’ve observed that early preparation can be tremendously beneficial in helping students to improve their scores and increase their familiarity with the exam format and question types. We therefore recommend that students practise the GL Assessment papers and also complete online tests. 

About ISEB Common Pre-Test

The ISEB Common Pre-Test consists of four individual tests which can be taken together or at different times and in any order. However, candidates must complete each particular test in one sitting.

• English – assesses spelling, punctuation, comprehension, and sentence completion.

• Maths – assesses mathematical ability based on the national curriculum stage.

• Verbal Reasoning – assesses thinking and problem-solving skills.

• Non-Verbal Reasoning  – analyses thinking with shapes, space and diagrams.

Each test has a time limit allotted to it. For every question, candidates must select an answer from five given choices and then press ‘next' to submit. Once an answer is submitted and the ‘next' button pressed, it is impossible to return to a question. The timing for each test excludes the time required for login and test set-up. However, it includes the time needed for candidates to read the on-screen instructions, as well the time allotted for reading the comprehension passage.

The time given for each test is given below:

• English – 25 minutes

• Maths – 50 minutes

• Verbal Reasoning – 36 minutes

• Non-Verbal Reasoning  – 32 minutes

Each test begins with a set of instructions and candidates can view their progress on the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. The progress bar indicates how many questions are remaining and the timer at the top of the screen indicates the time remaining.

The test is administered in a formal test environment. Thus, candidates are expected to maintain normal behaviour and follow the constraints of a test environment by working in silence.

Teachers are not allowed to render any help with answering test questions.

How to Prepare Your Child for the ISEB Common Pre-Test

• Familiarise your child with computer based  tests such as 11+ Hero

• Encourage your child to answer questions under strict timed conditions. 

• Early preparation gives your child ample time to improve their confidence and master excellent exam technique. It’s never a good idea to leave preparation to the last minute as it will simply cause more stress for you and your child.

Now it’s over to you, leave a comment below sharing one thing you’ll do to help your child prepare for their ISEB exam.