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ISEB Pre-Test: everything you need to know

By Atom | Jun 21, 2023, 8:49 AM

Young girl taking a test


Every year as autumn comes around, Year 6 children sit down to take the ISEB Common Pre-Test. Used by many of the UK's top schools these adaptive entrance exams are quite unlike any other, making them more difficult to prepare for without the correct understanding of what they entail. We hope this blog will answer the many questions we get asked regularly surrounding the exam.

What is the ISEB Common Pre-Test comprised of?

The ISEB is produced by GL and follows its own unique ISEB curriculum. The tests in total take about two-and-a-half hours to complete. There are four subject components to the Common Pre-Tests:

  • Maths (50 minutes)

  • English (25 minutes)

  • Verbal Reasoning (36 minutes)

  • Non-Verbal Reasoning (32 minutes)

Unlike many CEM exams, the ISEB Pre-Tests are not time-pressured. For many students, this is incredibly beneficial, as it can prevent minor errors and mistakes from happening through rushing.

As an adaptive, computerised test, with multiple choice answers, it is crucial that your child works through the test accurately & carefully, as they will not be able to go back and change their choices once submitted. The reason for this is that the test itself will adjust in difficulty as your child answers, so you will see the test get more difficult, or easier in response to their answers so far.

It is therefore incredibly important that children aim to get their first few answers correct, to allow them to access the most difficult questions and achieve the highest result. In short, we don't want children to complete the test saying it was "soooo easy!" as this indicates the test not adapting to the hardest content.

What does the ISEB Pre-Test look like?

Some key differential features of the test include:

Click-through Comprehension: meaning a student is required to click through the numbered pages along the top to get through the full text. Often students unfamiliar with this style will attempt to find all their answers on the first page without realising the text continues.

No back button: very importantly, children must be absolutely sure of their answer (as much as they can be) before moving on to the next question as they will not be able to go back and change their answer, or proof-read their answers at the end like they're often urged to do at school.

No next button until answer selected: this can throw students initially, but it is a good thing! It will ensure your child doesn't move on from a question without selecting an answer.

Progress bar: this is useful to be aware of so you can see how much of the test has been completed so far and how much is left. This is a great tool for managing time (but better to be slow and steady than the first one to finish!).

Clock: there will usually be a clock on the top right-hand corner of the test (although we would recommend giving your child a watch just in case).

How is the ISEB Pre-Test scored?

Children are assessed using a Standardised Age Score (SAS) which is calculated based on a child's attainment, the difficulty of the questions and their age respective to their peers. You won't see these results; they are sent directly to the school. However the scoring will always represent 100 as an average score, 142 as the top score and <80 is considered low. Therefore, a good aim would be 115 or 120+ for the most academic, competitive schools.

How do I apply?

You will be registered by the Senior School you are applying to, which will contact you to check where you are wanting to take the test. Remember, these tests can only be taken once within a year (any subsequent tests will not be valid and the first result will stand).

What will the test look like in the run-up and on the day of the test?

Tests can be taken in one go, or more commonly, over two sittings. They may be taken at your target school, your current school or an independent test centre.

The Senior School will provide you with all the necessary logistical information surrounding the test, and many will send out resources for familiarisation. We recommend getting ahead of the curve and giving your child the gift of time when it comes to preparation.

What will happen after the pre-test?

Your Senior School will be given the results of your child's test. They do not generally share these but will use them to decide whether to give your child a place. Many schools will also ask students to attend an interview for the 'Second Round' of the admission process, or there may be a specific school exam to complete.

To prepare for these Second Round scenarios, or to find out what this may entail for your school, we'd recommend seeking resources & advice from organisations with strong schools links, such as here at Atom. You can talk to an Education Expert on our LiveChat for further information.

My child has SEND, is the test appropriate for us?

Yes, the Common Pre-Tests can be accessed by pupils with a range of needs. You should always inform your Senior School if your child has any Special Education Needs or Disabilities. You'll be asked to provide a report from a professional on this subject.

Generally, they will make reasonable adjustments for your child, including considering if all aspects of the test are suitable, or increasing the time allocated to each section. ISEB can also enlarge text for visually impaired students.

Are the pre-tests accessible for EAL Candidates?

Yes, the tests are accessible for EAL Candidates and as above you should always inform your school if this is the case. If your child has English as an Additional Language, you may be able to request adjustments such as additional time or the provision of a bilingual dictionary.

We can help

Find out more about improving your child's ISEB performance here and for mock ISEB Common Pre-Tests, start your 5-day free trial of Nucleus today for success in the classroom, entrance exams and beyond.

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