Understanding the ISEB Common Pre-Test

October 4, 2017 by Minerva Tutors,

What is the ISEB Common Pre-Test?

The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are a standardised set of tests taken in Year 6 or Year 7, between the ages of 10 and 12, in maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. They are used by many independent schools to assess the suitability of a candidate, and in many cases to determine whether or not to offer a provisional place, subject to Common Entrance results at 13 plus.

Some schools may make provisional offers based purely on Pre-Test results, while others may use it as a screening process to de-select weaker candidates before the next step of a lengthier admissions process. Likewise, it may not be the only factor schools consider when deciding whether to advance or de-select a pupil, and in certain circumstances some schools may reconsider a pupil who under-performed on the day.


What is the format?

The Pre-Test, set by GL Assessment, is split into four online multiple-choice papers, totalling 2.5 hours, which can be taken separately, or all in one go, the only provision being that once a paper is started it must be finished in that sitting. They are split as follows:


  • Maths: 50 minutes
  • English: 25 minutes
  • Verbal reasoning: 36 minutes
  • Non-verbal reasoning: 32 minutes

And will assess the following skills:

  • Maths: mathematical ability relative to the national curriculum stage.
  • English: comprehension, sentence completion, spelling and punctuation.
  • Verbal reasoning: assesses thinking and problem solving with words
  • Non-verbal reasoning: thinking with shapes, space, diagrams and pictures.


Each test will begin with a set of instructions that candidates must read carefully. They will tell candidates how to navigate through the test. The tests are also adaptive depending, on the candidate’s age, and when the test is being taken; an older candidate may face marginally harder questions than a younger one, and a test taken in March of Year 6 will be harder than one taken in September of Year 6, so as to ensure fairness between candidates.


Should my child take it?

Some of the most academic and most popular schools in the UK now use the Pre-Test to assess pupils, and some of them will require it to be taken before an application can progress. If you’re unsure about which schools you may want to apply to, it is worth taking, as the results can then be sent to any potential schools once decided. It may be especially useful for pupils applying from overseas, as it keeps options open and will give potential schools an idea of the child’s ability and suitability. Although overseas parents may also want to consider the UKiset instead. 

However, if your child is only applying for schools that do not require it, then it may just be a case of incurring unnecessary time, money and stress for parents and child alike. Ideally, parents should first talk to each potential school and discuss their requirements. Taking the Pre-Test does not require registration, so there’s no need to jump into an early decision.


Which schools use it?

The Pre-Test is increasingly popular with some of the most competitive independent day schools and boarding schools. These include:

Eton, Harrow, St. Paul’s, City of London, Westminster, Tonbridge, Radley, Wellington, Marlborough and many others.

A full list of schools can be found here.


How can you prepare for it?

There are limited practice tests available, for the not-at-all-extortionate price of £49 each. They can be found here, on the website for Pretest plus; the on-screen format, process, test duration and question types replicate the real test experience as closely as possible. Beyond this, there’s myriad online and paper resources available at 11 plus level, to help students prepare.

It’s useful for a candidate to be familiar with the format, and have tackled a variety of different question types across all four subjects in order to be prepared. Similarly, it helps if they have previously worked under timed conditions, as they are less likely to feel stressed when it comes to the real thing.


If you have a child sitting the ISEB Common Pre-Test and would like a tutor, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Temple of Minerva on 0208 819 3276, or send us email us on hello@minervatutors.com. Our trained 11 plus experts will be happy to help!



By David Bard


David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.

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