The ISEB Common Pre-test | What You Need to Know

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The ISEB Common Pre-Test is designed to provide independent senior schools with information about a pupil’s current attainment and academic potential.

We’ve put together this guide to the ISEB Common Pre-Test to help you better understand the exam.


Key facts About the ISEB Common Pre-Tests


– It is taken in Year 6 or 7 when pupils are aged between 10 and 12 years old.

– It provides a universal and standardised measure of attainment, ability and potential.

– It is made up of four tests comprising of: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

– All four tests take 2 hours 15 minutes to complete in total. There is an option to take the test with 25% extra time if your child qualifies for it.

– Tests can be taken together or separately (but each component must be finished in one sitting once started.)

– They are online and adaptive.

– Questions are in multiple-choice format with one right answer for each question.

– Candidates must be registered for the test via the Guardian Portal here.

– Results are available to all senior schools for which the candidate is registered, so the candidate only has to sit one test.

– These tests are designed for the UK independent sector.

– A pupil can only take a test once within a twelve month period. If multiple tests are taken, the first test result will stand.

– Candidates can take the tests in any official test centre that has an internet connection. If possible, they are normally taken at the child’s current prep school. Alternatively, you can select a local test centre when registering. If a child is overseas, then tests can be taken locally.


Why Pre-Test?


Pretesting allows senior schools to establish in advance if a child will meet the academic standard.

For 11+ entry, some schools will base their decision on ISEB Pretest scores and others will use it as a filtering test for their own second stage assessment.

If a child passes the Pre-Test for 13+ deferred entry, they could be offered a place contingent on them then passing Common Entrance at 13+. Alternatively, there could be further stages of assessment within the school.


Each school decides on how they use a child’s Common Pre-Test results. Highly selective, oversubscribed and popular senior schools may use the Pre-Test to filter candidates. They will therefore tell some parents that their child has been eliminated from the admissions/Common Entrance process, and/or they may put them on a reserve list.


Which Schools use the ISEB Common Pre-Tests?


The ISEB Common Pre-Test is not the only form of pre-test available, but it is one of the most popular.


It is used by the following schools:


Abbot’s Hill School Pretest
Bedford School Pretest
Benenden School Pretest
Berkhamsted School Pretest
Birkdale School Pretest
Bloxham School Pretest
Bradfield College Pretest
Brentwood School Pretest
Brighton College Pretest
Canford School Pretest
Caterham School Pretest
Charterhouse Pretest
Cranleigh School Pretest
Culford School Pretest
Downe House School Pretest
Eaton Square Senior School Pretest
Eton College Pretest
Fulham Prep School Pretest
Fulham Senior School Pretest
Gateways School Pretest
Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools Pretest
Harrodian School Pretest
Harrow School Pretest
Hoe Bridge School Pretest
Holmwood House School Pretest
Hurstpierpoint College Pretest
James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS) Pretest
Kew House School Pretest
King Edward’s School Witley Pretest
King’s College Taunton Pretest
King’s School Canterbury Pretest
King’s School Rochester Pretest
Lady Eleanor Holles School Pretest
Lancing College Pretest
Leeds Grammar School Pretest
Leys School Pretest
Maida Vale School Pretest
Marlborough College Pretest
Mayfield School Pretest
New Hall School Pretest
Oratory School Pretest
Palmers Green High School Pretest
Pangbourne College Pretest
Radley College Pretest
Reed’s School Pretest
Royal Grammar School Guildford Pretest
Seaford College Pretest
Sherborne School Pretest
St Albans High School for Girls Pretest
St Dunstan’s College Pretest
St Edward’s School Pretest
St Paul’s School Pretest 11 Plus
St Paul’s School Pretest 13 Plus
St Swithun’s School Pretest 11 Plus
St Swithun’s School Pretest 13 Plus
Stowe School Pretest
Streatham & Clapham High School Pretest
Sutton Valence School Pretest 11 Plus
Sutton Valence School Pretest 13 Plus
Tonbridge School Pretest
Tormead School Pretest
Tranby School Pretest
Walthamstow Hall Pretest
Wellington College Pretest
Westminster School Pretest 11 Plus
Westminster School Pretest 13 Plus
Winchester College Pretest


Source: ISEB website


How do Other Schools Pre-test?


Some schools create their own pre-tests, other use bespoke tests commissioned directly from GL or other providers, such as CEM. Some of these tests are online, some offline and some are a combination of both. Get in touch if you’re not sure of the requirements at the schools you are interested in and we will be happy to clarify.


Not every school pre-tests. Always check each individual school you intend to apply for and do so well in advance.


Can You Prepare for the ISEB Common Pre-Test?


There is no doubt that familiarity with the different question types, experience of the computerised interface and some knowledge of what to expect can significantly help. If a child is confident and not fazed by the process, they stand a better chance of performing to their maximum potential.


What You Need to Know in More Detail…


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


– English – assesses reading comprehension, cloze sentences, SPAG and shuffled sentences

– Maths – assesses mathematical ability relative to the national curriculum stage.

– Verbal reasoning – assesses thinking and problem solving with words and letters

– Non-Verbal reasoning – assesses thinking with shapes, space, diagrams and pictures in both 2D and 3D formats


In total, the four parts of the ISEB Common Pre-test take approximately 2.25 hours to administer and complete. There is no audio component to any of the tests.


There are no practice questions in the ISEB Pretest (CPT). ISEB state that including practice questions is not particularly helpful based on their extensive testing.


A pen and paper are allowed for working out in all sections.


Each test has a timer and a time limit set for its completion. There is also a small progress bar at the top of the screen so students can pace themselves. Both the timer and the progress bar can be hidden by the student if they find them distracting.


There are also a number of accessibility options available such as increasing and decreasing the font size and adding coloured overlays to increase readability. Candidates are advised to adjust these prior to beginning the timed sections so that they do not waste time during the actual test.


For each question candidates must select an answer from a variable number of answer choices and then press ‘Next’ to submit. An answer must be selected to continue. The Next button will be greyed out until an answer is selected. It will then turn purple.


Candidates cannot return to a question once an answer has been submitted and the ‘Next’ button pressed.


The timings for each test are below. This excludes the time required for each test to be set up and for login to be completed. For the English test, there is no separate time allocated to read the comprehension passages.



– English – 40 minutes

– Maths – 40 minutes

– Verbal reasoning – 25 minutes

– Non-Verbal reasoning – 30 minutes


Each test will begin with a set of instructions that candidates must read carefully. They will tell candidates how to navigate through the test. Each question is presented individually.


In the English section, there will be multiple comprehension passages covering fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Students may need to scroll down to view the whole passage. The questions will be below the passage. Each paragraph or verse in a passage will be numbered and questions will make reference to that.


Answer choices which consist of one word will be laid out horizontally. Answer choices which consist of more than one word will be laid out vertically, one under another.


A small progress bar at the top of the screen tells candidates how far along they are and a timer at the top of the screen will indicate how much time they have left. Both of these can be hidden by the student if they find them distracting.


Tests will be administered in a formal test environment even though they are being taken online. The usual expectations of behaviour and the constraints of a test will be in place. Candidates will be expected to work in silence. Whilst teachers will do their best to ensure that candidates are progressing appropriately and not rushing any part of the test/s, they cannot help with anything relating to the content of test questions.


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


Now that you know a little more about what to expect, here are some practical things that you can do to prepare.


Get your child familiar with the computer interface and answering questions under strict timed conditions by using our practice tests and courses, which have been specifically designed for this purpose. The on-screen format, process, test duration and question types replicate the real test experience as closely as possible. By getting used to the process, your child will have an idea of what to expect and this will help them to approach the real test confidently and calmly.


Practice Tests

You can learn more about our highly accurate online ISEB Pretest practice tests by clicking on the links below. These Practice Tests are available to take online immediately after purchase. Each module is marked automatically and is then available for review with answers and explanations provided for every question. We also provide comparative ranking statistics on a per module basis so you can quickly identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses.


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Video Courses

We’ve also produced online video courses that cover everything your child needs to know for each section of the ISEB Pretest assessment. They consist of a series of lessons that go through each question type in great detail, providing step-by-step explanations and techniques to help your child recognise the underlying patterns to look out for. The courses cover every possible question type that could come up in the ISEB Pretest.


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Skill Practice

Our Skill Practice products consist of focused tests that allow your child to target specific question formats that appear in the ISEB Pretest. They are an efficient way to improve skills and boost scores quickly. All tests are marked automatically and feedback, solutions and statistical rankings are provided upon completion.


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We hope that this post has been useful. We will be producing more detailed posts on the individual sections in the coming weeks and look forward to your thoughts and feedback. Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or queries.


All the best

The Pretest Plus Team

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