What is the digital pre-test and how can you prepare for it?

The ISEB Digital Pre-Test

Who are the ISEB?

ISEB stands for the Independent Schools Exam Board. This is the exam board that sets the Common Entrance exams for children to enter Boarding schools at 13+. The Common Entrance examination is normally sat when children are in Year 8 either in November or May/June.

The core Common Entrance exam syllabus consists of English, Mathematics and Science papers. Additionally, candidates can sit papers in a wide range of subjects chosen from French, Geography, German, Classical Greek, History, Latin and Spanish. A high score at Common Entrance exams can facilitate offers from some of the best Boarding schools in the UK.

What is the ISEB Common Pre-Test?

In recent years, ISEB also developed the 11 Plus Common Pre-Test.

This was used by schools to predict if a child will meet their academic standard one or two years in advance of a child potentially joining their school at 13. If a child passes the Pre-Test, they will usually be offered an unconditional place at a school, or a place contingent on them achieving a certain grade at their Common Entrance.

Many boarding schools enthusiastically adopted the Common Pre-Test because it allowed them to make offers to children in Year 6, when good candidates might also be receiving attractive senior school offers. Boarding schools now had the data to allow them to offer enticing non-conditional offers to families they wanted to attract.

Highly selective and oversubscribed Boarding schools also use the Pre-Test to de-select pupils who they know will not make the required academic standard in two years’ time. This is seen as a positive development, meaning families don’t invest time in an application doomed to failure, instead concentrating on positive choices for their children.

What happened with Covid 19?

When schools were only partially open and/or closed in the Autumn of 2020 and new year 2021, normal entrance exams were not allowed to go ahead, because they involved children gathering in large numbers in school halls. Schools needed a tried and tested digital option. So, for the most part they adopted the ISEB Common Pre test as an alternative to their normal written papers. There were many advantages for candidates and schools alike. Firstly, children only had to sit one exam and the results were distributed to all schools they had applied for. This was agreed by parents, children and schools alike to be a vast improvement on the multiples exams children normally sit for the 11+. Also, teachers did not have to mark 1,000 papers to assess candidates, instead given a pre-marked score.

It remains to be seen if schools believe that they identified the cohort of children they wanted using the ISEB Pre-Test, instead of their usual methods for September 2021 intake. We also do not know if schools will continue to use the ISEB Pre-test, revert to their previous tests or develop a blend of the two. 

What is on the ISEB Pre-Test?

ISEB tests are digital and usually sat in the candidate’s current prep school or the senior school for which they are applying. The exam consists of multiple-choice tests in Mathematics, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning.

The tests take about two-and-a-half hours to complete:

  • English – 25 minutes
  • Mathematics – 50 minutes
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning – 32 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning – 36 minutes.

The tests can be taken together, at separate times or even different days.

  • Verbal Reasoning question styles include common words, antonyms, word combinations, letter transfer, number codes
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning question styles include shape analogies, classes like, horizontal codes
  • English question styles include reading comprehension, sentence completion, spelling and punctuation
  • Mathematics content is in line with the National Curriculum; candidates are assessed on National Curriculum topics taught up to the end of Year 5.

ISEB does not provide practice tests. Examples and practice questions, where relevant, are provided during the tests so that candidates understand what they have to do. All answers are multiple choice.

How can I prepare my child for the ISEB Pre-Test?

The ISEB Pre-test has a similar syllabus to other school entrance exams, covering Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. To some extent therefore, parents can prepare as they would normally for traditional written exams. Please see our school entrance journey for full details and our tips on how to prepare over 12 months. For detailed exam syllabuses please see:

Exam technique

Exam technique is a critical part of preparing your child for their ISEB because digital tests require a different approach. Normal advice, such as leave hard questions and come back to them if you have time at the end, will actually be counterproductive.

In an ISEB test, each question must be answered, and candidates cannot go back to previous questions. Children need to practice this style of test because they will not necessarily have come across this before. You will need to practice digital tests with them many times until they are very familiar. Atom Learning and BOFA both have good digital practice options that correspond well with ISEB exams.

familiarisation test is also available on the ISEB website which demonstrates the look and feel of the tests.

How can we help?

Here at Mentor Education, we specialise in school admissions. Our results speak for themselves, with 90% of our most recent cohort achieving their first-choice school in 2021 and 100% receiving an offer from their first or second choice school. This was the cohort that switched to ISEB exams, often at short notice. Mentor Education also specialises in 13+ exams, hence how our tutors knew the ISEB Pre Test and were able to prepare children thoroughly.

The key to this success is our annual 11+ programme that runs from January of Year 5 to the January of Year 6. This encompasses the whole syllabus, across all disciplines tested in the exams themselves, exam technique and question practice. This allows young children to develop at an appropriate pace, with no element of cramming. We see your journey in three distinct phases and have organised our work to support you at each of these.

Our School Entrance Co-ordinator

One of the main advantages of working with Mentor Education is that we can coordinate your whole journey. Our dedicated Co-ordinator works to get to know you, your child and your aspirations and can flex our services to reflect what you need at any point in your journey. 

Perhaps you don’t know where to start or if your child is a good candidate for school entrance exams. Our Coordinator can arrange an academic assessment brimming with data points to help you make decisions, target schools and focus tuition only on where your child needs it.

tutoring for the ISEB Digital Pre-Test

If your child’s needs change throughout the year, they can swap out a general 11 Plus tutor, bringing in Reasoning experts or Scholarship experts as needed.

Essentially, our school entrance co-ordinator’s job is to stay close to your journey and assist every step of the way.

Specialist ISEB Tuition

We have specialist school entrance tutors, who understand the requirements of the ISEB tests and how to practice for them. School admissions can change year by year and our exam tutors are always up to date with the latest knowledge. We do not know whether schools will return to written exams or remain with digital options, so pupils need to be prepared for all eventualities. Our experienced tutors can help.

Get in Touch

Contact our team to find out more about school entrance exams and how we can help your child with their next steps.

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