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

What is the ISEB Pre Test? A Guide for Parents

It’s a new world for education following the coronavirus pandemic which has dominated much of our lives recently. That we should expect the unexpected seems to be one of the only certainties!

One such unexpected change is the news that many popular London schools – such as JAGS, Kings College Wimbledon, and Trinity School – decided to switch to ISEB Pre Test digital exams for 2021 11 plus admissions, and brought these forward from January to November.

Mentor Education have a wealth of experience in advising on the ISEB Pre Test, which is the exam that will most commonly be used. In this blog we’ll provide a helpful overview of what the exam entails and how it works.

What is the ISEB Pre Test?

Pre-Covid, 11+ exams followed a fairly standard format. Year 6 pupils were generally expected to sit extensive maths, reasoning and English papers in January. Then, for obvious reasons – not least because 1,000 children commonly sat together in a hall to take these tests – things had to change. Instead, many schools required students to take something called the ISEB Pre Test, which is a digital exam.

An age-standardised measure of capability, the Pre Test is multiple choice and has been used by a number of schools previously as part of their assessment process; however, the idea of the test is not only to assess academic ability, but also potential. Read more about how the ISEB Pre Test is assessed and graded.

Historically, the Pre Test was often used to judge how likely a student would be to pass the Common Entrance exam for boarding schools, guiding expectations and providing insight into areas which required further improvement and study. But this is a new educational landscape: as such, greater weight is being placed on exams like the ISEB Pre Test, which (helpfully) are already delivered digitally and can be completed safely online (negating the need to bring large numbers of people together to sit a written exam).

The ISEB Pre Test: What it Involves

The exam normally takes 2.5 hours to complete, and covers the following topics:

  • Verbal reasoning. This includes – but is not limited to – common words; antonyms; word combinations; and letter transfer.
  • Non-verbal reasoning. This includes shape analogies and horizontal codes.
  • English. This includes reading comprehension, spelling, punctuation and more.
  • Mathematics. Students are tested on National Curriculum topics taught up to the end of Year 5.

Each element of the test is multiple-choice and this might seem easier in the first instance; but the format is actually rather challenging – a new hurdle for students to overcome. The ISEB website provides some familiarisation questions but no practice papers. This style of test requires different exam techniques for children to grasp. For example, in a written exam children are often advised to leave difficult questions and come back to them at the end, but in an ISEB exam, an answer must be given for every question, before the child can move on to the next question and it is not possible to go back at the end.

Preparing for this is crucial – as is learning how to manage the time effectively. During the test it is possible to see how many questions have been answered compared to the overall number of questions, but the system can – again – be challenging for first-timers and practice is helpful.

Is the ISEB Pre Test here to stay?

The short answer is yes. While many schools have gone back to written, in-person exams for the 2022 entrants, others are sticking with the ISEB. Some schools will make their offers purely based on the Pre-Test results forgoing any written paper. These include JAGS, Streatham and Clapham, and St Dunstan’s. However others, such as Alleyn’s and St Paul’s, will use it as a screening process to filter weaker candidates before moving onto a bespoke written exam.

How We Can Help

The ISEB Pre Test presents a new challenge for candidates who have not experienced an exam like this before. As mentioned above, the format can seem daunting; skills like time management become even more critical and just the idea of sitting an exam online as opposed to writing answers down can be off putting if the student has no experience of this.

young boy learning what is the ISEB Pre Test

It is key to remember though, that the core syllabus for the ISEB remains the same as any other 11 plus entrance exam, and if children have a good understanding of the core curriculum in each academic discipline and are well rehearsed in question practice, the new format of the test can be a relatively small snag to overcome. Exam technique is always important for 11 plus success and can be adjusted accordingly.

Fortunately, Mentor Education’s team are very knowledgeable when it comes to the ISEB Pre Test: we’ve worked with it for many years, and have a number of highly-qualified tutors who can provide intensive support and guidance prior to November. Whether your child requires academic support, exam coaching, or a reassuring mentor to help them combat their nerves (thus ensuring they perform to their best ability on the big day), we have a tutor to suit their needs. Get in touch today for a no-obligation discussion with our expert team.

Get in Touch

London’s No.1 tuition agency

“For more than 35 years they have been helping students achieve places at the top London day and boarding schools.”

School Report Magazine


Interested in becoming a tutor? Join Mentor today.