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The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are age-standardised tests used to assess pupils’ attainment when they are in Year 6 or 7, prior to entry to senior schools. Each senior school has their own admissions policy, of which these tests often just fulfill one part of the process. Your child may still be required to sit further assessments and, most likely, an interview.

The tests are taken online, usually in your child’s current school. There are four tests in a multiple-choice format; English, mathematics, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

Children applying to multiple schools which use the Common Pre-Tests will need only take the tests once. The set of results obtained will be shared with all schools for which the candidate is entered. Children can only sit the tests once in any academic year (ie October – June).

From September 2022, as the parent/guardian, you will be required to register your child with ISEB for the new Common Pre-Tests. Registration will open in September 2022.

Parent/guardian registration will be:

Free: there will be no charge to parents/guardians for registering children for the new Common Pre-Tests
Simple: registration will be completed through an easy-to-use online admissions platform
Quick: you will only need to register your child for the test once, no matter how many different schools they are applying for 
Editable: you may return to the admissions portal to add to or amend your child’s registration.


The ISEB Test Walkthrough

This walkthrough will help you to become familiar with the ISEB Common Pre-tests.

You will be able to:

– Find out more about the test on the instructions page.
– Explore the best setup for your page with the accessibility features.
– See the style of questions that might be asked.
– Familiarise yourself with how to select the correct answer.

Information for families

  • How do the tests work?

    The Common Pre-Tests are online, and are taken at a computer. The four tests are all adaptive, multiple-choice tests. An adaptive test is one where the questions are chosen to be the most suitable for each pupil. The system assesses the pupil’s ability after each response and selects the next question to have the most appropriate level of difficulty. This means that a test-taker does not need to spend time answering questions that are too hard or too easy for them and the whole test can be shorter while still providing an accurate score. In an adaptive test, pupils may be presented with differing numbers of questions and the system does not allow them to go back and change previous answers, eg if they think they have made a mistake. We ensure that the length of the test is optimised to provide an accurate score for every pupil and allows for any errors uncharacteristic of the general level of ability shown in a pupils’ responses.

    Most pupils complete the four tests in under 2.5 hours. The tests can be taken together or at separate times, either in your child’s own school, or at the senior school to which they have applied. For overseas applicants, testing centres can be used if prior permission has been granted by the senior school.

    The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are a ‘shared’ assessment. This means your child’s results can be shared with as many senior schools to which you have applied. Instead of having to prepare for different assessments and missing school for different admissions tests, they will be able to sit the tests just once.

    What do the tests include?

    • English question styles include reading comprehension and grammar (including spelling and punctuation)
    • Mathematics content is in line with the National Curriculum; your child is assessed on topics taught up to the end of Year 5.
    • Verbal Reasoning measures a pupil’s comprehension, reasoning and logic. The ISEB Common Pre-Tests focus on using letter, word and language-based questions. 
    • Non-Verbal Reasoning assesses logic, critical thinking and problem-solving skills using figures and diagrams. 

    For more details about the ISEB Common Pre-Tests, download the ISEB Common Pre-Tests Framework.

  • Preparation

    The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are designed to identify attainment and potential. 

    Attainment: The English and mathematics tests are designed in line with topics and knowledge that pupils will be taught in class. They therefore assess a child’s ability to recall what they have been taught and apply this knowledge to solve problems in core areas of the curriculum.

    Potential: The Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests enable pupils to demonstrate their academic potential through a range of question types that may be unfamiliar to them. It is the pupils’ ability to analyse, think critically, find patterns and problem solve that is assessed. These abilities are important indicators of potential as they indicate a pupils’ ability to acquire new information and apply this to situations they have not previously come across.

    ISEB recommends pupils use the ISEB Test Walkthrough to familiarise themselves with the test platform, explore the accessibility features and see the styles of questions that might be asked during the test.

    For further information about the content of the tests, you can download the ISEB Common Pre-Tests Framework.

    ISEB cannot guarantee the accuracy of any third-party Common Pre-Tests practice resources that are not endorsed by ISEB. They may not accurately reflect the presentation, difficulty, test content and scoring of the live Common Pre-Tests.

    During the tests

    Each question is answered by choosing an answer from a selection shown on the screen. Each question must be answered and applicants cannot go back to previous questions.

    Textbooks, calculators, mobile devices, or other materials which might assist a candidate will not be accessible during the Common Pre-Tests.

    Applicants should have access to pen/pencil and paper for their rough work during the tests. It is the responsibility of the invigilation centre to provide pen/pencil and paper.

  • SEND and EAL candidates

    ISEB is determined that pupils with SEND should not be disadvantaged when sitting any of their tests. The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are online, adaptive, multiple-choice tests. 

    There are three features built into the online testing platform, specifically to support pupils with SEND.

    1. Pupils will be able to select a coloured overlay to help improve the visibility of the questions, particularly for pupils who face visual discomfort and disturbance when reading.  
    2. The font size can be adjusted to suit visually impaired applicants.  
    3. The timer for the test will be visible to all applicants (even those with 25% extra time) and it can be hidden from view if the countdown makes a pupil anxious.

    Further accessibility has been built into the test design and the questions, for further information, refer to the SEND Guidance.

    Access Arrangements for SEND

    Extra Time

    Where appropriate, and in agreement with senior schools, applicants with SEND can be given additional time of 25% to complete each test element. Applicants requiring extra time should have extra time requested for them by the parents/guardians as part of their registration in the ISEB Guardian Portal.

    Other Access Arrangements

    Other access arrangements allow applicants with special educational needs or disabilities to access the assessment, based on evidence of need and normal way of working. 

    For the ISEB Common Pre-Tests other access arrangements could be:

    • A reader for the tests
    • Supervised rest breaks (pausing the test so that applicants can take a break)
    • A Separate room (with an invigilator)

    This list is an example of other access arrangements, which are often unique to each child for each type of activity they are completing. If parents are unsure whether their child needs extra time and/or other access arrangements, they should speak with their current school’s SENCO.

    Senior schools must approve the access arrangements before the tests are taken.

    Requesting Extra Time or Other Access Arrangements

    Before completing the registration for the ISEB Common Pre-Tests in the Guardian Portal, parents/guardians should always inform senior schools about their child’s specific needs to discuss with the senior school what provision or adjustments should be made when assessing them for entry. The senior schools will advise what reports/documentation will be required as evidence. This is to ensure that the correct report/documentation is provided in the Guardian Portal.

    Senior schools should take into account the potential impact of SEND as part of their overall assessment of a candidate’s application.

    ISEB SEND Guidance for the ISEB Common Pre-Tests

    For full details about how the ISEB Common Pre-Tests have been made more accessible for all pupils and the process for applying for 25% extra time and access arrangements, refer to the SEND Guidance.

    Applicants with EAL

    The Common Pre-Tests are accessible to applicants for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL). Reasonable adjustments may be applied, the nature of which will depend on the candidate’s specific needs. For applicants with EAL, this may include the use of a standard bilingual paper dictionary. In individual cases, schools may decide that not all test elements are a suitable form of assessment for a candidate whose first language is not English.


Parent/Guardian Guide to the Common Pre-Tests

PDF 198.38 KB

Preparing your child for the Common Pre-Tests

PDF 1.95 MB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - Odd One Out (version 1)

PDF 223.9 KB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - Odd One Out (version 2)

PDF 196.5 KB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - Odd One Out (version 3)

PDF 227.34 KB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - Find The Twin (version 1)

PDF 216.64 KB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - Find The Twin (version 2)

PDF 206.43 KB

Non-verbal reasoning postcard - How Many Blocks (version 1)

PDF 208.51 KB


  • Is it possible for candidates to take the Common Pre-Tests overseas?

    Yes, it is possible for candidates to take the Common Pre-Tests overseas.

    For overseas candidates, parents should ask the child's current school if they can invigilate the Common Pre-Tests. If this is not possible, parents should contact the British Council in their country to see if they have suitable facilities nearby. If neither of these options are possible, parents will need to find an alternative venue which provides invigilation/exam services. ISEB does not allow candidates to be tested at their home, a tutor's house or anywhere which is not considered a professional venue.

    Parents should then ensure that the senior school(s) requesting the Common Pre-Tests are satisfied with the venue arrangements. The senior school(s) will need to communicate directly with the venue in order to provide candidate login details and supporting documentation.

  • Why is familiarisation recommended?

    The tests are designed in such a way that repeated practice will not continuously improve performance. However, it is important for candidates' confidence that they are familiar with the nature and style of the tests and we provide a short familiarisation for this purpose.

    The familiarisation test can also be used to check any adjustments that may be needed for SEND candidates, prior to the live tests.

    Although a degree of practice may help children to build their confidence and to feel secure in what is expected of them, repeated practice is not encouraged.

  • Does ISEB produce or endorse any Common Pre-Tests practice resources?

    ISEB does not produce or endorse any practice resources for the Common Pre-Tests.

    ISEB cannot guarantee the accuracy of third-party Common Pre-Tests practice resources. They may not accurately reflect the presentation, difficulty, test content and scoring of the live Common Pre-Tests.

  • How do adaptive tests work?

    Adaptive tests are designed to adjust the difficulty of questions, based on the answers given.

    Each candidate will start with a medium-level question. Candidates who answer questions correctly are gradually routed to more challenging questions. Due to this, candidates cannot go back to previous questions.

    The adaptive model allows candidates to recover from any early wrong answers to attain a score that matches their ability.

  • How many questions should candidates try to answer?

    Candidates are encouraged to work steadily through each test module and should try to answer all the questions they meet. The time allowance for each module has been carefully designed to give candidates time to consider their answers.

    While taking the tests, candidates can see their progress within the test (number of questions answered in relation to overall number of questions).

  • Should candidates try to work quickly so that they can answer more questions?

    Each test has a fixed number of questions. Once all the questions have been answered, the test will end. Candidates should try to work carefully through the test, thinking about each question that they meet.

  • What happens when a candidate has answered all the questions in the test module?

    When all the questions have been answered, the test module will automatically end.

  • How are higher level mathematics questions made more difficult without going beyond topics expected to have been taught by the end of Year 5?

    Although all mathematics questions are based on topics that are expected to have been taught by the end of Year 5, the level of challenge is adjusted accordingly for higher or lower level questions.

  • Is it important to do working in mathematics and verbal reasoning?

    For the mathematics and the verbal reasoning modules all candidates should have access to a pen/pencil and a supply of paper so that they can work out their answers on paper, if they wish, before choosing the correct answer option.

  • Can a candidate take the Common Pre-Tests more than once?

    A candidate only takes the Common Pre-Tests once in an academic year. Having taken the tests, his/her results are shared with each senior school which registers them.

    This minimises stress and anxiety for children and we encourage parents to recognise this significant advantage.

    If a candidate takes the Common Pre-Tests more than once in the same academic year, the results from the first tests will be used.

  • Why are results standardised for age?

    Results from the Common Pre-Tests are standardised by age so that appropriate comparison can be made between younger and older candidates and between dates of testing.

  • Can parents request their child's Common Pre-Test results from ISEB?

    ISEB does not provide results directly to parents. This is because parents do not register their child with ISEB, but with the senior school(s) for which they are applying.



The ISEB Common Pre-Tests registration process is changing

Over the last 18 months, ISEB has been reviewing and developing the Common Pre-Tests, in consultation with senior and prep schools, and families. From Autumn 2022, you will see some changes come into effect that will improve the administration processes as well as the test experience for children.

From this time, parents/guardians will be required to register their children with ISEB for the new Common Pre-Tests. Registration will open in Autumn 2022, and further information about this will be available on the ISEB website from May 2022.

For more information and to register to be kept up to date please see our information for parents/guardians page.

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