What are the ISEB Common Pre-Tests?

Boy Taking a Computerised Exam

What are the ISEB Common Pre-Tests?

These tests are for the UK independent sector and are taken when a pupil is in year 6 (or occasionally taken in year 7). They are an age-standardised measure of ability and attainment. They are computer based, multiple-choice tests that have been created by GL Assessment.

Key details of the ISEB Common Pre-tests:

  • The tests are made up of verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and mathematics.
  • The tests take a total of two-and-a-half hours to complete: English – 25 minutes, mathematics – 50 minutes, non-verbal reasoning – 32 minutes, verbal reasoning – 36 minutes.
  • Each test (apart from the English test) contains example and practice questions.
  • Clear on-screen instructions are shown at the start of each test which candidates should read through carefully.
  • Each test has a clock visible to see how much time is remaining.
  • For each question candidates must select an answer from a choice of five possible answers and then click ‘next’ to submit.
  • Candidates cannot return to a question once an answer has been submitted and the ‘next’ button has been pressed.
  • The timings for the test include the time taken for candidates to read the on-screen instructions and, for the English, it includes the time taken to read the comprehension passage.
  • For some questions, particularly in the verbal reasoning, candidates may be asked to choose two options for the answer. If they need to amend an answer, they will need to deselect a selected option first before selecting an alternative.
  • Candidates are able to see how many questions they have answered and how many more they have to answer by looking at the progress bar at the bottom of the test.
  • For the comprehension test, the passage can be navigated by using the scroll buttons to turn to different pages.
  • The use of pen/pencil and paper is not permitted in the non-verbal reasoning or English tests. However, candidates can have access to pen/pencil and paper for their rough work during the verbal reasoning and mathematics tests. It is the responsibility of the invigilation centre to provide pen/pencil and paper.

Why are some independent secondary schools changing to the ISEB Common Pre-tests in 2020?

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic many schools are making changes to their admissions process this year to help minimise possible disruption to 11+ examination candidates who might be affected by changes to government guidelines.

Furthermore, the tests offer the flexibility that everyone needs in these difficult times and means it is more accessible to those who suffered disruption to their learning in Year 5. 

How do you apply to do the ISEB Common Pre-tests?

Candidates are registered by the senior school (or schools) for which they are entered. The candidate only has to sit the test once and these results will be given to all the schools for which they are entered.

Where can you take the ISEB Common Pre-tests?

The tests can be taken together or at separate times either in the candidate’s own school (many independent preparatory schools offer this option) or at the senior school for which he or she is entered.

How can your child prepare for the ISEB Common Pre-tests?

  • Ensure your child has a good grasp of the Key Stage 2 national curriculum for maths and English.
  • Some schools do not cover verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning so make sure your child has had plenty of practice of these. Have a read of our page about verbal and non-verbal reasoning. 
  • Ensure your child has gone through the familiarisation tests that ISEB have published:


  • Watch the following video which explains all about the ISEB Common Pre-tests: 

How can Bright Light Education help?

Our 5-session Comprehension Course teaches children all the skills needed to tackle comprehension questions with confidence. Although the ISEB exam contains multiple choice comprehension questions and our course is primarily based around written comprehension answers, in order to answer multiple choice questions, children still need the fundamental comprehension skills which our course covers.

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