What are the ISEB Common Pre-Tests?

ISEB stands for the Independent Schools Examinations Board. The ISEB provide examinations and assessments for pupils seeking entry to independent senior schools at 11+ and 13+. The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are used to assess a child’s attainment and potential, usually taken in Y6, prior to entry into senior schools. They are age-adaptive, (meaning applicants are not disadvantaged by being young for their year, or sitting the exams earlier than others), and multiple choice, and are taken online in only four subjects:

  • Maths (36 questions in 50 mins)
  • English (32 questions in 25 mins)
  • Verbal Reasoning (36 questions in 36 mins)
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning (36 questions in 32 mins)

The tests can only be taken once per academic year, and the results will be shared with any senior schools that require them. The four tests can be taken together or separately, and are usually done at the child’s current school between the 1st October and the 30th June of Year 6. If the school your child is applying to requires the child to sit the Common Pre-Tests, you should inform your current school ASAP so they can register with ISEB.

ISEB provide a useful ‘Parents Information’ page, with full details here.

The tests are provided by GL Assessment and the ISEB website provides a familiarisation test here.

If you are not sure whether your senior school of choice requires your child to take these tests, check the list of schools on the ISEB website here.


What is the difference between Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning?

Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) is problem solving based around images and diagrams. It tests the student’s ability to analyse data and solve problems using visual information only.  Questions often involve understanding picture sequences, spotting the odd one out, and recognising or deciphering shapes.  
Verbal Reasoning (VR) is problem solving based around words and language. It tests the student’s ability to understand and reason using words.  Questions often involve solving word problems, spotting letter sequences, finding hidden words, anagrams, or cracking letter / number codes.
In a nutshell, non-verbal reasoning works with pictures, and verbal reasoning works with words. Although reasoning exams are a test of skill rather than knowledge, there is immense value in familiarisation with question style, and practising the methodology involved in solving certain types of questions. Experience shows that VR and NVR practice significantly increases scores.