Introduction To The ISEB Common Pre-Tests

The Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) Common Pre-Tests are standardised measures of ability and attainment taken when students are in year 6 or occasionally in year 7. They can only be taken once in any academic year. The senior schools to which students apply register students for the ISEB Common Pre-Tests.

The adaptive tests are created for ISEB by GL assessment. Adaptive means that the test gets harder when the student answers questions correctly and easier when the student answers the questions incorrectly.

The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are computerised tests which comprise of four multiple-choice assessments: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

The time allowed for each test is as follows:

  1. English | 25 minutes;
  2. Maths | 50 minutes;
  3. Verbal Reasoning | 36 minutes; and
  4. Non-Verbal Reasoning | 32 minutes.

Each test begins with a set of written instructions. There is no audio component. Every question must be answered, and students cannot go back to previous questions.

The tests contain a timer at the top of the screen that indicates how much time students have left. A progress bar at the bottom of the screen tells students how many questions they have answered. Students press ‘next’ to submit their answers, after which they cannot return.

Students may use pen and paper in the maths test for working out. No other test requires, or allows, additional materials, and each assessment, except English, contains examples and practice questions.

The Pre-Tests Broken Down

The English Test

The English pre-test consists of three parts: 1) comprehension 2) sentence completion 3) spelling and punctuation.

The comprehension section consists of roughly 15 multiple-choice questions. These questions test understanding of the passage, knowledge of vocabulary and the meaning of certain phrases. Some questions will involve finding a particular set of lines from the text. The sentence completion and the spelling and punctuation sections each contain roughly 7-8 questions.

The Maths Test

The maths pre-test consists of the following topics: place value up to 1,000,000; rounding; four operations word problems with whole, decimal and negative numbers; long multiplication and long division using factors; number properties: even, odd, consecutive, prime, square and cube numbers; multiple and factors, pairs of factors, prime factors, common factors and LCM; fractions, decimals and percentages conversion, with associated word problems; fractions; percentages of amounts and writing a quantity as a percentage of another quantity; ratios; time word problems, interpreting time tables; perimeter and area of squares, rectangles, triangles; angle laws, angles on a clock and on a compass; properties of 2D and 3D shapes; surface area and volume of cuboids; transformations: translations, reflections and rotations; metric conversion (length, weight and capacity); averages; data handling: bar charts, frequency tables and line graphs; probability using terms and fractions; forming linear equations to solve simple word problems; sequences, including fining the nth term of an arithmetic sequence; order of operations (BIDMAS); calculation by comparison; speed - Distance - Time.

The Verbal Reasoning Test

The verbal reasoning test lasts for 36 minutes and tests a students ability to understand what they have read and apply key reasoning skills.

The Non-Verbal Reasoning Test

The non-verbal reasoning test lasts for 32 minutes and is designed to assess the student’s ability to analyse visual information e.g. pictures, diagrams and shapes and to solve problems using visual reasoning.


The ISEB Common Pre-Tests are rooted in the Key Stage 2 national curriculum and therefore can and should be prepared for.

Atom Learning is an AI-driven, online learning and mock test platform which exactly mirrors the real pre-tests, comprehensively preparing students for the ISEB Common Pre-Tests.

Atom Learning achieves this through:

  1. Personalised learning: Atom is the first truly adaptive learning platform that constantly assesses the optimal learning path for the student based on their current ability level, the schools they want to attend and the date of their exams to ensure that they use their time as efficiently as possible and remain in control of the process from the outset and throughout.
  2. Data-driven teaching: Atom’s AI pinpoints gaps in knowledge with greater precision than any teacher can to focus on the areas that will most improve the student’s results.
  3. Precision reporting: We track every mouse click to give parents unprecedented insight into how their child learns, a detailed breakdown of their current ability and the areas in which they need to improve.
  4. Unlimited resources: Atom provides unlimited practice questions and adaptive mock tests, over 400 videos and text based resources produced by experienced, qualified teachers and education experts.


Each student receives a standard-age-score (SAS) per subject based on their performance in the test. The SAS takes into account a student’s age when grading the student for a given subject. This means that an older student could perform better in the test than a younger student but still receive a lower SAS overall.

The ISEB Common Pre-Tests’ results are available to the senior schools that use the test, but are not shared with parents or prep schools. Senior schools also receive individual stanines (scores based on a scale out of nine), percentile ranks, group scores and a mean SAS (the mean of the four subject SAS).

Each senior school decides how it uses the students’ results. The selective senior schools use them to discern which students to interview, and then assess again according to their own methods and criteria.

Schools That Subscribe To The ISEB Common Pre-Tests

Bedford SchoolBradfield CollegeBrighton CollegeCaterham School
CharterhouseCheltenham CollegeCity of London SchoolDauntsey’s School
Easton Square Upper SchoolEton CollegeHarrow SchoolHeadington School
Hurstpierpoint CollegeMarlborough CollegeMonkton Combe SchoolMount Kelly College
Northfields Int. High SchoolPalmers Green High SchoolRadley CollegeReddam House School
St Paul’s SchoolSt Swithun’s SchoolStowe SchoolUniversity College School
Wellington CollegeWestminster SchoolWetherby Senior SchoolWorth School