What are the “common” pre tests? In Year 6, children have the opportunity to sit short, computerised tests in English and Maths, as well as Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. These are called pre tests. Because the tests are short and on the computer, they can be done anywhere and at any time, usually in school in the Autumn term.
The computerised test by ISEB (the Independent Schools Examination Board) is known as the “common” pre-test because so many schools use it, including Westminster Senior and St Paul’s. The advantage of this is that once you have your certificate and breakdown, you can apply with your score to loads of different schools.
Of course not all schools use the ISEB pre-test. Some, like Eton, create their own. So if you want to apply to both Westminster Senior and Eton, you have to sit two pre-tests.
The advantage of the 11+ pre-test
Extremely over-subscribed, high academically achieving schools that allow pupils to enter in Year 9 choose those who score highest in the 13+ assessments. The “common” 13+ exams are again run by ISEB, and require students in Year 8 to sit multiple exams in English, Maths, Science, Languages and the Humanities, going up to foundation level GCSE. These exams take a very long time to prepare for, a very long time to sit and write, and a very long time to mark. For schools like Westminster Senior and St Paul’s that have a near 100% rate for all GCSE grades at A* and A, students need to show that they are up to the task. Other schools like Dulwich and HABS do not use ISEB but run their own 13+ assessments.
By contrast, the 11+ pre-test tests are short (between 20-60 minutes each), and multiple choice, so they can be marked instantly and digitally. They are designed to be “tutor-proof”, focusing on reasoning and logic, and testing a child’s potential rather than their exam technique. Children who pass the pre-test almost always pass the 13+ assessments two years later (Eton doesn’t reject any candidates who were successful at pre-test except in exceptional circumstances), but unlike the 13+ assessments, the 11+ pre-test is designed to be quick, easy and accessible to all.
How do you prepare for the pre-test?
By far and away the most important factor between successful and unsuccessful candidates is speed. Accuracy is also important, but the biggest problem candidates have is not necessarily with the questions themselves, but rather with time management.
Bond and CGP are two well established independent educational companies, which produce workbooks packed with both ISEB and CEM (e.g. Eton) type multiple questions. Students who have worked through these workbooks with a timer are far more likely to do better in the pre-test.
Computer literacy and the ability to use a mouse quickly and accurately is a must. Unfortunately, there are no commercially available software programs to practice on apart from the free sample questions on the ISEB website. Some tutoring agencies have developed their own, similar sample computer tests.
How to approach the 11+ pre-test
Children in Year 6, even those who have already passed 7+ or even 4+ assessments for their prep school, are likely to feel anxious about these tests, however unlike traditional paper and pen exams they are. Children can easily pick up on parents’ anxieties as well, and can come to imagine that failing the pre-test will make them a failure for life.
Bright and hard-working children, who would thrive in extremely high-achieving environments like Westminster and St Paul’s, should of course take the pre-test. However, children are far more likely to prepare better and also score better on the day if they are feeling relaxed and supported. The best thing to help is to remind the child that the pre-test might offer a great opportunity for them, that you’re going to help them prepare, and then can see what happens and if the school is right for them. The child is already likely to feel stressed, so keep everything light, non-pressured, and full of praise. Criticism, pressurising and over-work are likely to have detrimental effects on the child’s success.
Remember that the pre-test is a quick, multiple-choice style series of tests that’s over in two hours; it’s not asking for an essay, or to show working in maths, let alone show evidence of social skills or artistic or sport skills. Remind the child that unlike the 13+ assessments, the pre-test is extremely straightforward.
Pre-test exam techniques
Process of elimination is key. Candidates should not necessarily know every correct synonym or corresponding image in the test, but should be able to eliminate at least one or two of the multiple-choice answers at first glance. Once you can reduce the question to two possible answers, it’s suddenly a lot easier. This technique is key to increasing speed.
You can’t skip a question and then go back to it at the end. Successful pre-test candidates will work through methodically, selecting the most sensible answer for each question. If it’s wrong, it’s not the end of the world; keep cool and continue on at speed.
Paper is provided for the maths section, for rough working, but for no other sections. Therefore it’s a good idea to practise and prepare this way too, developing short-term memory skills along the way.
Knowledge of prefixes and suffixes can be extremely helpful for both the English and Verbal Reasoning sections, and this technique can help decode unknown words in the exam.
Other top tips
If your child feels a bit unmotivated working through the workbooks, why not see if there’s a pre-test preparation group class near you? Most tutoring agencies run group sessions, which can be a great way of engaging unmotivated children and making it seem a bit more fun.
Private tuition can be really helpful for instilling confidence, and for checking that a child is approaching questions with a clear head and the correct exam technique.
Not all children have an academic mentality at this young age, and this is completely normal in a child’s development. Many students who don’t pass the pre-test go on to achieve high at GCSE and beyond, so remember that the pre-test is by no means an indicator of things to come.
The highest achieving candidates in the pre-test are always the ones who have prepared the most and are feeling the most relaxed, not necessarily the ones who are the most “naturally” able. Help your child prepare for a fun and stimulating couple of hours in front of the computer; it’s all great practice for future tests and if they can leave the pre-test feeling it was worthwhile, no matter the result, that’s the winning attitude that will stand them in good stead for life.