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Top tips on preparing for the ISEB Online Pre-Tests
By The Team at Galore Park
18 Dec

With a significant rise in candidate numbers for the ISEB Pre-Test examinations, this article outlines the key revision skills for these adaptive online tests with top tips from our experts and authors.

Students will take these computerised tests in year 6 or 7 between 1st October and 30th June. They are designed to assess both attainment and potential. Pupils are tested in four areas (Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning, English, and Mathematics). All the questions are multiple-choice, and a progress bar is filled as candidates complete the questions. Practice questions are also provided to help with familiarisation before starting each section.

Adaptive tests, such as the ISEB Common Pre-Test work in a different way to the online tests your child may be familiar with for the following reasons:

  • Each child’s experience is different since if a question is answered correctly, the algorithm may then generate a more difficult question. Answering a question incorrectly can lead to an easier question being set. However, the test does mix in some easier questions as it progresses, sometimes this is when a different topic is introduced.
  • It is generally not possible to finish early since questions continue to be presented until the time-limit is reached. 

These characteristics of the test mean that speed, accuracy of answering and an ability to answer difficult questions under pressure are rewarded with higher marks.

Verbal Reasoning: The questions involve a knowledge of antonyms (opposites), word combinations, common words, letter transfer and number codes.

Non-Verbal Reasoning: The question types covered are shape analogies, classes like and horizontal codes.

Mathematics: These questions are in line with the Year 5 UK National Curriculum.

English: This part incorporates reading comprehension, sentence completion, spellings and punctuation.

Firstly, it is important to support your child in revising the key techniques that will help with computerised tests. Applying the process of elimination is useful to limit choices and ensure you have checked each answer option. Interestingly, students are allowed pen/pencil and paper for working out the Verbal Reasoning and Maths tests but not during the English or Non-Verbal Reasoning tests.

Secondly, working backwards through any tricky maths word problems if you are unsure on where to begin. Another crucial point to mention before your child sits the Pre-Tests is to encourage them to answer all the questions and not leave any blank – there is a 20% chance of getting it right even if you guess!

Having the opportunity to practise working under timed conditions is vital and this will help your child understand how many questions they are completing in the time given. There is definitely a balance to be struck between working quickly and accuracy. One key element of this type of testing is you are not allowed to go back and review or change your answers. Therefore, being very careful when selecting an answer during a computerised test is imperative.

Below are the timings for each subject:

English – 25 minutes

Mathematics – 50 minutes

Non-Verbal Reasoning – 32 minutes

Verbal Reasoning – 36 minutes

To help develop a greater sense of familiarity for the types of questions you might see in an ISEB exam you can use written materials. Galore Park have an excellent selection of workbooks, practice papers, and revision guides on how to best prepare for the different elements.

It is worth noting these age standardised tests are designed to enhance skills which will also be advantageous in the long term. Repetitive practice should be avoided but certainly bitesize chunks of revision would be better in the lead up to the tests. Completing practice questions will give your child an idea of what to expect on the day and should hopefully reduce any anxieties that they may have.

We asked our experts and authors to share their top tips on how to prepare for the online pre-tests.

There is definitely a huge emphasis on good reading skills in the Pre-Tests, as well as having a strong vocabulary. Students need to read a range of different genres (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) and this will help develop a richer knowledge of words. Recording new unfamiliar words is recommended as these can be revised nearer the examinations. Putting these words into context will also ensure these words are retained.”

Chris Pearse, Managing Director and Tutor at Teachitright, and author of Galore Park’s Verbal Reasoning 11+ and Pre-Test resources.

“Hone your strengths but focus more time to train your weaknesses, whether that be Maths, English or Reasoning. Prepare to expect the unexpected; you can only estimate what could be on the Pre-Test. Revise your English and Maths syllabuses, practise a wide range of question types, especially reasoning, under timed conditions. Learn from mistakes and make the most of the time you have now to prepare. Eat good food and sleep well in the days before, staying energised and motivated to do your best in the test itself.”

Adam Muckle, Tutor and Honorary Fellow of The Tutors’ Association

“Because the tests (in theory) can’t be finished, children who work very quickly will answer more questions and so achieve higher marks. Of course, speed isn’t everything so answering accurately is equally important. Fortunately, paper-based tests are extremely helpful for building both skills. This is because…

  • They are easy to refer back to
  • Children who have a visual memory find it useful to look at previously completed work

Beginning with straightforward tests at a slow pace builds confidence, and so accuracy, in answering 11+ questions. Reviewing the answers and repeating these same questions will inevitably increase speed since the questions are already familiar. It is then a natural progression to follow this same technique with progressively more challenging and faster tests.”

Sarah Collins, Author of Galore Park’s 11+ Study and Revision Guides for Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Read more about adapting 11+ revision for the pre-tests in another blog post by Sarah Collins here.

Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) is a questioning technique that measures logical intelligence using critical thinking to work through pictures and diagrams to arrive at a solution. Spatial Reasoning (SR) questions are believed to require greater innate skills for imagining shapes, patterns and objects moving in space, rather than being a logical or learned skill. This makes spatial reasoning harder to teach, as the very act of rotating or manipulating shapes in space in one’s mind is a mental activity that is hard to verbalise.

"A few examples of tasks to practice these skills include:

  • Solving jigsaw puzzles, playing with building bricks, like Lego, counting how many different shapes you can see in the room (then go to another room) and deciding how many are symmetrical in one or more directions.
  • Games involving 3D blocks that have to be fitted together to form a stack is fun and useful for gaining spatial skills.
  • Ask a parent or guardian to lay a selection of coins on the table and decide which one of them could be the odd one out, and why. This can be done with fruit, vegetables, jars, in fact anything where there are multiple choices.

"All these techniques can help you to notice and work with shapes and patterns to increase your skill levels. Although you can’t beat actually working with practice questions that you’re likely to face. These can be found in the Non-Verbal Reasoning Study and Revision Guide and a variety of Non-Verbal Reasoning Practice Papers published by Galore Park.”

Peter Francis, Author of Galore Park’s 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning revision books

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” said Abraham Lincoln. Preparation is vital for success and a shift to online testing requires a shift in your child's Pre-Test preparations. My top tip is to make sure your child completes regular online practice and mock tests under simulated online assessment conditions. Make use of Atom's bank of over 60,000 teacher-written questions and our unlimited supply of mock tests (that mirror the ISEB Pre-Tests in content, scoring and design) to ensure your child sits their online exam feeling confident and familiar with the format of the test, and versed in the strategies needed to excel. Regular online practice in the format of their actual exam lets your child sharpen that axe and prepare for success!”

Anna, Curriculum Lead at Atom Learning

Finally, it is worth remembering it is only a test and try to remain calm on the day. We are sure if you have put in the preparation you will perform to the best of your abilities. Good luck!

Tags: 11+, 11+ English, Adam Muckle, Atom Learning, Chris Pearse, English, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, exams, Independent School Examination Board, independent schools, ISEB, Key Stage 2, Mathematics, Maths, Maths at key stage 2, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Peter Francis, Practice Papers, pre-test, pre-tests, revision, Revision Guide, revision prep, Revision Tips, Sarah Collins, school entrance exams, Verbal Reasoning, Workbooks

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