Adapting Revision Time for Pre-Test Success
By Sarah Collins
15 Oct

Year 6 can be a stressful time for children whether they are taking SATs tests or assessments set by the prep school so the addition of pre-tests for the Common Entrance can seem rather daunting. 

The good news is that these tests do not generally require additional knowledge, so theoretically no additional revision is required even though the format (often delivered online) can be unfamiliar. However, understanding what the pre-tests are looking for and how they work will help you to adapt your curriculum revision planning to prepare for the pre-test at the same time.

This blog answers some common questions and looks at the characteristics of these tests in Part 1 and provides simple strategies to help you focus revision work where it is most effective in Part 2.

Targeting your child’s preparation in this way will help you to…

  • Reduce the revision mountain
  • Build their confidence in tackling unfamiliar question styles
  • Understand what they need to practise in order to excel

Part 1: Understanding the pre-tests

What are Pre-Tests?

Pre-tests are now set by many of the top independent schools. The purpose is both to find out whether a child is likely to reach the academic standard of the school in question and also to pre-select pupils who they feel will benefit most from the education offered. If your child passes, they are very likely to be offered a place on the assumption that they then go on to pass the Common Entrance test in Year 8.

The pre-test is often electronic and covers similar content to the 11+ exam. This is most usually made up of four tests: English (including specific questions on grammar, spelling and punctuation), maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

In addition to this test, children can be asked to complete further assessments required by the individual school, such as a writing task or an interview/group assessment.

Do all schools set the same pre-test?

The ISEB (Independent Schools Examination Board) Common Pre-Test is the most widely used although a number of schools create their own, both electronic and paper-based.

The ISEB pre-tests are electronic and give clear information about the categories of questions children will encounter. The advantage of the ISEB test is that the results are shared with other independent schools so only one test needs to be taken if your child is applying to schools for which the ISEB pre-tests are used.

When do the pre-tests take place?

ISEB Common Pre-Tests candidates can be registered between 1 September and 16 June with the tests being taken between 1 October and 30 June. The first step is to check with the schools you are applying to and find out when their tests take place and what they involve.

Because the tests can be taken across more than one year group, they are standardised, which means that the process takes into account not only which school year your child is in, but also their age in years and months.

The senior school is responsible for registering your child for the ISEB Pre-Test and their current school is generally responsible for administering it.

What are the schools looking for with pre-tests?

There is a clear emphasis on logic and problem-solving in all of the academic assessments which are designed to look at where children’s aptitudes and potential lies.

Targeted training in these areas can boost scores through familiarity and practise.

The electronic tests are often adaptive, which means that the test gets progressively more difficult when questions are answered correctly. The assessments also reward speed because the faster questions are answered, the more questions are delivered leading to a higher overall score.

Because of the nature of the tests, both timing and accuracy are important in achieving a high score, both of which can be improved using specific tests.

Face-to-face assessments are much more about understanding your child as an individual and finding out if their personality and interests will thrive in the school environment.

Part 2: Adapting revision to prepare for pre-tests

Maths and English

If your child is doing well in school and has a good grasp of basic maths and English skills, they should have enough knowledge to sit the pre-test. Consequently, any revision they are doing in these subjects will directly benefit them in their pre-test.

Top private schools are looking for higher attainment levels, including a wide-ranging vocabulary appropriate to a reading age 18 months ahead of the school year.

Helpful revision for the maths and English sections of the pre-test is…

  • Areas where your child feels they need a little extra support
  • Questions in maths that involve problem-solving (such as fractions) or link different areas of the subject
  • Questions in English that involve correcting texts and writing tasks (Section 3 in the English book covers all aspects of writing composition to support your child in improving their assessments in writing)
  • Reading both fiction and non-fiction

Short revision sessions of 30–40 minutes two–three times a week will help them far more than spending half a day at the weekend or in the holidays.

The Galore Park 11+ and Pre-Test Revision Guides for maths and English both work in 2–4 page sections which concentrate on each topic for these quick revision sessions and cover the curriculum to the end of Year 6 plus extra content from the ISEB curriculum.

Each spread concludes with review questions to check your child has understood the content, with the last three questions being typical of those they might encounter in the tests (the final question is the most challenging and typical of expectations of the top schools).

Tests throughout both books help consolidate all skills.

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning

Although verbal and non-verbal reasoning (including spatial reasoning) are not formally taught in schools, your child may have already come across them in assessments such as CAT4 in previous school years.

These tests are based on existing maths and English knowledge and designed to test children’s logic and problem-solving skills. Verbal reasoning questions favour children with an aptitude for English whilst non-verbal reasoning questions favour children with an aptitude for maths and science.

Although there is no extra knowledge required, as you will have experienced with crosswords and map-reading, practise can vastly improve your ability to perform the tasks well.

Verbal and non-verbal reasoning question styles can change from year to year so being familiar with similar questions in different formats is an important part of the revision process.

Helpful revision for the verbal and non-verbal sections of the pre-test is…

  • Becoming familiar with the different types of questions that appear (our revision guides feature plenty of practise questions)
  • Practising a variety of question formats*
  • Developing vocabulary knowledge through reading both fiction and non-fiction

The Galore Park 11+ and Pre-Test Study and Revision Guides for verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning both work in 2–4 page sections for quick revision sessions and each spread covers one type of question, explained using familiar English and maths concepts. Each spread finishes with review questions to check your child has understood the content, with the last three questions being typical of those they might encounter in the tests (the final question is the most challenging).

*The tests at the end of each section of the revision guides provide a comprehensive variety of formats seen in the pre-tests. Additional practise of all these different styles can be found in the verbal and non-verbal reasoning workbooks for ages 8–10, 9–11 and 10–12 providing plenty of practise using quick exercises and tests.   

Adaptive pre-test training

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.

Here are some techniques to help children improve their performance in adaptive pre-tests…

  • Speed can be improved by practising reasonably straightforward tests in a realistic environment, such as a quiet bedroom, using a timer which is allowed to overrun if the test isn’t completed. Being able to answer the questions builds confidence and allows children to concentrate better.
  • Accuracy can be improved using the same technique, since confidence and a more relaxed frame of mind tends to reduce the number of mistakes.
  • An ability to answer difficult questions comes with time. Working through tests that not only become more difficult but also increase in speed gradually trains children to match the speed and difficulty of the tests they will face.

The Galore Park 11+ and Pre-Test Practice Papers (volumes 1 and 2) are available in all four subjects. These practice papers begin with straightforward tests timed at a manageable pace. As children progress through the first and then the second book, both the timing and difficulty of questions become more challenging. As with the pre-tests, a mixture of question-difficulty is included in each test to give a realistic test experience. The most challenging tests representing those set by the top independent schools.

All answers are fully explained so children can understand where they may need additional support, which is easy to find in the accompanying Revision and Study Guides.

Visit our product pages for English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning to see samples of the tests for your child to try out.

Once your child is confident in their abilities with the content of these tests, why not sign up to Atom Learning where they can take an adaptive pre-test, similar to that set by the ISEB.

Atom Learning's online, adaptive mock test area features more than 20,000 questions in English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. The questions are set in the style of the online pre-tests and an algorithm adapts to the individual pupil’s level in the same way as real pre-tests, meaning they get more difficult as the pupil goes along. 

Progress reports can then be viewed by parents and schools to identify areas which need improving. Outside of the mock test area, Atom offers useful revision tips to hone exam technique.
Atom is best used alongside Galore Park's 11+ and pre-test revision resources, which teach the skills needed to answer pre-test questions.

Atom Learning Revision Journey

Sarah Collins is an expert in all things pre-test and 11+ and is the author of our verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning study and revision guides. Learn more about Sarah here.

Looking for more advice and guidance on the pre-tests, 11+ or 13+ entrance exams? Download your FREE copy of The Parent Guide that we have created with the ISEB.

Tags: English, Entrance exams, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, Independent School Examination Board, independent schools, ISEB, Mathematics, Maths, Non-Verbal Reasoning, online learning, Practice Papers, pre-test, pre-tests, Revision Guide, revision prep, Revision Tips, school entrance exams, Verbal Reasoning

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