Common Entrance Pre-Tests – 13+ ISEB Common Pre Tests Guide

13 Plus (13+) Common Entrance Pre Test

Introduction to the ISEB 13+ Common Pre-Test

Of all the school entrance points, 13 Plus / Common Entrance is surely the most complex. The process usually lasts several years, and students must sit multiple sets of exams in the broadest range of subjects. Whereas applicant at 11 Plus normally get away with papers in Maths, English and Reasoning, the poor Common Entrance applicant often sits papers in the Sciences, French, the Humanities, Latin and more. To even get here, they must sit and pass the school’s pre-test.

For the purposes of this article, by “Common Entrance” we will be referring to the papers set for admission at age 13, also know as 13+.


How does Common Entrance differ from 7+ and 11+?

At other entrance points like 7+ and 11+, applicants often sit exams at multiple schools. Particularly with the London day schools, this involves the child having to sit several sets of exam papers over several different days, going to the school in question to do so. Subject matter does differ here as well, but is unlikely to differ from the standard diet of Maths, English and Reasoning. The ratio of students sitting exams to available places is high, often with several students applying for each available place.

Common Entrance is different. The ratio of students sitting Common Entrance exams to final places available is far lower. Parents can (and do) register with multiple schools, usually two or three years before entrance.

The majority of schools use pre tests to help them select a core of students, who will be offered a place based on performance in their Common Entrance exams.

How do I enter my child for the Pre-Test?

Registration with schools is simple, involving the payment of a registration fee and completing a registration form. Schools will have direct telephone lines to their admissions department, and full time staff to field queries. Their websites are often very helpful, with full details on the application process.

Successful registration will make students eligible to be considered for that school on the results of the pre-test.

The ISEB pre-test and its role in admissions at 13 Plus

The Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) organises a communal pre-test, which is now subscribed to by many schools. This is usually sat at the child’s current school, if they are able to administer the test. If not, senior schools can have students in to sit them instead.

The results of this test are made available to all schools that the students apply to. Schools will use this result to decide who to take further in their process. Next steps usually include an interview, possibly further testing, and then a conditional offer based on performance on the Common Entrance papers in Year 8.

Other pre-tests are available

Although it is growing in popularity, not all schools use the ISEB Common Pre-Test. Attempting to explain the differences between each would likely involve as many explanations as there were different pre-tests, but there are some common features:

  • The tests are more commonly becoming computerised.
  • Non ISEB pre-tests will be sat at the destination school.
  • The timelines are similar to those of schools running the ISEB system, i.e. pre tests are sat 2 or 3 years before.

For example, at the time of writing Tonbridge were running their own system for Common Entrance pre testing. This involved a “computer-based cognitive test”, sat at Tonbridge in the Autumn term, in Year 6 (3 years before entry).

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Introduction to the ISEB Common pre-test

The ISEB Common Pre-Test is sat in Year 6 or Year 7, when the student is between 10 and 12. The ISEB has commissioned GL Assessment to create the test. All questions are multiple choice. Students are assessed in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

At the time of writing, the test was used by the following 26 schools to help pre-select their students.

How does the ISEB Common pre-test work?

The ISEB Common Pre-Test will only be sat once per year, usually at the student’s current school. Results are then sent to all schools that the student is applying to that year.

If a student was to apply to two different schools requiring registration in Year 6 and Year 7 respectively, and didn’t get into the earlier school, he would be required to sit the pre-test again in Year 7.

The test takes around two hours and thirty minutes. This includes papers in Maths, English, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning, delivered on the following timings:

  • Maths – 50 minutes
  • English – 25 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning – 36 minutes
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning – 32 minutes

Students input all answers into a computer. Parents should be aware that there is no facility to return to answers to check them once inputted, and so students will benefit from practicing checking as they go along. Students are not allowed to write anything on paper during the English, Verbal- and Non-Verbal Reasoning sections. Scrap paper will be provided in the Maths section.

Who writes the ISEB Common pre-test?

As already mentioned, the ISEB Common pre-test contains sections in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

The ISEB has outsourced the provision of the Common Pre-Test to GL-Assessment, a major provider of assessment materials to schools and elsewhere. Many schools use GL-Assessment content to select students; they currently write the Kent 11+ papers.

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How can I help my child with the ISEB Common pre-test?

The ISEB is at pains to say that no preparation is necessary:

“No special preparation is needed for the tests and no practice tests are available.”, “What are the Common Pre-Tests?”, November 2016

Parents wanting to help their children may find it useful to know that GL-Assessment publish 11+ Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning papers, and that these can be purchased through various retailers. As readers will likely already know, the ISEB also publish past 11+ papers in English and Maths through Galore Park, and they may find these helpful.

An interactive demo of the pre-test can be found here:

It should be noted that this is not a full test, and that none of the actual questions here will be used on the real thing.

For parents wanting to help their child with preparation for the computerised element, there are various options that may be of interest.

Firstly, Nintendo have an excellent game on their DS console called “Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training”. Although about ten years old now, it is my opinion that this is excellent preparation to get students used to the interactive component of the tests. It is likely to meet less resistance as well! Due to its age, this can be found quite cheaply online, certainly for under £10.

Secondly, for the Maths component we recommend using Mathletics ( This is a paid-for platform where students compete in real time against others to answer Maths questions against the clock. Although not directly alligned with the ISEB Maths syllabus, it will help students gain confidence in quickly working with Maths problems on a computer. Just be sure to disable the easier difficulty levels as appropriate! Licences cost under £40 a year per child.

Lastly, look for any other chance for students to solve problems and input with a computer will improve their confidence. There are online 11+ assessments available. I have limited experience, but have heard some good things about them. Is there something you’d like to recommend? Let us know below.

What happens after the pre test?

It gets harder to make generalisations at this point. Schools will likely have some kind of interview process and / or further assessment process of their own which isn’t standardised. Schools using the ISEB pre-test will use the pre-test to control access to this stage.

Schools will invite students with the highest performances on the pre-test to their next stage. They will also maintain a small waiting list for students who were below the pass mark. Students on this list will be offered places if students with higher scores don’t accept their offers, making a gap available.

These places are conditional on the student achieving a certain score on the ISEB Common Entrance papers in Year 8. The exact pass mark varies between schools, but is usually between the 55 to 65% range. Please be aware that there is variation in the papers sat, and for some subjects (Maths and English) a variety of difficulty levels that can be sat. Scholarships offer a further level of difficulty.

Parents will accept a place at their desired school by notifying that school and paying a substantial deposit. It is then assumed that the student will be going to that school.

Students will then spend the next two or three years preparing for the Common Entrance papers, and ensuring that they meet the required pass mark.

Parents will accept a place at their desired school by notifying that school and paying a substantial deposit. It is then assumed that the student will be going to that school.

Students will then spend the next two or three years preparing for the Common Entrance papers, and ensuring that they meet the required pass mark.

How can I get help?

If you are confused as to the basics of what has been discussed here, we recommend reading our introduction to the 13+.

Owl Tutors 13+ Guide

If you are still deciding which school to put your child forward for at Common Entrance, we recommend using our schools guide.

Owl Tutors 13+ School Admissions Guide

Although we don’t provide sample papers for the ISEB pre-test, we do provide our own set of Common Entrance exam papers. These are completely free to use, and cover the main subjects assessed at 13+. You can view these using the link below.

Owl Tutors 13+ Exam Papers

If you are looking for a tutor, we can certainly help. We offer home tutors in London, online tutors internationally, and both short- and long-term residential tuition placements. All of our tutors are qualified school teachers, with classroom teaching experience in the subjects they tutor.

Common Entrance & 13+ Tutors