In recent years, many independent senior schools that have put pre-tests in place have purposefully designed them with as little transparency as possible. It is for this reason that the tests are often computer generated and no past papers are issued. As such, no tutor can claim to have in depth knowledge or experience of the tests themselves, in their current form.
For schools following the Pre-Assessment route, children will usually be asked to sit a Pre-Test in Year 5, 6 or 7 (Year 6 is the norm).
What are computerised pre-tests?
There are various pre-tests on offer including:
Tests focus on pupils’ English, Maths and Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning skills and are not dissimilar to the 11+ and CAT tests. Schools use Pre-Tests as means of establishing whether candidates will meet the academic requirements of that school.
ISEB Common Pre-test
Commissioned by the ISEB and made by GL Assessment.
Structure: English: 25 mins
Maths: 50 mins
VR: 36 mins
NVR: 32 mins
Further reading on the ISEB Common Pre-test
CEM designs school specific tests for schools, such as the Harrow Test.
More information: Computer-Adaptive Assessments
Structure: School Specific – but consists of English, Maths, VR and NVR
Sample: CEM sample
Further reading on CEM Test
Designed to support UK independent schools in assessing international students – made by CEM.
Structure: English: 40 mins
Reasoning: 45 mins
Essay: 30 mins
Sample: Sample UKiset Questions
Further reading on the UKiset
- What is the UKiset test?
- What is a Good UKiset Score?
- UKiset Verbal Reasoning
- UKiset Vocabulary List
- UKiset Past Papers and Sample Test
CAT 4 Test
Made by GL Assessment, it is one of the world’s most widely use cognitive ability tests. However, rather than used it as an entrance assessment it is used in schools to understand developed ability (i.e. where a child is now) and likely academic potential (i.e. where a child could be). UK independent Prep Schools also use the CAT 4 tests as a data point (alongside qualitative and quantitative in-school data) to guide Senior School conversations with parents. This is because of its similarity to the existing Pre-Tests. It consists of 4 parts:
- Verbal Reasoning (VR)
- Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR)
- Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
- Spatial Awareness (SA)
Read our Guide to the CAT4 Test
Eton List Test
Eton has recently changed its computerised Pre-Test. At Stage 1 students complete the ISEB Pre-Test. At Stage 2 Eton have included a new test which has been designed by Cambridge’s Psychology Department in conjunction with a company called No More Marking. We believe it is very similar to the other types of question. However, they do not have open ended typing tasks in English.
Read our Complete Guide to The Eton List Test
What do Computerised Pre-Tests assess?
General: Despite their adaptive nature and the absence of past papers, we do have a fair idea of what the tests involve and (from the information available) know that they have their roots in key stage 2 of the national curriculum. As such, in cases where we have been asked to prepare a student for the pre-tests, we recommend that tutors focus on developing a thorough knowledge of the 11+ ISEB Common Entrance Curriculum in English and Maths alongside encouraging computer-based practice for verbal and non-verbal reasoning. We also recommend that tutors encourage students to undertake as much computer-based practice as possible from the wide variety of other web-based platforms (such as Keystone Tests) that are available as it serves as excellent practice for verbal and non-verbal reasoning as well as helps to familiarise students with the format of online testing.
Key Exam Skills: Computerised Pre-Tests require a very different set of test-taking skills compared to paper-based assessments and these are often very alien to many students. Thus, on top of ensuring that students have strong foundations in the content in English, Maths and Reasoning it is also paramount that you ensure that they are well practice in the relevant exam skills. Tutors should ensure their students have are:
Flexibility: Tutors should prepare students to be supple and adaptable test-takers so that they can cope with whatever the tests throw at them. Students are flexible when they can apply their understanding in new contexts. Pre-Tests require this of students, particularly in word problems (i.e. the Maths is often well within the grasp of the average 10 year old, but it is contained with a word problem which is different to anything they have seen before)
Speed: it is very important. Pre-Tests are measuring two things when a student works through a computerised Pre-Test, their speed and accuracy. Whilst working quickly and accurately is a skill that all students should be working towards, Pre-Tests have a heightened sense of pressure because of the time constraints which are often exaggerated by the presence of clock or timer. Therefore, Tutors should give their students an ever-restricted amount of time each exercise they do. By the end of the programme, students should be under a lot of time pressure for each exercise and ideally comfortable with this.
Mental Agility: Typically, students are unable to write anything down in Pre-Tests (apart from the Maths section of the ISEB Pre-Test). Thus, their ability to process and work through information in their head is a key feature of online adaptive Pre-Tests. It is therefore important that whilst you develop their writing skills you focus on their mental agility as well. Mental arithmetic is a key feature of the number of quantitative elements of Pre-Tests. It is also worth noting that few Pre-Tests enable students to go back.
Adaptive: This is a key feature of Pre-Tests. Within the testing batteries each question is levelled by year and month in terms of at what age a student should be able to answer it. At the beginning of a test students enter their date of birth and the test will begin asking them questions that are age appropriate. When a question is answered correctly, the next question tends to be harder (i.e. beyond age-appropriate); when a question is answered incorrectly, the next question is often easier or pitched at the same level. Tutors should try to build this principle into their teaching. It is also important to encourage a sense of resilience in students as it is likely the more questions, they ask correctly the more challenging the test will become.
Question Type: Online testing is not common in schools in the UK, particularly not when compared to paper-based assessment. Clearly, the nature of an online assessment in terms of how students can be assessed is quite different. Subsequently, it is often the case that students are quite unfamiliar with style of questions asked. For example, multiple choice questions are very rarely used in English, yet this is one of the most popular question types in online Pre-Tests. Thus, it is important that tutors introduce and help students to develop strategies to tackle the following question types which students may not have encountered before.
Past papers for computerised pre-tests
Pre-tests are purposefully designed with as little transparency as possible and as such no past papers are issued. However, we do know the numeracy and literacy content of these tests is rooted in Key Stage Two of the national curriculum. As such, a comprehensive understanding of the 11+ Maths and English syllabus will stand any student in good stead for the tests. Beyond numeracy and literacy, student feedback suggests that the tests often contain a number of sections on cognitive ability including logic. While these are hard to practice for, spending time on the various apps available for ‘brain training’ will be useful.
How to prepare for computerised pre-tests
The three different types share the following common factors: time pressure, adaptive questioning and a computerised medium.
In addition to this, it is worth focusing on exam technique, speed and familiarisation of computerised testing.
- Exam technique is very important. If students know what they are being asked to do, the questions become much easier for them. Often questions may be testing something quite simple but be presented in a complex or unusual way.
- Speed is another essential factor and students should be given an ever restricted amount of time for practice exercises that they do. In the months running up to the tests, students should get used to working under time pressure and learning not to panic when thrown unexpected questions.
- We have developed a website called KeystoneTests which provides practice in English, Maths and Reasoning to help students get to grips with the format of computer based testing. In the lead up to computerised exams, your child could look to spend half an hour or so every day undertaking online practice. We believe that ‘little and often’ is the best approach as the more comfortable students can get with sitting tests on a computer the better. We recommend that your child undertakes as wide a variety of computer based practice as possible from the web-based tests and apps that are available.
The following websites also offer workbooks and revision guides pitched at the 11+ and Key Stage Two curriculum: