There's a lot of anxiety surrounding ISEB Common Pre-Tests.
Parents I speak with are often concerned about the lack of example questions provided from ISEB themselves – a familiar tool for preparing for many other important tests. This lack of predictability is precisely the point of the Pre-Test. It's a test which can't be beaten simply by doing mindless, repetitive preparation.
We as tutors, as well as our teacher counterparts in schools, really like the Pre-Test. It places much greater emphasis on skills training, rather than the endless practice which used to guarantee even quite weak students could ace entrance tests with the right drilling.
Nowadays, any student who is being well prepared for the ISEB will end up also improving key skills in English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning – skills which remain important to their educational journey for far longer than just the Pre-test preparations.
So is it then possible to actually "prepare" for the Pre-test?
Parents and Tutors can have an enormous beneficial impact on a student's Pre-Test results. To prepare well, we need to focus on three key areas: Skills, Variety and Practice.
Preparation skills for ISEB Common Pre-tests
Developing Skills is a long term process. Even many years before a student takes the Pre-Test, a good holistic approach to education can develop the key skills required.
So what are these skills?
In both the English and Verbal Reasoning Pre-test there is a huge emphasis on vocabulary, the manipulation of words and comprehension. The best, and really only, way of developing these reading skills properly is to get children, you guessed it, reading. There really are no shortcuts or substitutes to reading widely.
What if your child, like many of my students, isn't a natural reader? Keep trying. Do whatever it takes. Honestly, it matters far less what they're reading; just get them reading something and get them reading regularly (so long as it's actually a book, not a website, and it is vaguely age appropriate.) Footballers' biographies can be just as worthwhile as vintage children's literature, so long as these books spark a regular reading habit. This interest can then be sharpened and honed and improved, but only if a young person is in the habit of reading. So how do you do this?
First off, be a magpie for book recommendations. If a friend raves about how their child wouldn't put a book down, buy it! Any book connected with something your child is already interested in, buy it! And don't worry if your child doesn't like a book. They're bound not to like everything, and if they're an especially reluctant reader, they might not like anything much at all, at least initially. I have a "first 50 pages rule". If they haven't got into a book by the end of the first 50 pages, be happy to let them move onto something else. But keep trying different books until they find something that actually sticks. (Then buy all the books in that series, if there is one. If not look for similar books online.) Keep a record of every book your child finishes reading. Ideally showcase that list somewhere prominent in your home so they can see their successes mounting. And, if all else fails, be Machiavellian; incentivise finishing books, (but make sure they have actually read it properly).
Ideally, as a parent, you also need to get involved. If they are young, either read the book to them or have them read it to you. If they are older, pick up a book for yourself and read while they are reading too. I cannot overstate just how much this will benefit your child if you can help them find a love of reading from an early age. Sustain and nurture this love by buying them books whenever they run out of reading material and keep talking to them about what they are reading. They need to feel from your interest that reading is an important, valuable part of life which they should spend energy getting better at. And this won't just help their Pre-test. You'll be giving them a valuable and never-ending source of pleasure, information and guidance which will remain with them for their entire lives.
Mental arithmetic is key. The more Maths a student can do, in their own head, the easier they will find Pre-test Maths. Simple. Times tables must be learnt comprehensively. Mental Maths strategies must be practiced. The more that students can do this with their parents or guardians the better.
You may notice that there is a strong emphasis above on the role that parents play in the life of their children's early education. This is not accidental. As a tutor, when a parent is positively and enthusiastically involved in the educational journey of their child, I see time and time again the successes this brings. For this reason, UK Independent Schools, on the whole, like to see evidence that parents are interested and have played an active role in their children's education.
There comes a point when formal Pre-test preparations must begin. This can be anywhere between a couple of months to upwards of 18 months. With longer term preparation, skill gaps can be addressed. Shorter term preparation deals with how students actually deal with the four papers: English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. As we know, it's challenging to predict exactly what is going to come up in the Pre-Test. There are many companies that try though, and a couple of them are very good at it. The best way to prepare for the Pre-Test is to use a mixture of the best online testing platforms. Not only does this increase the chance that a student will have seen a specific question type before, but the variation in styles and formatting develops flexibility and resilience to new and difficult situations (exactly like they'll experience in the Pre-Test.)
ISEB Common Pre-test platform reviews
These are the platforms I particularly recommend and use during my Pre-Test preparation sessions:
Atom Learning - Atom has pulled ahead over the last year as the market leader. Not so much the content of their testing, which is much the same as the other top providers, but their data analysis makes it very easy to quickly identify problem areas on a very granular level. Crucially "custom tests" can then be created which target these problem areas much more forensically than previously possible.
BOFA Pre-Test - My previous favourite and a worthy option. Also a more cost effective option than Atom; great for using when starting preparations more than 6 months in advance.
Pre-Test Plus - Another popular option, with the added claims that their tests are "created by an actual ISEB Pretest question writer."
Bond Online - The giant of paper based test preparation has moved online. Very much more cost effective than any of the options above, although the difficulty of the tests at the higher end is somewhat lacking.
As the Pre-Test is an online test, I'd always recommend students practice, for the most part, online. All of my lessons are taught online, and I've found that this really helps get students more familiar with this format of testing.
There's no getting around it. Practice is key. However, practice also needs to be targeted, regular and not overdone. Too much practice, especially in one go, can have negative effects. So, strike a careful balance. I give a broad range of different question types over the four areas English, Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. Parents can do an awful lot to help their students with this process. If, however, you find that you're finding it challenging explaining particular concepts to your children, or it needs more time than you can spare, that's where ISEB Pre-test tutors can step in. Do complete our request a tutor form or give us a call if you'd like to talk about your child and how to help them on their journey towards the Pre-test and beyond.