Brandon Learning Centre in Hong Kong prepares pupils for entrance to top UK schools. Founder Dr Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart explains everything you need to know about pre-tests and how to prepare for them

If the code for ‘HOUSE’ is 12345 and ‘FLAT’ is 6789, what is the code for ‘HOTEL’? Welcome to the wonderful world of the pre-test. 

Numbers of applicants to British boarding schools have soared, with many students coming via non-prep school routes. Senior schools have been trying to find ways to level the playing field, identify suitable candidates and relieve the stress of multiple examinations. As a result, schools are now testing students in Year 6 or Year 7. Most tests are a combination of verbal, non-verbal reasoning, language and maths – and increasingly these are administered online. 

Schools may choose to design their own pre-tests (such as customised products from the University of Durham’s CEM unit) and others may use an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution such as UKISET, BUSSATS or the ISEB pre-test. As many schools are now adopting the latter, the ISEB pre-test will be our focus, but the preparation will also apply to other tests. 

If you are registered with a school which uses the ISEB pre-test, they will enter your child and will provide you with a testing window. Your child can take the test once in each academic year, so if they are registered with multiple senior schools, you need to ensure that the test is taken before the earliest deadline. Once you decide on a testing centre (such as my Brandon Learning Centre in Hong Kong), the schools will send them access codes and you will be ready to test. 

Crucially, results of the ISEB pre-test are not shared with parents. Schools use them in different ways, for example, Eton uses test results  in conjunction with school references, whereas at Benenden they are used in addition to the activity-based taster day. Typically, the pre-test is used as a screening mechanism; at Westminster and Eton for instance, the next stage may be that your child is invited to interview and further testing. 

Students need to know what to expect when they take a pre-test. You can talk them through the composition of the test and familiarise them with any timing requirements or rules (such as not being able to return to questions). If your child has SEND accommodations, the senior school needs to be made aware and your testing centre can ensure that these are met. In past years, the ISEB pre-test had an automatic timer but this has now been replaced with centre-monitored function which makes life much easier. 

UKISET, which can be taken by both younger and secondary-age students, has all of the above with additional listening and English writing sections. UKISET can be taken once every six months and parents can opt to receive the results. The test is standard but parents register and pay themselves. It is worth letting your child know that UKISET is adaptive, so if the questions get harder, that is a good sign. 

At Brandon, we have been offering ISEB Pre-test and UKISET prep classes since the tests were first introduced. The pre-test results are only one element of your application and do be aware that reports and references also play a key role. A recent trend is the move away from full Common Entrance, giving students time to really enjoy school in Year 7 and Year 8. In time, the pre-test may become the only test.

For more information contact [email protected] or call +852 2575 1761

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