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How to teach your child the Pre-Test comprehension technique

English comprehension tests a child’s understanding of a text, usually by giving them an extract to read and then asking them questions about it. Your child will already have learnt comprehension skills at school, but the Pre-Test requires they approach this skill in a different way.

The ISEB English Pre-Test includes one text and lasts 40 minutes. Its time limit makes it hard for children to use the technique they are taught in schools. They will have been encouraged to spend plenty of time reading the extract and highlighting key details. This is so they can fully digest it before answering the first question.

From 2022 pupils will see several short passages (between 300 – 500 words), passages are age-appropriate and could be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. Each paragraph or verse within the passage will be numbered.

  • Some questions will refer to specific paragraphs (or verses). This means the pupil need only to refer to this section.
  • Some questions will refer to specific sentences. These questions will repeat the sentence so you do not have to find it in the passage.
  • Some questions will be about the whole text.

Where the question is about the whole text we recommend children read the question, then start reading from the beginning of the extract to find the answer.


e.g. How many people live in the city?

Once they think they have found the answer, it is worth them reading on a little further to ensure there is no information that could contradict their answer.

e.g. The population of the city is recorded as 5,000, but recently there has been an influx of 2,000 people. This means the total population has increased to 7,000.

Pupils will then need to read the next question, returning to the part of the extract they left off from to find the answer. They will repeat this process until all questions have been answered. 

Usually, the Pre-Test comprehension questions are in chronological order, so the answers can be found as the child moves through the extract. There are however sometimes exceptions, so your child will need to be prepared to go back to an earlier part of the passage. BOFA’s ISEB Mock Tests include some questions that are not in chronological order to ensure pupils feel prepared for this scenario. It is also worth noting that as the ISEB Pre-Test is taken on a computer, pupils will not be able to annotate a paper copy of the extract. As an online mock exam, BOFA's ISEB Mock Tests help familiarise pupils with this process.

Helping your child

Don’t worry, it’s easy to help your child develop this style of comprehension technique with a little practice. Find a short text and come up with two or three questions about it your child could answer. Show them the questions first, ensuring they understand them before showing them the text. It’s a good idea to practice with different genres.

Here are three examples:

  • A paragraph from the middle of a fictional story
  • A verse from a poem
  • A short online news item

The whole process should only take five minutes - give it a try over breakfast!

Why not try our practice questions below using this article as the extract?

  1. How long is the ISEB English Pre-Test?
  2. List two genres of text that are good for comprehension practice.

If you don’t have the time to create your own practice questions, BOFA’s ISEB Mock Tests are ideal for easy preparation. Available as packs of 3, they mirror the Pre-Test's content and format in order to build pupil confidence.


You can buy BOFA® ISEB Pre-Test Mock Test packs here:

Read our other ISEB Pre-Test blog posts