Letters have been sent to leaders of the 600 schools across the country asked to take part in the trial for the national reference tests (NRTs).
Headteachers will receive the letters this week asking them to allow their current year 11 pupils to sit the English and maths test in the pilot next March.
The NRTs are formally due to begin in March 2017. However, Ofqual wants to do a test run next year and needs 300 schools to take part.
The tests will monitor, over time, how cohorts of students are performing and will act as a guide for increases or decreases in that cohort’s GCSE grades.
From each school, 30 pupils will sit an English test and another 30 will take a maths exam. Each test will take an hour.
The exams watchdog confirmed last month that headteachers will have the final say on excluding any pupil from testing if necessary.
The tests will be externally administered in each school by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “NFER has written to more than 600 schools selected to take part in the preliminary reference tests.
“The more schools that agree to participate, the more successful and accurate the trials will be. Furthermore, the results from the trials will help to influence the NRT in future so we strongly encourage schools to take the opportunity to get involved.”
However, Caroline Nokes, a Conservative MP and member of the education select committee, said that she was uneasy about the tests when Ofqual was last quizzed by committee members.
She told Schools Week: “I think there is a real danger, especially for year 11 students, that we are putting ever more pressure and testing on pupils.
“In the select committee I was seeking reassurance that parents would be able to opt out and that enough warning would be given to the pupils selected for the tests.
“I am also very sceptical that if the questions remain broadly the same from year to year, then the average selected teenager will be able to look them up online and will not give an accurate reference anyway.”
But writing in Schools Week this week, Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s chief executive, says that a range of items has been drawn up for tests and have been already road-tested by more than 4,000 pupils in 175 schools.
She said: “Even so, teachers are concerned that their efforts to raise student achievement may not be fully reflected in GCSE results. The reference test is designed to provide an additional source of evidence of student performance that, over time, may help with those awarding judgments.”