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ISEE Exam

The ISEE stands for Independent School Entrance Exam. The ISEE was developed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) for its member schools as part of their admission process. Like other standardized tests, the purpose of the ISEE is to establish a standard method of measurement for the skills that have been acquired by school applicants. Founded in 1927, the ERB’s mission is to create testing and learning solutions that help schools develop improved curriculum, teaching, and learning through diagnosis of assessment results that address essential learning standards. The ISEE has four levels:

ISEE SCORING

Every question correct adds a point to a student’s raw score (so all questions, from the easiest to the hardest, are worth the same for a student’s score). This raw score is then converted to a scaled score. The scaled score is adjusted based on the student’s grade level, so only the scores of students in the same grade can be compared. For example, the Upper Level exam is the same for all students who take the test (those in 8th to 11th grades), but if an 8th and 11th grader received the same raw score — the same number of questions correct — then the scaled score for the 8th grader would be much higher. So, particularly for an 8th grader, if they see content on a section that they have never learned yet, they should not be concerned; that content is likely intended to test students from higher grade levels, and the makers of the test are expecting most students from the lower grades to get those questions incorrect.

There is no guessing penalty, so students should put an answer for every question.

The essay is not scored by the ISEE; it is included in a student’s score report that is sent to the schools to which a student is applying so that admission officers can get a sample of the student’s writing.

ISEE Format

Primary Level Exam Formats

  • Students in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade take the Primary Level 1, 2, and 3 exams for entrance into the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.
  • Note: Students applying only to schools located in New York City do not participate in the essay section because New York City schools do not require this portion of the exam.

Primary Level 2 Format

For students in 1st grade applying to 2nd grade.

Section Number of Questions Time
Auditory Comprehension 6 7 minutes
Reading 18 20 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Mathematics 24 26 minutes
Writing Sample 1 picture prompt No time limit
Total 49 53 minutes + break + essay

Primary Level 3 Format

For students in 2nd grade applying to 3rd grade.

Section Number of Questions Time
Reading 24 28 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Mathematics 24 26 minutes
Writing Sample 1 picture prompt No time limit
Total 49 54 minutes + break + essay

Primary Level 4 Format

For students in 3rd grade applying to 4th grade

Section Number of Questions Time
Reading 28 30 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Mathematics 28 30 minutes
Writing Sample 1 prompt No time limit
Total 57 60 minutes + break + essay

Lower Level Exam Format

  • Students in 4th and 5th grade for entrance into 5th and 6th grade, respectively.
Section Number of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 34 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 38 35 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 25 25 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 30 30 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
Total 128 2 hr and 20 min + two breaks

Middle Level Exam Format

  • Students in 6th and 7th grade for entrance into 7th and 8th grade, respectively.
Section Number of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
Total 161 2 hr and 40 min + two breaks

Upper Level Exam Format

  • Students in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade for entrance into 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, respectively.
Section Number of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break 0 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
Total 161 2 hr and 40 min + two breaks
TIPS TO REMEMBER
  1. Remember the order of difficulty on the Math sections: you’ll find the hardest questions at the end of the section, which means that the answers are more complex. Look carefully at the choices and really think about what the question is asking. But, because all questions have equal worth, there is no reason to rush through the easier questions to get to the hardest ones, since everyone has a lower probability of getting the hardest questions correct anyway.
  2. Don’t read the directions during the test: You should have read and memorized the directions before sitting down to take the exam. So when the exam clock starts ticking, don’t waste time rereading directions you already know. Instead, go directly to Question 1.
  3. Bring a watch: To pace yourself, you need to keep track of the time – and what if there is no clock in your room or if the only clock is out of your line of vision? So bring a watch just in case. A word of warning: Don’t bring a watch that makes noise (such as one that has an alarm) or a smartwatch — both can get you kicked out of the test.
  4. Keep it moving: If you don’t know an answer, that’s ok. Don’t get stuck. There may be questions later on in the test that you can answer easily, and you don’t want to lose points just because you didn’t get to them. And, if you have time left over, you can go back to the questions you skipped.

Frequently Asked Questions

If a student is applying to a private school, there is a good chance that the school will require students to submit standardized test results. The two most frequently accepted tests are the ISEE and SSAT. Students should check with the schools to which they are applying which tests the schools accept or require. If the school accepts both the ISEE and SSAT, then students should take a practice test of each to determine which test fits them best.

To determine which test to take, students should take a diagnostic of both to see which one fits them best.

Note: Because the ISEE can only be taken once in any given testing season (Fall: August t0 November. Winter: December to March. Spring: April to July), students are likely to only have one try on the ISEE when they are fully prepared for it. There is variability in any test date: Students could have a good or bad day, the content tested on that test date might fit them particularly well or not, etc. Given that variability, there’s higher risk inherent with going with the ISEE. For that reason, if a student scores significantly higher on the ISEE, they should prepare for the ISEE. If they only score slightly higher on the ISEE diagnostic, then it’s still safer for them to prepare for the SSAT, because they can easily take the SSAT multiple times. And, if a student does prepare for the ISEE, they still might want to register for and take an SSAT as a back-up, just in case they get unlucky on the ISEE test day and the test does not go as planned.

Students cannot use a calculator on any portion of this exam (unless they have special accommodations that require them to be able to do so).

After Acceptance to High School

Once you start high school (or before), we are here to support you if you need help in any academic subjects. And, when you need it, we’re here for you at the next step: we specialize in SAT and ACT prep and provide one-on-one, customized tutoring and college counseling to over 1,000 students every year.

Timeline for SAT/ACT Testing and College Admissions

  • Fall of sophomore year: Students take the PSAT in October and get results back in early December. These results do not count toward National Merit status, and we recommend that students do not prep for it (here’s more info one why we make that recommendation). But, the results do give us an early indication of where a student’s standardized test score is at, which can inform if we need to start SAT/ACT prep earlier than anticipated.
  • Summer after sophomore year: in June, take our free diagnostic SAT and ACT exams to determine which test suits your child best and then start SAT prep or ACT prep (recruited athletes or those needing very large score increases sometimes need to start the process earlier).
  • Throughout junior year: take the SAT/ACT tests until you hit your score goal (ACT scores, in particular, can be deleted at any time, so there’s no downside to re-taking the test).
  • October of junior year: most students take the PSAT (this score does not matter for the vast majority of students) — the results for this test come back in early December of that year.
  • Summer after junior year and early fall of senior year: college visits and applications.
  • November 1st and 15th of senior year: early application deadlines for most colleges.

If you have any questions before or along the course of that journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out — we’re always happy to talk about the best plan for your child and how to help them succeed.