What Is The ISEE Test? An Overview For Parents

Hey there, parents! At Inspirica Pros, we know that guiding your child through their academic journey can feel like a wild roller coaster ride, full of ups, downs, and lots of twists, and as your children approach middle and high school, a new challenge comes into the picture – standardized tests.

One such standardized test, the ISEE, can play a significant role in your child’s education path, particularly if private or independent schools are a part of your family’s future plans. This test is widely accepted by numerous prestigious schools around the globe, and it’s designed to assess your child’s academic achievements and potential.

If you are a parent of a child between the ages of seven and twelve, chances are that your child has mentioned or you have seen or heard of ISEE. But what exactly is this test? What specific skills and knowledge does it cover? Is there any way to get ready for it? We have answers to all those questions and more, and our goal is to equip you with the knowledge and confidence you need to guide your child in this crucial phase. So, let’s dive into everything you need to know about the ISEE!

What is the ISEE Test?

Let’s start off by understanding just what exactly the ISEE is. The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a standardized test used by many private and independent schools as part of their admission process. Developed and administered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB), it measures students’ verbal and quantitative reasoning skills, mathematics achievement, reading comprehension, and includes an essay that is not scored but sent to schools for review. 

The ISEE is divided into four levels:

  • Primary Level: For students currently in grade 1 who are applying for second grade (this level is further broken down into Primary 2, Primary 3, and Primary 4)
  • Lower Level: For students currently in grades 4 and 5 who are applying for  grades 5 and 6.
  • Middle Level: For students in grades 6 and 7 who are applying for  grades 7 and 8.
  • Upper Level: For students in grades 8 to 11 who are applying for  grades 9 to 12.

Each level of the test is designed to assess the academic achievement and aptitude of students in relation to their peers at the same level. The ISEE provides schools with an unbiased, standardized assessment to understand and compare the abilities of students coming from different schools and backgrounds. It’s important to note that the ISEE is just one factor among many that schools consider during the admissions process.

ISEE Primary Level

The ISEE Primary Level is designed for students seeking admission to Grades 2, 3, and 4 in private or independent schools. It is a tool that allows schools to better understand the applicant’s cognitive and reasoning skills at this early stage of learning. This test is broken down into three different sub-levels – Primary 2, Primary 3, and Primary 4, each corresponding to the grade level to which a student is applying.

Primary 2 is for students currently in Grade 1 applying for Grade 2. It includes three sections: Auditory Comprehension, Reading, and Mathematics (plus a 5-10 minute break).

ISEE SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Auditory Comprehension6 questions7 minutes
Reading18 questions20 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Mathematics24 questions26 minutes
Total Time53 minutes + 5- to 10-minute break

Primary 3, for students currently in Grade 2 applying for Grade 3, is comprised of Reading section and Mathematics section. The Primary 3 does not include an Auditory Comprehension section like the previous level. 

ISEE SectionNumber of QuestionsTime 
Reading24 questions28 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Mathematics24 questions26 minutes
Total Time54 minutes + 5- to 10-minute break

Primary 4 is for students in Grade 3 applying for Grade 4. Similar to Primary 3, it consists of a Reading section and a Mathematics section, though this level of the exam has more questions and subsequently takes longer to complete than Primary 3. 

ISEE SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Reading28 questions30 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Mathematics28 questions30 minutes
Total Time60 minutes + 5- to 10-minute break

Each section of the ISEE Primary is separately timed, and the entire test takes approximately an hour to complete. While the ISEE Primary provides valuable information to the schools, it’s important to remember that admissions decisions are typically based on a holistic review of many aspects of a student’s profile.

ISEE Lower Level

The ISEE Lower Level is administered to students who entering fifth or sixth grade. The Lower Level offering of the ISEE is much more robust in its content than the Primary level and is comprised of 6 total sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and an essay portion. With a 5-10 minute break, the ISEE Lower level takes roughly 2 and a half hours to complete. 

ISEE SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Verbal Reasoning34 questions20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning38 questions35 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension25 questions25 minutes
Mathematics Achievement30 questions30 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Essay1 prompt30 minutes
Total Time2 hours, 20 minutes + two 5- to 10-minute breaks

ISEE Middle & Upper Level

The ISEE Middle Level is for students who are applying to 7th or 8th grade at a private school, while the Upper Level of the ISEE is for students applying to grades 9th to 12th at private high schools. The sections in these versions of the ISEE are identical to the Lower Level, except that each section has more questions and ultimately takes longer to complete.

ISEE SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Verbal Reasoning40 questions20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning37 questions35 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension36 questions35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement47 questions40 minutes
Break5-10 minutes
Essay1 prompt30 minutes
Total Time2 hours, 40 minutes + two 5- to 10-minute breaks

The defining feature of the ISEE is the difficult blend of content knowledge and testing techniques that it requires from students. This is best seen in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the Upper and Middle-Level tests, where the quantitative comparison question-type tests challenging math concepts using a format that is entirely foreign to most students, making preparation twice as difficult. 

Don’t stress, though: our ISEE test prep programs blend content and technique in whatever proportion is optimal for each individual student, so we’ll student sure that your child goes into test day as prepared as possible.

Testing Options For The ISEE

The ISEE can be taken either online or as a traditional paper-based exam, depending on your location. Regardless of the format you choose, your child will encounter the same number of questions, the same amount of time to complete the test, and the same flexibility to revise their answers within each section. This flexibility allows you to pick the option that suits your child best and gives you confidence that your child will have a fair testing experience. 

Online ISEE Format

At every level of the ISEE, questions will be administered on an approved testing device, and your child will select your multiple-choice answers. When it comes to the essay section for Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels, your child will be required to type their response. Don’t worry, the test site will supply scratch paper and pencils for any notes or calculations your child may need to make during the exam. 

Paper Test Format

During the Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels of the test, students receive a test booklet with the questions, and they’ll need to fill in their multiple-choice answers on a separate sheet using a #2 or HB pencil. If they need some scratch paper, they can use the blank space in the test booklet. As for the essay, they’ll write it directly on the answer sheet using a black or blue ballpoint pen – erasable pens are allowed too!

For the younger kids taking Primary 2, 3, and 4 levels, the process is a bit different. They’ll get a consumable test booklet where they can mark their multiple-choice answers directly using a #2 or HB pencil. They can also use any blank space in the booklet as scratch paper. But, there’s no need for them to worry about writing an essay at these Primary levels.

How Does ISEE Scoring Work?

Compared to other standardized tests like the SAT or the ACT, the ISEE can be a little confusing when it comes to understanding your child’s score. There are five different scores to be aware of: The ISEE Raw Score, the ISEE Scaled Score, the ISEE Percentile Ranking, and the ISEE Stanine Score and Stanine Analysis. 

ISEE Raw Score

The ISEE Raw Score is a simple measure of a student’s performance on the exam, calculated by counting the number of questions answered correctly. Each correct answer contributes one point to the raw score, while incorrect or unanswered questions do not impact the score.

 It’s important to note that the ISEE does not penalize students for incorrect answers, so guessing on difficult questions is encouraged. However, the raw score alone does not provide a complete picture of a student’s performance, as it does not account for the varying difficulty levels of different test forms.

ISEE Scaled Score

The ISEE Scaled Score is a conversion of the raw score that accounts for the varying difficulty levels of different test forms. It ranges from 760 to 940 for each section of the exam.

The scaled score is calculated through a process called equating, which ensures that scores are comparable across different test forms, allowing for a fair assessment of a student’s performance.

 By using scaled scores, schools can accurately compare the abilities of students who took different versions of the ISEE, providing a more consistent and reliable measure of academic performance.

ISEE Percentile Ranking

The ISEE Percentile Ranking score represents a student’s relative performance compared to their peers within the same grade level. It is calculated by comparing the student’s scaled scores to the scores of other students who took the ISEE within the past year. 

Percentile rankings range from 1 to 99, with a higher number indicating better performance. For example, a percentile rank of 70 means that the student scored higher than 70% of their peers. This ranking helps schools understand how a student’s performance on the ISEE compares to that of other applicants, providing valuable context for the admission process.

ISEE Stanine Score

The ISEE Stanine score is arguably the most confusing part of ISEE scoring to understand. Simply put, a stanine (which is short for “standard nine”) score is a way to calculate scores based on a nine-point scale. 

Stanines range from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest) and are calculated by dividing the percentile rank distribution into nine segments. Each stanine corresponds to a specific range of percentile ranks, with a stanine of 5 representing the middle 20% of test-takers, while a stanine of 9 represents the top 4%. 

By providing an easily interpretable score, stanines help schools quickly assess a student’s overall performance relative to their peers while considering the ISEE results during the admission process.

ISEE Stanine Analysis

The Stanine Analysis is a helpful tool on the ISEE Score Report that allows you to compare your child’s performance on different parts of the ISEE exam. It’s designed to show how well your child does on both ability tests and their corresponding achievement tests.

 In particular, you can compare results between Verbal Reasoning (V) and Reading Comprehension (R), as well as Quantitative Reasoning (Q) and Mathematics Achievement (M). This comparison provides valuable insights into a student’s strengths and areas for improvement, making it easier to create a tailored study plan.

It is important to note that the scaled scores, percentile scores, and stanines your student receives are calculated by comparing their results only to students of the same grade and gender. Because of this, a 6th grader does not need to get nearly as many questions correct on the Middle-Level test as a 7th grader does in order to attain a given stanine.

The ISEE itself does not superscore, or combine individual section percentiles from multiple test dates to obtain a maximum overall percentile. If you wish to send scores from multiple test dates to schools, you must send the entire score report from each test date through your account on the ISEE’s website. Many schools may perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your student’s “best” performance on the ISEE. For the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, be sure to contact that school’s admissions department directly.

For a full analysis of the ISEE Score Report, you can review the official documentation on the ISEE website

Registering Your Child For the ISEE

Now that you understand how the ISEE is structured and scored, you’re likely wondering how to register your child for the exam. Fortunately, the ISEE registration process is pretty streamlined and can be easily completed online. However; there are some considerations to keep in mind before you begin this process, all of which we’ve outlined below.

Selecting a Testing Date

The first step in the ISEE registration process is determining when your child will take the exam. The ISEE is offered numerous times throughout the year and is broken out into three testing seasons.

  • Fall Testing Season: August, September, October, and November
  • Winter Testing Season: December, January, February, March
  • Spring/Summer Testing Season: April, May, June, July

While your child can take the ISEE up to three times per year, they may only take the exam once per testing season; for example, if your child takes the ISEE in August, they couldn’t take it again until December. If there’s a chance you’ll want your child to take the ISEE multiple times, then it’s extremely important to plan ahead and understand how the testing seasons work.

Selecting Testing Location

Once you’ve decided when your child will take the ISEE, the next step is to determine where they will take the exam. Currently, the ISEE offers four different venues for testing: Group Testing at a School, Group or Individual Testing at an ISEE Test Center, Small Group Testing at a Prometric Testing Center, and Individual Testing at Home. 

Group Testing at School

Historically, the preferred option for ISEE testing is Group Testing at a School. At $125 – $150 dollars (depending on the testing level), this is the least expensive ISEE testing option and provides students with a familiar testing environment to confidently complete the exam. 

However; taking the ISEE in a group setting may not be for every student, especially if they get easily distracted by other students. Additionally, there may not be convenient Group Testing dates available in your area.  

Small Group Testing

The second option for taking the ISEE is Small Group Testing. This setting provides a more intimate and less intimidating environment compared to larger testing centers. With fewer students in the room, your child may feel more at ease and focused during the test. 

Additionally, Small Group Testing Offices often have more flexible scheduling options, making it easier to find a suitable test date and time for your child’s needs.

Small Group Testing at a Prometric Testing Center 

Small Group Testing at a Prometric Testing Center is another option for students taking the ISEE exam. Prometric Testing Centers offer a professional and secure testing environment, with smaller groups of students to help minimize distractions and create a more comfortable atmosphere. 

These centers are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and adhere to strict testing protocols, ensuring a smooth and reliable testing experience for your child. Additionally, Prometric Testing Centers have numerous locations across the country, making it convenient to find a center near you. However; at a $210 price tag, this is option is slightly more expensive than the other options available. 

Individual Testing at Home

The final testing option for the ISEE is Individual Testing at Home. This method allows your child to take the test in the convenience of your own home, reducing stress and anxiety associated with unfamiliar testing locations. A qualified proctor will administer the exam, ensuring that all testing protocols are followed and the integrity of the test is maintained.

Opting for Individual Testing at Home can provide a more personalized and relaxed testing experience for your child, potentially leading to better performance on the exam.

How To Register Your Child for the ISEE

Once you’ve decided when and where your child will take the ISEE, it’s finally time to complete the registration process. The ERB provides two options for registering for the ISEE, either online or by phone. Online registration is free, while registering by phone carries an additional $300 fee.

To register your child for the ISEE online, you’ll need to first create an account on the official ERB website. You will then be prompted to create your own parent profile, followed by a Student profile for your child. Once these profiles have been created, you can then search for test dates by state and testing season. 

Registering your child for the ISEE by phone is pretty straightforward – simply call the ISEE Operations Office at 1-800-446-0320 and they will be happy to help with the registration process.

Preparing Your Child for the ISEE: Study Tips & Strategies

Once you’ve decided if your child will be taking the ISEE, the final part of the process is the actual preparation for the exam. Below, we’ve provided some helpful tips & strategies to ensure that your child is ready to ace the ISEE on exam day. 

Start Early

One of the most important factors in successful test preparation is starting early. Begin the study process several months before the exam date to give your child ample time to review the material, practice, and build their confidence. This also allows for flexibility in case your child needs extra time to focus on specific areas of the test.

Set Goals

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals can help your child stay focused and motivated throughout their ISEE preparation. Work with your child to establish both short-term and long-term goals, such as mastering a particular topic or achieving a specific score on a practice test.

Create a Study Schedule

Developing a consistent study schedule is crucial for effective ISEE preparation. Work with your child to create a study plan that outlines when and how long they will study each day or week. Be sure to allocate time for each section of the exam and include breaks to prevent burnout. Encourage your child to stick to the schedule as closely as possible, but also be flexible and adjust the plan as needed.

Use Official ISEE Materials

The best way to familiarize your child with the ISEE is to use official study materials, such as the ISEE Student Guide and practice tests provided by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). These materials accurately reflect the format, content, and difficulty of the actual exam, ensuring that your child’s preparation is targeted and effective.

Review Key Concepts

Ensure that your child has a strong grasp of the essential concepts and skills tested on the ISEE. For the Verbal Reasoning section, this includes building a robust vocabulary and understanding word relationships. For the Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement sections, your child should be comfortable with grade-appropriate math concepts, such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and problem-solving. Finally, for the Reading Comprehension section, your child should practice identifying main ideas, supporting details, and making inferences from various types of passages.

Develop Test-Taking Strategies

In addition to mastering the content, your child should also develop effective test-taking strategies to help them navigate the ISEE efficiently and confidently. Some useful strategies include:

  • Time management: Encourage your child to practice pacing themselves during practice tests, allocating enough time for each question without rushing or spending too much time on a single problem.
  • Process of elimination: Teach your child to eliminate incorrect answer choices to increase their chances of selecting the correct answer.
  • Skip and return: If your child encounters a challenging question, encourage them to skip it and return later if time permits. This prevents them from getting stuck on a single question and ensures they have time to complete the entire test.

Seek Support

If your child is struggling with specific concepts or sections of the ISEE, consider seeking additional support, such as a tutor, study group, or online resources. These resources can provide personalized guidance and targeted practice to help your child overcome their challenges and improve their performance on the exam. Fortunately, Inspirica Pros has plenty of experienced ISEE tutors who are ready to help your child prepare for the exam. 

By following these study tips and strategies, you can help your child feel prepared, confident, and ready to tackle the ISEE. Remember that the key to success is a well-rounded approach that includes mastering the content, developing test-taking strategies, and maintaining a healthy balance between academics and self-care. 

Closing Thoughts on the ISEE

Understanding the ISEE test and its various components is essential for parents who want to support their children in achieving success in the private and independent school admissions process. 

By following the study tips and strategies outlined in this blog, you can help your child feel confident and well-prepared for the ISEE test. With your support and encouragement, your child can overcome challenges, develop essential skills, and excel on this important exam, paving the way for a bright academic future.

Frequently Asked Questions About the ISEE

Can my child take the ISEE multiple times to improve their scores?

Yes, your child can take the ISEE multiple times to improve their scores. In fact, it’s quite common for students to retake the exam in order to achieve better results. However, it’s essential to note that there are limits on the number of times a student can take the ISEE within a specific testing period. 

For instance, they can take the test once per testing season, which is divided into three seasons: Fall (August–November), Winter (December–March), and Spring/Summer (April–July). Taking the test multiple times allows your child to become more familiar with the exam format, learn from their mistakes, and potentially improve their scores.

What is the hardest section on the ISEE?

It’s important to remember that each student is different, so the most challenging section on the ISEE will depend on their individual strengths and weaknesses. That being said, a lot of students tend to find the math section to be the most difficult, mainly because of its complexity and the time limit. 

What happens if my child fails the ISEE?

If your child doesn’t perform as well as expected on the ISEE, there’s no need to panic. It’s important to remember that the ISEE is just one factor that schools consider during the admissions process. 

Schools will also look at other aspects of your child’s application, such as academic records, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and interviews. While it’s always a good idea to aim for a high score, a lower-than-expected ISEE result doesn’t necessarily mean your child won’t be accepted into their desired school. Keep in mind that they can also retake the test once per testing season to improve their scores.

Related ISEE Resources: