ISEE Scoring: What even is a ‘stanine’, anyway?

The ISEE scoring system may seem overwhelming, and it is definitely, uh, complicated, to put it nicely. Fortunately, we have a black belt in this test, and we’re here to give you an outline of the most important things to know.

One of the first things to remember is that the ISEE does not have a wrong-answer penalty. Each correct answer earns you 1 point, while an incorrect answer or omitted question doesn’t earn or lose any points; this means it’s to your advantage to guess on every single question.

The ISEE takes your raw score, which is the number of points you received, and converts it to a scaled score. Scaled scores are equated, which just means that they’re adjusted to reflect differences in difficulty among test administrations. That way, your score can be directly compared to any other student’s score within a three-year period, even if you didn’t take the exact same test.

Your score report will show you a scaled score for each of the four ISEE sections (Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Reasoning, and Mathematics Achievement). If you look at your scaled scores and say, “what in the world do these numbers mean,” you’re not alone. For context, scaled scores on the ISEE range from 760 to 940 in each section.

Thankfully, the next two numbers you’ll see are a little easier to understand: the percentile and stanine for each of your four sections.

  1. A percentile from 1-99 shows you how you did compared to other students taking the ISEE. For example, if you achieved the 75th percentile in a section, that means you scored as well as or better than 75% of other test-takers.
    • An important note about percentiles: don’t forget that you are only being compared to other students taking the ISEE, and not the general population. Since students who take the ISEE are interested in applying to independent schools, they generally perform better on academic exams than the average student. That means your percentiles may be lower than they would be on a state-wide exam such as the MCAS.
  1. A stanine is a made-up name for a score from 1-9. The range of percentiles is broken up into nine segments based on a standard distribution.
    • That means most students score between 4-6, and it is more difficult to score very high or very low. For example, a student with a stanine of 8 will be among the top 11% of testers, while a student with a stanine of 9 will be among the top 4%.
    • You will also see a stanine range, since the ISEE admits that your performance on one test on one day may not be perfectly representative of your abilities (shocker, right?). For instance, if you score a 7, your score range will be from 6-8.
  1. It is important to remember that the scaled scores, percentile scores, and stanines you receive are calculated by comparing your results only to students of the same grade and gender. Because of this, a 6thgrader 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, for example.

Lastly, you are provided with a section and question analysis. Here, the ISEE will show you the number of specific questions of each type per section, and how many of them you answered correctly. You will also be able to see a result (correct, incorrect, skipped, or not reached) for each question in the order in which it showed up. The ISEE advertises that all sections except Reading sequence questions in increasing order of difficulty. By looking at your question analysis, you can therefore tell if most of your wrong answers came on hard questions (which would make sense), or on easy questions (which likely means you need to slow down to avoid careless errors).

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.

With that being said, you are able to pick and choose which test dates you send to schools using your account on the ISEE’s website; additionally, many schools will 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 “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.

If you want to take a look at a sample score report, you can see one right here. And if you’d like to talk with an expert about your score report, we’re here to help!