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What you need to know about the ISEE

Student taking the Independent School Entrance Exam.

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is the test many independent private schools use prior to admission. It is used to assess readiness for that school’s level of instruction and for appropriate student placement in classes. There are ISEE tests for students entering grades 2–12, but the test preparation offered in this section of our site focuses on the “Upper Level” test, which is for students entering grades 9–12 only.

Even though the test is the same for grades 9–12, a student’s scores will only be compared with those of others entering the same grade. For instance, a rising ninth grader would not be expected to score as well as a rising twelfth grader.

All of the questions on the ISEE are multiple choice with four possible answer choices, except for the essay section. It contains one prompt (topic) about which the student must write an essay. According to the producers of the ISEE, it is a test of things a student has learned over time. There is no way to cram for it and increase the score. But being familiar with the question types and the practice of test-taking skills can help produce an accurate score.

You cannot fail the ISEE, but independent schools usually have an average score for students who gain admission there. Find out what this score is and you will be able to compare your results with the norm for that school.

This test is available in both paper/pencil and online versions.

What are the costs?

The price for an ISEE testing session can vary between $125.00 for large group testing at a school and $265.00 for testing in remote locations and for individual test administration. Students with financial need can apply for the Ben D. Wood Fee Waiver Program to cover large group testing only. Applications for this waiver should be made to the school to which the student is applying.

What should I bring?

On the day of the test, each student should bring two pens (with blue or black ink), which may be erasable, and four #2 pencils. No other items will likely be permitted in the testing room, specifically: any sort of paper, calculators, books of any kind, or measurement devices, such as rulers or protractors. No electronic device, such as a cell phone, is permitted in the testing center or in the actual testing room.

These items will not be permitted in the test site:

  • scrap paper
  • calculators
  • calculator watches
  • rulers
  • protractors
  • compasses
  • dictionaries
  • thesauruses
  • electronical devices (cell phones, etc.)

How is it scored?

There is no penalty for a wrong answer on the ISEE, so it is to your advantage to try to answer all questions, especially if you can rule out one or more answer choices. You are encouraged to skip questions that seem harder and come back to them.

There are two different scores on the ISEE. The raw score simply states how may answers were correct, such as “26 out of 45.” The scaled score is the raw score that has been converted and contains much higher numbers, with 760 to 940 for the ISEE. You may also receive a percentile and/or stanine score of between 1 and 9. The essay section is not scored but will be sent to the school you choose, along with your scores for the other four sections. Then, the school will evaluate your essay response according to its criteria.

Different schools use these scores in different ways and there is no “pass” or “fail” score designated. ISEE scores are only one part of the information the school has about you and your scores will only be compared to those of other students who took the same level test within the last three years.

What kind of job can I get?

Students seek entrance into private, independent schools for a variety of reasons. Sometimes an independent school offers special course content or instructional programs that are not available in a local public school system. Private schools generally boast lower student-to-teacher ratio, which can lead to more individualized instruction. Additionally, a strong achievement record at a top-notch independent school can have a favorable effect when it is noted on college applications, especially to elite schools with rigorous admission standards.

Am I eligible?

Parents may register their son or daughter for ISEE testing as part of a formal admission application to a particular independent school. Students may not take the ISEE for “practice” and may only take it once during any admission season. Admission seasons are defined as Fall (August through November), Winter (December through March), and Spring/Summer (April through July). This regulation allows for testing up to three times during any 12-month period.

Why does it matter?

A student’s ISEE scores are usually only one part of an independent school’s admission process, but they are an important one. One of the main purposes of seeking independent school admission is to obtain an educational experience that best meets the needs of the student. To this end, it is important for the school to have accurate academic performance information about each of their students when attempting to match a student with the best school for him/her.

What salary can I expect?

While immediate salary benefits may not be apparent, acceptance at the college of your choice may be made more likely by a good academic record from a top notch independent high school. Subsequently, the capability of earning higher salaries in adult life may be supported by receiving post high school education and training in a superior college, and then graduate school.

When is it available?

There are many schools and educational organizations nationwide that group together to offer large group ISEE testing at central locations. You can get some idea of the scope of this here.

There are options to test individually or at a Prometric Test Center, as well. If you choose a Prometric Test Center, be aware that a paper and pencil version may not be available. More information on these alternatives can be obtained from this site.

How much time is allowed?

The test has four multiple-choice sections that have these time limits to complete the listed number of items:

Verbal Reasoning—20 minutes, 40 items
Quantitative Reasoning—35 minutes, 37 items
Reading Comprehension—35 minutes, 36 items
Mathematics Achievement—40 minutes, 47 items

In addition, you will have 30 minutes in which to write an essay from a prompt. The essay will not be scored, but a copy of it will be submitted to the desired school with your other ISEE scores.

The sections are administered in the order shown and there is a 5 to 10-minute break after the Quantitative Reasoning section and, again, after the Mathematics Achievement section.

Practice using our expertly crafted questions!