The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the ISEE
- About the ISEE
- Sections of the ISEE
- What to Expect on Test Day
- Best Ways to Study for the ISEE
- ISEE Tips and Tricks
- ISEE FAQ:
About the ISEE
The Independent School Entrance Examination, or ISEE, is used for admission to private schools. The exam assesses the readiness of students prior to admission, and is often used to ensure the appropriate placement of students in classes.
The ISEE was developed and is administered by the Educational Records Bureau. The exam can be used for any students entering private schools in grades 2-12. There are four levels of the exam. The primary level is for entrance to grades 2-4, the lower level is for grades 5-6, the middle level for grades 7-8, and the upper level for students entering grades 9-12. The following information is for the upper level exam.
While the same test is given to all students entering grades 9-12, the scores are only judged in comparison to their peers at the same grade level. For example, a 9th grader’s exam score will only be compared to other 9th graders. This is true for all grades.
The ISEE has four sections that contain multiple-choice questions with four possible answers. These sections are Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement. There is also an Essay section, which is not scored, but is sent to the school to which the student is applying.
There are two types of scores for the ISEE, the raw score, which tells you how many questions were answered correctly out of the total for the section, and the scaled score. The scaled score ranges between 760 to 940. While there is not a minimum score for “passing” the ISEE, most private schools have a minimum score requirement for admission.
The ISEE tests knowledge the student has acquired over time, making it an especially hard test for which to prepare; however, understanding what types of questions to expect can help you achieve an optimal score.
Sections of the ISEE
Upper Level: Essay
In the essay portion of the ISEE, you will be given a prompt and directed to write an essay responding to that prompt. The prompts vary, but each is designed around things that should be familiar and relevant to a person of your age. You will not be given a score on this writing assignment, but a copy of your essay will be enclosed in your test report when it is sent to your chosen school.
Even though it is not scored, your essay will be reviewed as part of your school application, so you’ll want it to show your best work. While there are no multiple choice questions on the essay portion of the ISEE, you can review important points about completing your essay by using our ISEE Essay practice questions.
Upper Level: Mathematics Achievement
In the Mathematics Achievement portion of the ISEE, you will be asked to solve a mathematical problem that represents a national mathematics standard recommended for your level of study. The problem may require a several-step process and calculation.
Upper Level: Quantitative Reasoning
The Quantitative Reasoning section of the ISEE assesses your ability to “think through” math problems and find a reasonable answer. There is not a great deal of calculation involved in either of the two question types. You will see both word problems and quantitative comparison items in this section. To answer the quantitative comparison questions, you must decide which of two quantities is greater, if the two are equal, or if there is not enough information given for a decision to be made.
Upper Level: Reading Comprehension
The Reading Comprehension section contains reading passages and questions about these passages. The reading material includes a variety of topics, including those from history, science, current life, and the arts. The subject matter represented should be of high interest to students of your age.
Upper Level: Verbal Reasoning
The Verbal Reasoning section contains two types of questions that assess your ability to understand words and their meanings, alone and when used in a sentence. The first question type asks you to find the word that is closest in meaning to a given word. The second type of question requires you to choose the word or words that best complete a given sentence.
What to Expect on Test Day
As with any other standardized exam, many test takers experience anxiety in the period leading up to the test. But understanding what to expect on the day of the exam can do a lot to ease anxiety and ensure that you perform your best. The exam may be taken online (at a testing center) or by using a paper-and-pencil version. You should be aware beforehand of which exam you will be using.
Completing the ISEE generally takes between two and a half hours to two hours and fifty minutes. The four sections are each timed, with the limit ranging from 20 minutes to 40 minutes. There are generally two 5-10 minute breaks. It is always a good idea to plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the start time for your exam. This extra time is great in the event that you have any issues finding the location or registering once you have arrived. Getting a good night’s rest and having a nutritious meal before arriving will also ensure that you stay focused throughout the duration of the exam.
What to Bring
Students need to bring their verification letter and acceptable identification on the day of the exam. The verification letter will have the student’s name, test date, time, and location. Acceptable forms of identification include library cards, birth certificates, Social Security cards, school report cards, school IDs, and passports/green cards. Parents and guardians must also present legal identification on the day of the exam, such as a state-issued ID card, a driver’s license, or a passport/green card.
If you are scheduled to take the paper-and-pencil version of the ISEE, you should also bring four sharpened #2 pencils, four erasers, and two black or blue ballpoint pens. Students may bring a snack or drink to consume during the testing breaks. These may not be consumed during the actual testing sessions.
What Not to Bring
You should not bring any personal items or testing aids with you on the day of the exam. This includes books, calculators, scrap paper, rulers, protractors, or other reference materials. Electronic devices, such as cell phones and wearable devices, are also prohibited.
Best Ways to Study for the ISEE
Take Practice Tests for the ISEE
One of the best ways to prepare for the ISEE is to take practice exams in the weeks leading up to your exam. These practice tests are an invaluable study aid. They can help you to become familiar with the format of the test and by taking them, you will get a sense of the types of questions you will encounter on your exam day. Practice exams can also help you to identify on which subjects you should focus your study efforts in order to achieve an optimal score.
Use Alternative Study Methods
Many students find that in addition to practice tests, alternative study materials, such as flashcards and study guides for the ISEE can enhance their study experience. These additional materials can often help students retain the information better.
Simulate the Testing Experience
The ISEE is a timed exam, and becoming comfortable with the time restrictions can be challenging. The best way to ease worries about the timing is by simulating the testing experience. You can attempt to complete the same number of questions on the ISEE within the allotted time. This process helps you to understand how you will have to pace yourself when taking the actual exam.
ISEE Tips and Tricks
Answer All Questions
There is no penalty for guessing on the ISEE. If you don’t know the answer, it’s best to guess. You may get it right.
Keep an Eye on the Clock
To complete all of the questions on the ISEE, you will have to pace yourself, leaving enough time to complete every question. If you get stuck on a question, don’t spend too much time on it. Make a guess and move on.
Accept That Your Performance Is Tied to Your Grade Level
When taking the ISEE, it’s important for examinees to understand that they will likely only know the answers for test questions that correspond to the last grade level they have completed. Even though a 9th grader and a 12th grader take the same exam, the 9th grader won’t be expected to know the answers to questions on the exam that are at a 12th grade level. Scores are adjusted to reflect this.
1. How much does it cost to take the ISEE?
The fees to take an ISEE exam vary depending upon the level of test taken, and how many students are taking it at once. Generally speaking, examinees should expect the test to cost between $125 and $265.
2. What is a good score on the ISEE?
The score you want to achieve on the ISEE will be tied to the school you would like to attend. There are no “passing” or “failing” scores. There is also no composite score for the exam; each section is scored separately. You should check with your selected school before taking the test to find out what score you need to obtain for admission.
3. How long will it take to get my ISEE scores?
You should expect to receive your scores within two weeks after your test date. Your scores and essay are usually sent to your chosen schools between 7 and 10 days after your testing date.
4. Can I retake the ISEE?
Yes, students may retake the ISEE up to three times within a 12-month period.