The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is a standardized test used by some independent high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools in the admissions process. Such schools typically evaluate ISEE scores along with school transcripts, teacher recommendations, student essays, personal interviews, parent statements, and other criteria.
The ISEE is split into different levels, based on grade level at entry:
To provide additional testing options during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, ERB has added a remotely proctored at-home ISEE option for students entering grades 5–12 and testing in the U.S or Canada. Registration for the ISEE Online at Home is available by selecting an "ERB At Home" administration.
The at-home test is the same length as the standard test and must be taken on a desktop or laptop computer (Windows or Mac). Students must take the test alone. A parent/guardian may be in the room to assist with the initial setup, but they must leave before the test begins.
ISEE tests are also being administered at Prometric Test Centers and at scheduled paper test centers in locations where in-person tests can be safely administered.
Both the SSAT and ISEE are standardized tests used in independent school admissions, and they test similar concepts. Before deciding whether to take the ISEE or SSAT, check the specific admissions requirements of the schools to which you are considering applying. Some independent schools accept either test, but many schools require one or the other to apply (and some require other tests).
We have found that students generally benefit from simultaneously studying for both the ISEE and SSAT when possible. Though the two tests have slightly different question types, they are very similar in content and purpose. If the schools to which you are applying accept both tests, preparing for both tests will give you additional opportunities to take official exams and added flexibility in how you report your scores.
With standard timing, the Middle and Upper Level ISEEs consist of the following sections:
With standard timing, the Lower Level ISEE consists of the following sections:
The cost of the ISEE depends on where and how you take the test and how and when you register for it. Here are some of the costs to take the ISEE:
Large group testing at a school
Small group testing at a testing office
Computer testing at Prometric testing centers or at home: $200
You can find more information about ISEE registration fees here.
Yes, you can take the ISEE online at home (remotely proctored) and on computers at Prometric test centers. Depending on your location, you may also be able to sign up for computer testing at a school or testing office. You can find more information about ISEE registration here.
You can take the ISEE up to three times each year, once per testing season: Fall (August–November), Winter (December–March), and Spring/Summer (April–July). We encourage students to take the ISEE as many times as they can. Few students are prepared to take the test in the spring before they submit applications, so most students take the ISEE in the Fall and Winter testing seasons in advance of or immediately after the application deadlines. See our admissions timeline for more information.
Yes, there is an unscored essay on the ISEE. The last section of the ISEE is an essay that you are given 30 minutes to complete (with standard timing). Your essay will be sent to the schools to which you apply to provide evidence of your writing skills in a timed setting.
The ISEE consists of the following sections:
The Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement sections test the types of math you are expected to have covered in school up until the grade level of the test (e.g., the Upper Level ISEE tests more advanced math concepts than does the Lower Level ISEE).
The Verbal Reasoning section of the ISEE contains two question types: synonyms and sentence completions. Both of these question types test your vocabulary and the sentence completions also test your reading in context. The Reading Comprehension section contains passages covering topics in the arts, literature, contemporary life, history, and science.
Only a select group of students applying to independent schools takes the ISEE. While there is no publicly available information regarding precisely how many students take the ISEE each year, compared with other national standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT, relatively few students take the ISEE.
Through more than 30 years of experience, we have found that one-on-one tutoring is the best way to prepare for the ISEE. An excellent tutor will be able to determine your individual strengths and weaknesses and tailor a preparation plan that will help you achieve your best score on test day.
When preparing for the test, make sure to study the underlying concepts on all of the sections of the test (not just the sections that you like best) and then practice taking timed, full-length practice tests. Taking practice tests is a key element to any preparation plan because you will learn to complete questions at pace, become familiar with the format of the official test, and develop the stamina needed to finish a full test.
We recommend that students start preparing for the ISEE in the spring or summer before the academic year in which they plan to take the official test, giving themselves at least four months to study for the exam. Because the test is targeted to each grade level, we do not advise students to take the official test well before applying to schools. Refer to our high school admissions timeline for more information.
The content tested on the ISEE is certainly challenging for the grade level, but it is also learnable. Many students feel that the ISEE is difficult when they begin preparing for it, particularly if they are at the lowest grade level of the students taking a particular test (e.g., students taking the Lower Level ISEE who are applying to grade five generally find the test more challenging than do those students who are applying to grade six). However, with careful study of the concepts and practice applying them, all students can increase their confidence and improve their scores.
We have found that studying for the ISEE through one-on-one tutoring yields the best results because an excellent tutor can help you identify the areas of the test on which you should focus and provide you with a strategy for achieving your best score.
No, the ISEE is not harder than the SAT. The two tests are used for admission to different types of schools. The SAT is used in college and university admissions (as well as for applying to certain summer programs). The ISEE is used in independent elementary, middle, and high school admissions. Accordingly, the SAT assumes that students have completed most of a high school curriculum, whereas the ISEE does not.
Note, however, that because you will take an ISEE targeted to your grade level, you may find the ISEE as challenging or more challenging than you will find the SAT when you start preparing for the latter test. Additionally, your percentile scores on the ISEE may be lower than you would expect, based on your other test scores. Students who take the ISEE are applying to independent schools with selective admissions, so the average standardized testing scores of these students are higher than national norms.
Yes, you should guess when you do not know the answer to a question on the ISEE. Beyond not earning points for incorrect answers, the ISEE does not penalize incorrect answers; scores are determined only by how many questions you have answered correctly. Of course, to make an educated guess on a question you don’t know the answer to, first try to eliminate one or more answer choices you know to be incorrect and then guess from among the remaining choices.
No, you are not allowed to use a calculator on the ISEE—but that’s okay! The math questions on the ISEE are written in a way that does not require the use of a calculator for lengthy calculations. The math problems you are expected to solve are manageable enough that most students can complete the quantitative sections within the time limits without a calculator.
Each of the four multiple-choice ISEE sections is scored separately on a scale from 760 to 940, based on the number of questions you answered correctly. Your percentile scores are determined by the relative performance of other students in your grade. Based on the 2017–2018 ISEE norms, the 25th–75th percentile score ranges are as follows:
Upper Level ISEE
Middle Level ISEE
Lower Level ISEE
What determines a good score on the ISEE depends largely on your goals. Different schools place different emphases on test scores, school transcripts, teacher recommendations, student essays, personal interviews, parent statements, and other criteria.
Each of the four multiple-choice ISEE sections is scored separately on a scale from 760 to 940, based on the number of questions you answered correctly. Your percentile scores are determined by other students applying to the same grade to which you are applying. For reference, the 75th percentile scores from 2017–2018 (the most recent year available) are:
Upper Level ISEE
Middle Level ISEE
Lower Level ISEE
There is no particular ISEE score that would be considered “bad.” What determines a good score on the ISEE depends largely on your goals. Different schools have different requirements and place different emphases on test scores, school transcripts, teacher recommendations, student essays, personal interviews, parent statements, and other criteria.
Even more so than other standardized tests, what determines a good ISEE score also depends on your grade level. The ISEE is administered to students applying for many different grades. On the Middle Level ISEE, for example, the scores of students applying to the eighth grade are generally higher than the scores of students applying to the seventh grade.
When you take the ISEE, you will receive percentiles for your grade level. Each of the four multiple-choice ISEE sections is scored separately on a scale from 760 to 940, based on the number of questions answered correctly. The 50th percentile scores of students who took the ISEE in 2017–2018 are:
Upper Level ISEE
Middle Level ISEE
Lower Level ISEE
For paper testing, your multiple-choice score reports are usually available 10 to 14 business days after you take the official test. For computer testing, your multiple-choice scores are usually available much faster—within three to five days after your test date.
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