What Is the ISEE Test, and What Is on It?

Everything you need to know about the ISEE test
April 30, 2024
4 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/30/24

What is the ISEE test? Keep reading to learn all about it, from what kinds of questions you can expect to how it's scored and more.

If you’re interested in private middle and high schools in the United States, understanding the ISEE test is key to educational success. Whether you're a student looking to excel or a parent supporting your child, knowing what the ISEE offers is crucial. 

In this article, we'll explore why the ISEE matters and how it can make a difference in your academic journey. So, let's dive in and uncover the keys to ISEE success.

What Is the ISEE Test?

The ISEE is a standardized test used for admissions to private middle and high schools in the United States. It assesses your skills in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, and math. If you're eyeing a spot in one of these prestigious schools, acing the ISEE is a must-do on your checklist.

What Does ISEE Stand for?

The ISEE stands for the Independent School Entrance Examination

ISEE Test Levels

Wondering how long the ISEE test is? Well, it all comes down to understanding the test levels and sections. 

The ISEE test offers different levels tailored to specific grade ranges, ensuring that students are assessed appropriately for their age and academic stage. Here's a breakdown of these levels:

  • ISEE Primary 3: This level is designed with Grade 3 students in mind. It acknowledges that younger students may not have been exposed to more complex content and focuses on assessing fundamental reading and mathematics skills.
  • ISEE Primary 4: Targeting Grade 4 students, this level continues to emphasize foundational skills in reading and mathematics, recognizing that students at this stage are still building their core knowledge.
  • Lower Level: Geared towards Grades 5 and 6, the Lower Level ISEE introduces more age-appropriate questions in Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement to assess readiness for upper-level academic challenges.
  • Middle Level: Intended for students aiming to enter Grades 7 and 8, the Middle-Level ISEE includes sections like Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement, recognizing that students in these grades are prepared for more advanced content.
  • Upper Level: Suitable for students aspiring to join Grades 9 through 12, the Upper-Level ISEE presents challenging questions in Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement to assess their readiness for high school and beyond.

These grade-specific test levels ensure that the questions align with students' developmental stages and academic expectations, creating a fair and accurate assessment for applicants of different ages and grade levels.

ISEE Sections

The ISEE test has different sections, each assessing specific academic skills. Let's explore these sections to understand their content and role in the assessment.

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Mathematics Achievement
  • Essay Writing (Optional)

Verbal Reasoning

  • Middle Level: This 20-minute section contains 40 questions that assess your English language skills, including vocabulary, sentence structure, and context through tasks like sentence completion, analogies, and synonyms.
  • Lower Level: In 20 minutes, you'll tackle 34 questions similar to the Middle Level, assessing your English vocabulary and sentence skills.
  • Upper Level: Like the Middle Level, this section also comprises 40 questions in 20 minutes, testing your English language abilities through vocabulary and sentence-based tasks.

Quantitative Reasoning

  • Middle Level: This 35-minute section has 37 questions that assess your math proficiency and problem-solving skills, covering various math concepts, data interpretation, and mathematical reasoning.
  • Lower Level: With 38 questions and a 35-minute time limit, the Lower Level Quantitative Reasoning section is tailored for younger test-takers, evaluating basic math skills and problem-solving abilities.
  • Upper Level: Like the Middle Level, the Upper-Level Quantitative Reasoning section includes 37 questions in 35 minutes, potentially featuring more advanced math concepts and complex problem-solving tasks compared to the Lower Level.

Reading Comprehension

  • Middle Level: In 35 minutes, you'll tackle 36 questions in the Middle-Level Reading Comprehension section, assessing your ability to understand, analyze, and draw conclusions from diverse passages.
  • Lower Level: With 25 questions and a 25-minute time limit, the Lower Level Reading Comprehension section is designed for younger test-takers, offering age-appropriate content.
  • Upper Level: The Upper-Level Reading Comprehension section, similar to the Middle Level, includes 36 questions in 35 minutes, evaluating your comprehension and critical analysis skills across varying passage complexities.

Mathematics Achievement

  • Middle Level: This section includes 47 questions and provides 40 minutes. The Middle-Level Mathematics Achievement section assesses your knowledge of math concepts and your ability to apply them. It covers a broad range of topics, including arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
  • Lower Level: Comprising 30 questions to be solved in 30 minutes, the Lower Level Mathematics Achievement section evaluates basic math skills appropriate for younger students.
  • Upper Level: Similar to the Middle Level, the Upper-Level Mathematics Achievement section includes 47 questions and a 40-minute time frame. However, it delves into more advanced math concepts and may require a deeper understanding of algebra and geometry.

Essay Writing 

For all levels, except Primary 4, You'll have 30 minutes to write an essay. While this section is optional, many schools require it. The essay prompt can vary and may ask you to express your thoughts and ideas on a given topic. It evaluates your writing skills and your ability to communicate effectively within the time limit.

Grade-Level Variations

The ISEE test has three levels for different grade ranges: Lower, Middle, and Upper. Each level has its own test structure, with various sections like Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement, each with specific question counts and time limits.

Test Format and Scoring

The ISEE test is administered in two formats: paper test and computer test. Understanding how your child's ISEE test is scored and reported is essential for assessing their performance accurately.

How Is the ISEE Score Calculated?

The ISEE provides four different scores, one for each section, except for the essay portion, which is evaluated by the school(s) your child is applying to. These scores are used by schools to assess your child's readiness and suitability for admission.

The ISEE test provides five different types of scores, each based on a unique calculation method:

  • ISEE Raw Score: This score represents the number of questions answered correctly. Each correct answer earns one point, with no deductions for incorrect answers or skipped questions.
  • ISEE Scaled Score: The scaled score, which ranges from 760 to 940, is applied to each section of the ISEE. It helps standardize scores across multiple test versions and accounts for small variations in your child's test results.
  • ISEE Percentile Ranking: The percentile rank compares your child's performance to that of other students in the same grade and age group based on data from the three years prior to the test. For example, a percentile rank of 70 indicates that your child scored as well as or better than 70% and worse than 30% of students in the same grade and age group.
  • ISEE Stanine Score: The Stanine score simplifies scores into nine segments on a scale of 1 to 9, with 5 as the midpoint and 9 as the highest possible score. It is used comparatively to provide a percentile ranking, offering a broader perspective on your child's performance.
  • ISEE Stanine Analysis: This analysis further breaks down your child's performance by stanine score, helping you understand their strengths and weaknesses in different areas of the test.

Understanding these scores and their significance is crucial for evaluating your child's performance and suitability for admission to their desired schools.

ISEE Test vs. Other Standardized Tests

In addition to the ISEE and SSAT, there are other standardized tests relevant to private school admissions:

  • SAT and ACT: Some private high schools accept SAT and ACT scores for admission, particularly for older students. These tests cover a wider range of subjects but may not be required by all schools.
  • PSAT: Often taken by high school students as a practice for the SAT, some private schools consider PSAT scores, especially for 8th or 9th graders. It resembles the SAT but with less advanced math.
  • AP Exams: These subject-specific tests are taken after advanced courses. Some schools may use AP scores to assess students' proficiency in advanced subjects, but they're not for general admission.
  • TOEFL and IELTS: International students applying to English-speaking private schools may need TOEFL or IELTS scores to demonstrate English proficiency.
  • ERB CTP: A few private schools use the ERB CTP to assess academic readiness. It covers math, reading, and vocabulary.
  • School-Specific Tests: Some schools have their own customized admission tests or assessments.

Consider factors like test content, age, test frequency, and school preferences when choosing the right test for your private school application. Each school may have different requirements, so research and plan accordingly.

Tips on How to Prepare for ISEE

Preparing for the ISEE can significantly boost your chances of performing well and securing admission to your desired independent school. Here are some practical tips to help you get ready for the ISEE:

  • Understand the Test Format: Start by familiarizing yourself with the ISEE's structure. Know the number of sections, question types, and time limits for each. This understanding will help you plan your study strategy effectively.
  • Gather Study Materials: Acquire the necessary study materials, such as prep books, practice tests, and online resources. These materials will be your best companions during your preparation journey.
  • Create a Study Schedule: Develop a study schedule that suits your routine. Dedicate specific time slots for ISEE preparation and stick to them. Consistency is key.
  • Take Practice Tests: Practice makes perfect. Take practice tests under real exam conditions to simulate the test-taking experience. This will help you manage your time and reduce test-day anxiety.
  • Focus on Weak Areas: Identify your weaknesses and concentrate on improving them. Whether it's math, verbal, or reading comprehension, targeted practice will lead to significant improvements.
  • Reach out for Help When you Need it: Don't hesitate to seek assistance if you're facing difficulties with specific concepts or sections. You can consider joining a study group or exploring Quad Education's one-on-one personalized private school admissions consulting for the support you require.
  • Manage Test Anxiety: Develop strategies to manage test anxiety. Breathing exercises, positive self-talk, and visualization techniques can help calm your nerves.
  • Review and Reflect: After each practice test, review your performance. Understand the questions you got wrong and why. Adjust your study plan accordingly.
  • Time Management: Practice pacing yourself during the test. Don't spend too much time on a single question. If you get stuck, move on and return to it later if time allows.
  • Simulate Test Conditions: Take full-length practice tests in a quiet environment to replicate test-day conditions. This will help you adapt to the real testing environment.
  • Stay Healthy: In the days leading up to the test, prioritize your health. Get enough sleep, eat well, and stay hydrated to ensure you're in top shape on test day.
  • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on any changes to the ISEE format or policies. Visit the official ISEE website for the latest information.

Keep in mind that progress takes time, so stick to your plan, stay positive, and have faith in your abilities. With consistent effort and these tips, you'll be ready to excel on the ISEE and impress admissions committees. Best of luck!


What does ISEE stand for? How long is the ISEE test? These are the kinds of questions that typically pop up when students and parents start exploring the realm of standardized testing. Let’s take a look at some other FAQs. 

1. How Do I Register for the ISEE Test?

To register for the ISEE test, follow these steps:

  • Create an account on the ERB website, which allows you to manage registration and view scores for all students in your household.
  • Choose a testing date from available windows (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer), noting that registration closes two weeks before the selected date.
  • Select a testing center based on your preferences, which may include ERB member schools, testing centers with small group options, or Prometric centers for certain grades.
  • Register online, by mail, or by phone. Online registration is the most common and cost-effective option, with fees varying by location.

2. Are Fee Waivers or Special Accommodations Available for the ISEE Test?

Fee waivers and special accommodations are available, but students needing accommodations must submit a request form before registration. Contact the ERB member school you are applying to for details on fee waivers and accommodations.

3. Is the Essay Section Optional, and Should I Consider Taking It?

The ISEE essay is optional, not scored, and sent only to the schools you selected during registration. Whether you take it depends on school requirements and your preferences. If required or recommended, it's wise to take it; otherwise, you can skip it and focus on other sections.

4. What's the Cost of Taking the ISEE Test, and Are There Any Hidden Fees?

Here's a summary of the basic service fees for the ISEE test:

  • Large group testing at a school (including testing with accommodations): $125
  • Small group testing at an office: $195
  • Individual testing at an office: $225
  • Testing with accommodations at an office (small group): $195
  • Testing with accommodations at an office (individual): $225
  • Remote location testing (domestic): $240
  • Remote location testing (international): $265
  • Testing at a Prometric Office: $200

5. How Long Does It Take to Receive ISEE Test Scores After Taking the Exam?

ISEE test scores are typically available within three to five days for online test administrations and within five to 10 days for paper test administrations.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the ISEE test is your first step toward success in gaining admission to prestigious private schools. We've delved into what it is, how it's structured, and how to prepare. 

With the right knowledge and preparation, you're well-equipped to excel on the ISEE and present yourself as a strong candidate. Best of luck on your journey to achieving your academic goals!

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