What is the ISEE?


So, you’re gearing up for applying to private schools, you know that you’re going to have to take some kind of entry-level test, and you come across this thing called the “ISEE,” now what? Well before I get into the approach and specifics of the test, I have to get a little boring and talk about the technicalities first (so bear with me).

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a standardized admissions test administered to students aspiring to attend independent educational institutions. It is offered in three varying levels of difficulty: Lower Level, Middle Level, and Upper Level (below is a breakdown).

Lower Level: For 4th and 5th graders applying to 5th and 6th grades.

Middle Level: For 6th and 7th graders applying to 7th and 8th grades.

Upper Level: for 8th and 11th graders applying to 9th and 12th grades.

Students are tested over five primary learning categories in just as many sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and an Essay. The timing of the test clocks in at just under three hours total. For specifics on the breakdown of the timing of the test, please consult this useful weblink:


One of the most unique attributes of the ISEE Test is its grading system. When a student receives their score report, he or she is sometimes confused by how to interpret how well they actually performed on the test. Unlike the standard SAT, ACT, and SSAT tests, the ISEE uses the Stanine System – a system that is based on a scale of 1 to 9. Students will be given a corresponding stanine for each section of the test (except for the essay portion), as an indicator of which percentile they performed at. The average score is 5, therefore anything higher is above average and anything lower is below average. Now, you may read “average” and think: Well, that’s not so great. But, on the contrary, it is! You see, if a student’s overall test score is 5, then that means they are on par with the other gifted students also taking the test. That’s how the stanine system works. If a student gets an average score, then that means they usually qualify as someone who could be a viable option for admission into a selective private or independent school. Of course, certain schools vary in the average scores of their accepted students. For example, the more selective schools across the country (i.e. Horace Mann) usually search for students with individual section scores in the 8s and 9s, and average scores of 7. Rule of thumb though: your goal should be to score a 5 or above overall. Here’s a breakdown to help.

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You will be given 30 minutes to write an essay. A prompt question will be typed inside of a box on one page, and you will then be asked to write a response on the essay answer sheet. Essays are not graded, however, they are sent to schools for administrators to evaluate during the admissions process.


Other facts you should know:

There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the ISEE.

You are allowed to take the ISEE only once within a 6 month time period.

You may send your scores to 6 schools after you’ve received the form through the mail.

The most comprehensive ISEE course in the country is offered by Test Masters. You can learn more about their ISEE course options here.

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