ISEE: What You Should Know

Updated: Apr 29

by David Bell

If your child is planning to attend a private school, this blog is for you. The Independent School Entrance Examination, better known as the “I-S-E-E” or “I See”, is a test taken by students as part of their application to private primary, middle, and high schools. Private schools utilize this test to evaluate their applicants on four core competencies. Keep reading to learn more about the ISEE exam and what to expect.


Do students of different grade levels all take the same ISEE?

Although the format of the test is the same for all students (except those applying to grades 2-4), there are different versions of the test depending on grade level. The Lower Level version of the ISEE is for students applying to grades 5 -6, the Middle Level for students applying to grades 7 and 8, and the Upper Level for students applying to grades 9 through 12.


What does the ISEE look like?

For those applying to grades 5-12, tests will consist of 4 multiple choice sections - Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement.


Each test also includes an optional essay that is not scored, but is shared with the schools to which the student has applied.


How long is the test?

Depending on the level, the test takes between 2 hours and 20 minutes (Lower Level) and 2 hours and 40 minutes (Middle and Upper Levels). All sections of the test except the essay are scored, and the scores are reported to schools.


Can a student take the test more than once?

Yes. However, a student is only permitted to take the ISEE once every 6 months.


When is the test given?

The ISEE is given throughout the year, principally in the fall and winter. To find online or paper test dates in your area, visit the ERB website and begin the test registration process.


How is the ISEE scored and what is a good score?

Students receive scaled scores from ranging from 760-940, as well as percentile scores reflecting where they stand compared to previous test takers from the past three years. The scoring ranges for the ISEE vary depending on which level of test you are taking. Only correct answers are counted, so a student should always guess if they don't know the answer.


Like many standardized tests, what constitutes as a "good" score will vary from student to student and school to school. Students should research what kind of score they need to be competitive for the schools thy are interested in.


Can preparation help a student do better on the ISEE?

Yes, the ISEE is definitely a test that students can prepare for. In order to prepare properly, a student first should familiarize herself or himself with the format of the test. There are commercial texts put out by companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review that provide students with detailed review of the different sections of the test, specific strategies for each, and sample tests. Online materials and sample tests are also available.


Students often find it helpful to take several practice tests, starting with an untimed practice test. As they become more familiar with the test format, begin doing them on a timed basis and under simulated test conditions, like in a quiet space with someone serving as a proctor.


Working with a tutor can also be extremely beneficial. Contact The Whole Kid to begin working with tutors experienced in helping students get ready for the ISEE!


Dave Bell, who organizes ACT and SAT workshops for area high schools and not-for-profit organizations, can be reached for answers to your questions at Dave@thewholekid.com.