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What is the ISEE?

The Independent School Entrance Examination, also known as the ISEE, is the most popular Independent school (private school) entrance test in the US. To be considered for any of the top tier Independent schools in the US, the ISEE is the test that students will need to do well on. It's offered three times per year; Spring, Fall and Winter. Students can take the test three times but only once per season.

What grade and age does it test for?

The ISEE has four levels, which test different age groups and grades:

Primary Level: Applicants to grades 2 through 4

Lower Level: Applicants to grades 5 and 6

Middle Level: Applicants to grades 7 and 8

Upper Level: Applicants to grades 9 through 12

What is the ISEE Test Format?

The Lower, Middle and Upper level all have a similar format, differing only in difficulty and length. They are comprised of 4 multiple-choice sections followed by a hand-written essay section. All multiple-choice questions have four answer choices.

Verbal Reasoning: 

Vocabulary & Sentence Completion. The vocabulary tests students on their ability to recognize abstract words and identify an appropriate synonym from four possible answer choices.

Mathematics Achievement:

This section tests Mathematical knowledge and application, requiring students to identify problems and use one or more steps to calculate the answer.

Quantitative Reasoning:

Quantitative word problems and comparisons. These problems are designed to test a student’s aptitude for mathematical reasoning, requiring basic calculation or simply inference.

Reading Comprehension:

This section requires students to read a passage and then answer several multiple-choice questions about the passage. Depending on the level, there can be anywhere between 5 and 6 different passages, with topics ranging from arts and history to science.

(This section is not scored by the ERB, rather it is sent direct to your selected school/s.)


Vocabulary & Sentence Completion. The vocabulary tests students on their ability to recognize abstract words and identify an appropriate synonym from four possible answer choices.

What is the Test length of the ISEE?

A large part of the challenging nature of the ISEE is it’s length! For most students, this will be the longest formalized examination they will have taken. Students are only provided with two 5 minutes breaks; one after the Quantitative Reasoning section and one after the Mathematics Achievement Section.

ISEE Lower Level | 2 Hours and 20 Minutes

ISEE Middle Level | 2 Hours and 40 Minutes

ISEE Upper Level | 2 Hours and 40 Minutes

How is the ISEE Scored?

In the simplest terms, the ISEE Tests are scored on a relative scale. Such that, students are compared directly with how other students performed in the past three years, rather than being measured on their absolute score.


After a student’s test is submitted, the number of correct answers from the multiple-choice questions is counted, and, for each section, the student is assigned a percentile rank from 1 to 99. For example, if a student receives a percentile rank of ‘70’, this means that he or she performed equal to or better than 70% of test-takers in that cohort. This cohort is made up of the most recent three years of test-takers for the same exam level. It also only includes students applying to the same grade.


These percentiles are then grouped into 9 ranges called stanines. The lowest score being a ‘1’ and the highest, a ‘9’.  The stanines correspond to percentiles as follows:

What this means is that students who receive a stanine of 5, will be evaluated equally in the eyes of an admission director, regardless of where they scored within the range of 40 and 59.  Unfortunately, this can mean that two students with measurably different raw scores can be assigned the same stanine score and be judged similarly. For example, if one student scores a 59 percentile rank and the other a 40, they will both be assigned a stanine score of 5.

What is a good ISEE score?

As shown above, the majority of students (54%) who take the ISEE, score between 4 and 6. Only 23% score between 7 and 9, with only 4% of students scoring a 9, and 7% scoring an 8.


In our experience, an average of “7” is considered excellent and will more than likely get you into most competitive schools, including Horace Mann, Riverdale and Dalton. The only exceptions are a handful of the highest tier schools (Trinity, Brearley and Collegiate) where some 8’s and 9’s are necessary.


 A “6” is a good result and will be fine for most schools. A “5” is OK. We advise that anything below a 5 is not good, and will be challenging for entry to most independent schools.


It is important to note that the stanine score is not the only ingredient to admission success. A combination of grades, recommendations, extracurricular activities and the interview all play crucial roles in the admission process. In addition, whilst the average stanine score is relevant, a particularly weak section score can be detrimental. For example, if a student has an average score of 6 but scores a 2 in reading comprehension, this is likely to be cause for concern.


Finally, please be advised that each school has their own average admissible score. We recommend contacting the schools you are interested in for admissions statistics.

How quickly will I receive my scores?

Paper Exam - Students who take the paper examination format, can access their scores online within 2-3 days if they elect to pay $40 for “expedited scoring”. Otherwise, the scores are available online within 7 days of the test.

Computerised Exam at Prometric site - Scores are available online immediately (2-3 days after administration) for those who take the computerized exam at a Prometric site.

How can I prepare for the ISEE Test?

Practice, practice and more practice!

For most students, this will be the longest formalized examination they will have taken. Whilst knowledge of the syllabus is vital, we have found that familiarity with the test length and format is most important to scoring high when under pressure on the real test date. We can’t emphasize more that students need to sit full-length practice tests under timed conditions in order to adequately prepare for the ISEE.


Download accurate and reliable full-length ISEE Test papers here:

Multiple-Choice Sections

Written Section

What is the ISEE?
What grade and age does it test for?
What is the ISEE Test Format?
What is the Test Length of the ISEE?
How is the ISEE scored?
What is a good ISEE score?
How quckly will I receive my scores?
How can I prepare for the ISEE Test?
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