A Guide to the ISEE Test: What You Need to Know

By A+ Staff on 25 October 21 Blog

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is an admission test students have to take to gain admission to a private or independent school. The Educational Records Bureau developed the ISEE test to align with the national standards in English and Mathematics.

If you are considering enrolling in an independent or private school, you will need to pass the ISEE exam through one of the examination facilities. This guide will address the following questions:

  • What is the ISEE test?
  • What is a good ISEE score?
  • Which ISEE test should I take and when?
  • Should I take the ISEE or the SSAT?

What is the ISEE Test?

The ISEE test is a standardized entrance examination required for most private and/or independent schools in the United States. The five sections of the ISEE test content are: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematics achievement, and an essay.

The first four sections are multiple-choice questions. The reading comprehension score is grade-specific, as is the mathematics section. The essay must be written in the student’s own handwriting in response to a writing prompt that is also grade-appropriate.

Here is an outline of the ISEE test content.

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section of the ISEE exam will test vocabulary and reasoning. You will have either synonym-selection problems or sentence completion problems. These questions will test your reasoning ability and your knowledge of vocabulary.

A synonym-selection question may ask you to choose the correct synonym for a word like ‘parsimonious’. If you are doing a sentence completion question, you may have to select a word that would correctly complete a sentence like “Always _____, the journalist actively questioned the relevant viewpoints on both sides of the issues.”

Quantitative Reasoning

This is a math section that tests your understanding of mathematics to develop an opinion about how best to solve math problems. You may have to estimate numerical values, use reason to calculate the probability of events, compare and contrast quantities or understand concepts of measurement.

These skills are linked to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards. Be sure when doing word problems that you read carefully to eliminate irrelevant information and then determine the steps to find the answer.

Reading Comprehension

To complete the reading comprehension section, you need to know what is the main idea and supporting idea, how to make inferences, identify event and text organization and understand the tone and figurative language.

You must be sure to read the entire passage provided. It will be age-appropriate with questions that you should be able to answer.

isee exam preparation

Mathematics Achievement

Once again, this section is based on the NCTM standards. It will cover questions in number and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis & probability, and problem-solving. You may need to do calculations in this section and your answer options may include wrong answers that people often make if they don’t do the question following the correct procedure.

You are not allowed to use a calculator or scrap paper, but you can write in the exam booklet.

Check your work carefully before settling on a final answer. You will not get the option, ‘none of the above.’ The correct answer will be one of the available choices.

Essay Question

The essay topic is a subject of interest to a student of your age. You will be able to plan your essay on a note sheet, but you must write the essay in ink. You have only 30 minutes to complete this essay.

What ISEE Score is Considered Good?

You will get two different test scores. The first is a scaled score that will be between 760 and 940. The percentile score will take the scaled score you achieved and rank it from 1-99. This will be based on your performance compared to other test takers in your cohort.

To gain admittance to the top schools in the United States like Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, you need to be in the highest percentile. A percentile score compares the student to a ‘peer-normed group’ of students who did the same test.

School admissions departments use your stanine score which is calculated based on your percentile ranking. For example, if your percentile is 50%, you have a stanine score of 5. If you have a percentile of 81%, your stanine score is 7.

You need a good ISEE test score or you will have a tough time getting into a top private school. An average score is 4 to 6. If your stanine score is between 7 and 9, you will be eligible to be admitted to the best independent schools in the United States.

Which ISEE Test Should I Take?

There are four ISEE test levels:

  • Primary level ISEE: grades 2 to 4
  • Lower level ISEE: grades 5 and 6
  • Middle level ISEE: grades 7 and 8
  • Upper level ISEE: grades 9 to 12

There are many locations around the United States that offer the ISEE test. There are also locations in other countries that offer the tests. With the recent COVID crisis, the tests are also offered online by many institutions. Qualified examiners proctor the test via webcam.

If you are an international student, you can also be admitted to private schools in the United States. You need to provide TOEFL test results proving your English skills are good. ASC English offers TOEFL test prep to ensure you are successful with your TOEFL test.

You will have to take the ISEE exam as well. It is available in several countries around the world. You will also need to apply for a student visa with the U.S. Immigration Service in your country.

When Should I Take the ISEE Test?

There are several ways to register for the ISEE test including registering online, over the phone, or by fax. You can also send your application by mail. The prices will vary by location and by test protocol.

Most test dates offered are in the fall and early winter though spring/summer testing dates are also available. You should select your test date and location as soon as possible to ensure you get the time and date you want. To check for an available date and time, you can view ISEE test dates on the ERB website.

Your test results are valid for six months after completion. You can take the test up to three times per year. As mentioned before, you can now take the test from your own home via webcam.

Make sure your child chooses the test that is the right fit for their skills

Make sure your child chooses the test that is the right fit for their skills

ISEE and SSAT: Similarities and Differences

If you’re wondering whether it’s best to do the ISEE or the SSAT tests for school admission, you should know that they are very similar, and most private schools accept either one. If you’re unsure if both are accepted, contact the school you’re applying to for guidance.

The content being tested in both exams is very similar. You have four multiple-choice sections in both. The SSAT provides only three final scores as it will combine both math sections into one score. If you want to highlight your math skills to your school of choice, you should probably take the ISEE test.

Both tests don’t score the essay question. It is used in both cases by the admissions committees for them to get to know you better.

There is a difference in essay topics, though. The ISEE requires the student to write an expository essay. The SSAT allows for creative writing prompts at the lower levels and at the upper level the student can choose between creative writing and expository writing.

The SSAT does have a guessing penalty. If you leave the question blank, there is no penalty. If you guess and get it wrong, you lose 1/4 point. The ISEE has no penalty for wrong answers, so you can guess and you might get the answer right.

The SSAT offers test dates every month all year long and you can take it as many times as you like. The ISEE exam is only available three times per year: fall, winter and spring/summer.

Ultimately, choosing the SSAT or the ISEE exams will depend on your personal preference and/or requirements from the school you’re applying to.

In summary, if you feel insecure about your ability to select the correct answer and worry about being penalized, you might prefer the ISEE. If you want to highlight your math skills, you might prefer the ISEE. If you enjoy creative writing more than expository writing, you might prefer the SSAT.


Top ISEE Test Scores Will Open Doors

Milton Academy, a top private school

Many top private schools require high ISEE scores.

Attending a top-ranking private school is a first step to get into the best colleges and universities. There are many excellent independent schools in New England and other parts of the United States.  Achieving a high score on the ISEE test is one of the critical factors to get admitted into the school of your choice.

The best ISEE test prep starts with lots of practice on grade-level work. There are also a number of sample ISEE tests available online for you to practice with.

To be successful, you do need some test-taking strategies. The ASC A+ Program has highly qualified teachers who know how to help you apply strategies that will increase your test scores. We also provide training on application essay writing skills that will teach you how to make your essays stand out for the crowd.

You need to know that private schools don’t just look at ISEE or SSAT scores when deciding whether to admit you. They will also look at your grades in school, your extracurricular activities, your motivation and much more. Applying to private schools is a complex process. It pays to have the guidance of an experienced private school counselor to help you navigate the process.

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