Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE)

The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is an admission entrance exam for private middle and high schools. This standardized test, developed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB), is used by schools to evaluate children around the country, with consistent standards and guidelines, for private school entry. This ISEE has four levels:

  • Primary Level: for students in grades 1, 2, and 3 who are candidates for grades 2, 3, and 4.
  • Lower Level: administered to students currently in grades 4 and 5 who are going into grades 5 and 6.
  • Middle Level: directed to students in grades 6 and 7 who are entering grades 7 and 8.
  • Upper Level: proctored to students in grades 8-11 who are candidates for grades 9-12.

Each ISEE test has different variations to mitigate any cheating. The Lower, Middle, and Upper levels all consist of three parts:

  1. Carefully constructed and standardized verbal and quantitative reasoning tests that measure a student’s capability for learning.
  2. Reading comprehension and mathematic achievement tests yielding specific information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses in those areas.
  3. An optional essay section.

How is the ISEE Structured?

The Lower, Middle, and Upper levels include five sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, math achievement, reading comprehension, and (an optional) writing section. The Primary ISEE only has the reading, math, and optional writing sections. Students entering 2nd grade must also complete an auditory comprehension section.

ISEE Primary Level Sections

Primary Level 2 (for students applying to 2nd grade)
  • Auditory Comprehension (7 minutes, six questions)
  • Reading (20 minutes, 18 questions)
  • Mathematics (26 minutes, 24 questions)
  • Writing Sample (untimed, one picture prompt)
Primary Level 3 (for students applying to 3rd grade)
  • Reading (28 minutes, 24 questions)
  • Mathematics (26 minutes, 24 questions)
  • Writing Sample (untimed, one picture prompt)
Primary Level 4 (for students applying to 4th grade)
  • Reading (30 minutes, 28 questions)
  • Mathematics (30 minutes, 28 questions)
  • Writing Sample (untimed, one picture prompt)

ISEE Lower Level Sections

  • Verbal Reasoning (20 minutes, 34 questions)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (35 minutes, 38 questions)
  • Reading Comprehension (25 minutes, 25 questions)
  • Mathematics Achievement (30 minutes, 30 questions)
  • Optional Essay (30 minutes, One question)

ISEE Middle & Upper Level Sections

  • Verbal Reasoning (20 minutes, 40 questions)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (35 minutes, 37 questions)
  • Reading Comprehension (35 minutes, 36 questions)
  • Mathematics Achievement (40 minutes, 47 questions)
  • Optional Essay (30 minutes, One question)

What to Expect on Each ISEE Section

Each section seeks to test and measure a student’s capabilities in different areas. Here is what to expect from each of these sections.

Verbal Reasoning

This section exists to assess a student’s vocabulary, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It includes synonym components that test the students’ ability to choose a word similar to the target word. There is also a section completion component that tests the ability to correctly fill in the blank of a sentence by selecting the right word from a list of answer choices.

Quantitative Reasoning

In this section, the lower ISEE test has word problems, while the middle and upper ISEE contains word problems and quantitative comparisons. The quantitative reasoning elements include many specific fundamental skills, including numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability, and problem-solving.

Mathematics Achievement

This section includes multiple-choice math questions requiring one or more steps of calculation. These questions rely on a deep understanding of decimals, fractions, percentages, measurements, and more.

Reading Comprehension

The lower level ISEE test includes five passages for students to read, followed by five questions about them. On the middle and upper-level tests, students will read six passages and answer six questions. These multiple-choice questions may cover topics including main ideas, supporting ideas, vocabulary, organizational structure, tone, figurative language, and more.


On all three ISEE variations, students will be tasked with planning and writing an organized essay. This writing sample is submitted to the school to which they are applying. This allows the school to understand the students writing abilities.

How to Calculate ISEE Scores

For the ISEE test, students receive a scaled score, percentile, and stanine score on each section. The most commonly referenced score for this test is the stanine score. Here are the steps used to calculate the stanine score.

The Raw Score

First, students must calculate the raw score. Students earn one point for each correct answer and no points for incorrect answers or unanswered questions. There are no deductions for incorrect answers, so students should always guess instead of leaving an answer blank.

The Scaled Score

The raw score then converts into a scaled score. This conversion adjusts for the variation in difficulty between different tests. For example, a lower raw score on a difficult test may award students the same scaled score as a higher raw score on an easier test. For each section, the scaled score will range from 760 to 940.

The Percentile Score

Next calculated is the percentile score for each section. Percentiles compare the student’s scaled score to all other students in the same grade from the past three years. The percentile score is based only on the performance of other students applying to the same grade; so, one applying to 9th grade will not be compared to another applying to 11th grade.

For instance, scoring in the 40th percentile means that the student scored the same or higher than 40% of students in the same grade, but lower than 59% of those students.

The Stanine Score

Lastly, the percentile converts into the final stanine score. This is how the percentile range compares to the stanine score.

A stanine analysis compares the student’s performance on the ability tests and related achievement tests. These comparisons are made between verbal reasoning (V) and reading comprehension (R), and quantitative reasoning (Q), and mathematics (M). Test-takers can find each of these letters in the stanine analysis box on the test profile.

Succeed on the ISEE with Advanced Prep

Overall, success on the ISEE will best prepare students for a fruitful early academic career. To obtain an ISEE score in the top percentile, students should spend plenty of time preparing for the test. TestPrepScore recommends that students receive at least 25 hours of tutoring for adequate preparation. Be sure to focus on sections and elements that the student currently shows weaknesses in to improve upon skills and knowledge.

TestPrepScore and tutoring professionals are fully equipped to best prepare your student for the ISEE and set them up for a lifetime of academic prosperity, matching your student with a trustworthy, well-fitting tutor and providing exceptional test preparation resources.