What is the ISEE?

The Structure of the ISEE

education ISEE preparation

The ISEE is the Independent School Entrance Examination, and it’s used for admission to private middle schools and high schools. This is the test students will need to do well on if they plan on attending an elite private middle or high school. There are different levels of the test that are offered depending on where the student is in their education.

What are the Different Levels of the ISEE?


  • Upper Level – designed for applicants in 9th grade and above.
  • Middle Level – designed for applicants in 7th and 8th grade.
  • Lower Level – designed for applicants in 5th and 6th grade.



The ISEE will always test the same sections; Verbal Reasoning, Quantative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension and Mathematics Achievement, regardless of the level of the test, but there are certain differences within the sections depending on the level of the test. The test also contains an essay that must be written by students, but is not graded.

student studying fpr ISEE

ISEE Structure

The test consists of four multiple answer sections; the first two of the multiple answer sections assess verbal reasoning and reading skills, while the other two sections test the student’s ability to answer curriculum based questions correctly that are appropriate at that grade level.



  • The verbal reasoning section consists of vocabulary and sentence completion type questions. Vocabulary type questions contain an abstract, grade-level appropriate word followed by four potential answer choices. Sentence completion type questions contain a sentence missing a word or phrase. Out of the four answer choices, a word or phrase must be chosen that best fits the blank space.


  • The quantitative reasoning section contains various word problems. The reading comprehension section consists of numerical patterns and interpreting relationships.


  • The reading comprehension tests your ability to read detailed humanities passages quickly. Students need to be aware of the author’s main idea, tone, and purpose, when addressing these types of passages.


  • The mathematics achievement consists of numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability, and problem solving.


  • In the essay section, the students are given a prompt or topic that is grade level appropriate and they are asked to write a response to it. Although the essay is not graded, it is sent to the private schools to which the student is applying for evaluation.

ISEE Scores

The raw score is determined solely by the number of questions answered correctly since there is no wrong answer penalty. This means that students should always guess and never leave a question blank. The lower, middle and upper level exams all use a scaled score between 760 and 940.

ISEE practice test and tutoring

Stanine System

The ISEE score report provides a student’s percentile ranking of where the student stands relative to the ISEE norm group. The norm group is composed of all students in the same grade who took the ISEE test within the past three years. The ISEE report also provides a student’s stanine score, which range from 1 to 9, with 5 as the midpoint. Stanines are derived by diving the entire range of students’ scores into nine segments.

Preparing for the ISEE


  • One of the best strategies for test day is to take practice tests. By taking practice tests, students will know which areas they need to work on, and will feel more comfortable taking the test when it does count.


  • Students should also read. Reading will build their understanding of the nuances of difficult texts and their vocabulary.


  • When taking practice tests, students should go over any questions answered incorrectly and try to determine where they went wrong.


  • Students should learn strategies for tackling tough questions.


  • Consider hiring a ISEE tutor. A professional tutor can be a crucial tool in developing the strategies necessary to defeat any standardized test.