What Is the to the Exam

Are you thinking about enrolling your child in a private elementary, middle, or high school in the United States? Then you’ll have to take the ISEE, which is an admission exam.


But what exactly does this examination involve?


We’ll go over what the ISEE exam entails, how it’s organized and scored, what a good ISEE exam score looks like, and how to study successfully for it in this article.

What the ISEE exam entails 

What exactly is ISEE?

The Entrance Exam for Independent Schools (ISEE).

The Educational Records Bureau formed and authorized this exam (ERB). It assesses students’ individual academic achievements and reasoning abilities as a basis for admission to private schools in the United States and around the world. Currently, the ISEE is accepted by over 1,200 institutions worldwide.

This exam aims to assess your academic achievements and reasoning abilities. It is used by private school admissions committees to anticipate your success at their institution and can be given on paper or online.

The ISEE is administered to students in specific age groups and is divided into four levels:

  • Primary (entrance to grades 2-4)
  • Lower (admission to grades 5-6)
  • Middle (entrance to grades 7-8)
  • Upper (entrance to grades 9-12)

What Is the Structure of the ISEE Exam?

The ISEE test assesses your performance in a variety of educational subjects. Because the Primary ISEE exam varies significantly from the Lower, Middle, and Upper-Level ISEE exams, the overall exam structures below have been divided into two groups.

Structure of the ISEE Exam at the Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels

How long does the ISEE test last? The ISEE exams at the Lower, Middle and Upper Levels are divided into five timed sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Mathematics Achievement
  • Essay (optional)

Here’s a quick overview of the ISEE test structure at each of these three levels:




Lower Level


Middle Level


Upper Level

1. Verbal Reasoning 34 questions, 20 minutes 40 questions, 20 minutes 40 questions, 20 minutes
2. Quantitative Reasoning 38 questions, 35 minutes 37 questions, 35 minutes 37 questions, 35 minutes
3. Reading Comprehension 25 questions, 25 minutes 36 questions, 35 minutes 36 questions, 35 minutes
4. Mathematics Achievement 30 questions, 30 minutes 47 questions, 40 minutes 47 questions, 40 minutes
5. Essay (optional) 1 prompt, 30 minutes 1 prompt, 30 minutes 1 prompt, 30 minutes

Total Time


2 hours 20 minutes


2 hours 40 minutes


2 hours 40 minutes

Let’s take a closer look at each section:

  • Section 1: Verbal Reasoning:
  • There are two sections with questions about synonyms and sentence completion. This section assesses grade-level vocabulary as well as sentence-completion ability. Students are asked to select the best word or phrase to form a sentence.
  • Section 2: Quantitative Reasoning:
  • Addresses a variety of math concepts and includes several subsections and word challenges. (1) numbers and operations, (2) algebra, (3) geometry, (4) measurement, (5) data analysis and probability, (6) concepts/understanding, (7) applications/higher-order thinking, and (8) quantitative comparisons are among the concepts tested.
  • Section 3: Reading Comprehension:
  • Examines students’ ability to comprehend and interpret questions based on six reading passages in the humanities, sciences, and social studies. You’ll be given the passage for each course first, followed by questions about it.
  • Section 4: Mathematics Achievement:
  • The ISEE test’s final multiple-choice section. This section includes questions about (1) numbers and operations, (2) algebraic concepts, (3) geometric concepts, (4) measurement, and (5) data analysis and probability.
  • Section 5: Essay (optional):
  • A timed essay is optional. Students are given an essay notification and are expected to write a well-informed essay on a specific topic.

The first four ISEE sections are made up of multiple-choice questions with four answer options labeled (A), (B), (C), and (D) (D). A timed essay is the final optional writing exercise.


The number of questions and time frame can differ based on the student’s ISEE level.


Middle and Upper-Level students have more time compared to Lower Level scholars to write the Reading Comprehension and Mathematics Achievement sections (though they also have to answer more questions).

Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll be tested on in each ISEE exam section. It should be noted that as you progress through the levels, the difficulty level will increase:


ISEE Test Section


Content Tested

1. Verbal Reasoning Verbal reasoning


Vocabulary in context

2. Quantitative Reasoning Math calculation



3. Reading Comprehension Main idea


Supporting ideas









4. Mathematics Achievement Whole numbers


Decimals, percentages, fractions


Algebraic concepts






Data analysis



5. Essay (optional) Expository essay

Structure of the ISEE Primary Level Exam

The Primary ISEE exam differs from the Lower, Middle, and Upper-Level ISEE exams in its structure. It is also the only ISEE assessment available in an online version (the ones above are available as either paper or computer exams).

Here’s a rundown of what to expect on the Primary exam:





Primary 2 (for current 1st-grade students)


Primary 3 (for current 2nd-grade students)


Primary 4 (for current 3rd-grade students)

1. Auditory Comprehension 6 questions, 7 minutes
2. Reading 18 questions, 20 minutes 24 questions, 28 minutes 24 questions, 28 minutes
3. Mathematics 24 questions, 26 minutes 24 questions, 26 minutes 28 questions, 30 minutes
4. Writing Sample* 1 prompt with a picture, untimed 1 prompt with a picture, untimed 1 prompt, untimed

Total Time


53 minutes + writing time


1 hour + writing time


1 hour + writing time

And here’s a quick rundown of the topics covered on each Primary ISEE exam:



ISEE Test Section


Content Tested

1. Auditory Comprehension (grade 2 only) Auditory Comprehension
2. Reading Main idea


Supporting ideas








Figurative language

3. Mathematics Number sense and operations


Algebraic concepts


Geometric concepts




Data analysis



4. Writing Sample* Basic writing skills

How Is the ISEE Exam Graded?

Most students receive their ISEE test results seven to ten business days after taking the exam. ISEE test results are automatically sent to the schools you specify. An ISEE score, contrary to popular belief, is not a simple function of right and wrong; instead, students are given a scaled score on their ISEE test.

The scaled score is given by ERB, the organization in charge of administering the ISEE exam. Scaled scores range from 760 to 940 and include a percentile ranking (1-99) to compare the student’s score to the average of test-takers over the previous three years.

Private schools can use the percentile ranking to compare a student’s performance to that of other students in their application form cohorts. The higher your ISEE score, the higher your percentile. A 45th percentile overall score, for example, indicates that the student earned the same as or better than 45 percent of students in the previous three years.

On the other hand, the essay is not scored by ERB and is instead submitted to schools for inclusion in the applicant’s assets.

What Is the Appropriate ISEE Exam Score?

There is no single definition of a good ISEE exam score. Finally, the school you are applying to determines what constitutes a good ISEE test score. Every private school has a range of acceptable ISEE scores. If you are interested in learning more about what to aim for, you should contact the admissions office at that school.

Generally, however, several schools will accept ISEE scores in the 25th-40th percentiles. Scores in the 75th percentile or higher may require more selective private schools. Many students who apply to a private school are already high achievers. Even if you score average on the ISEE, it does not imply that you have average academic performance; instead, you score average compared to other high-performing ISEE examinees.

How to Prepare for the ISEE Exam

Preparation is essential for performing well on the ISEE. And the better you do on it, the more likely you are to be admitted to the independent school of your choice.

The best way to perform well on the ISEE exam is to plan ahead of time and during the exam. Before taking the test, you should prepare by practicing and studying various questions related to each test section.

Most students have the challenge of keeping time, so exercising timed tests in conditions similar to test day (i.e., in a silent room with only the prescribed breaks) can help calm nerves and set you up for success when the big day arrives. The more you understand the ISEE’s structure and scoring, the more confident you’ll feel on test day.

Students can prepare by using various resources, such as ISEE study books and online practice questions and tests. They can also study in groups or one-on-one with an ISEE tutor.

Keep in mind that the ISEE is not the only deciding factor for admission to a private school. Other accomplishments, like extracurricular activities, academic achievements, motivation, and personality, are also considered during the admissions process.

So, if your ISEE score isn’t ideal, don’t despair: other factors will be considered as well!

What Is an ISEE, and How to Get High Scores on It?

The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is a critical step in a student’s academic life and a significant factor in private school admission.

But that doesn’t mean you should be concerned! Your student can ace the ISEE with proper preparation and gain admission to the school of their choice. As a wise sage once said, “Don’t be concerned. And give it your all.”

What Comes Next?

When will the next ISEE be held? With our guide to all upcoming ISEE exam schedules, you can determine how much time you have left to prepare for the ISEE.

Do you want to do well on the ISEE?

Then you should check out our comprehensive collection of the best ISEE practice resources available.

What distinguishes the ISEE from the SSAT?

Both are admissions exams used by private schools, but they are not the same! In our expert guide, you can see how these two exams stack up against one another.

Do you want to raise your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by four points?

We’ve created a guide for each test that outlines the top five strategies you must employ in order to improve your score. Now you can get it for free!