What You Need To Know About The ISEE

There tends to be more confusion surrounding secondary school tests like the ISEE and SSAT  than college placement tests like the SAT and ACT. This can leave parents frustrated and confused about a process that is stressful enough on its own. Here are some of the most common questions we get about the ISEE, as well as our answers.

What does ISEE stand for?

Independent School Entrance Exam.

What is the purpose of the ISEE?

Students take the ISEE to gain admission to private middle and high schools. In the past, independent day schools tended to require the ISEE (rather than its sister test, the SSAT), but that has changed in recent years. It’s worth checking with the individual schools to which you’re applying to see which test they prefer.

What’s the deal with the different levels of the test?

There are three different versions, or “levels”, of the ISEE that apply to different age groups:


  • Lower Level—taken by current 4th and 5th graders


  • Middle Level—taken by current 6th and 7th graders
  • Upper Level—taken by current 8th through 11th graders



The Lower Level is—unsurprisingly—shorter (~2.5 hours) and simpler than the Middle and Upper Level tests, which take three hours to complete.

What content does the ISEE cover?

Each level of the ISEE has five sections:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Quantitative Reasoning
  3. Reading Comprehension
  4. Math Achievement
  5. Essay

The Verbal Reasoning section contains questions that test a student’s knowledge of vocabulary. The Quantitative Reasoning and Math Achievement sections test a student’s number sense and knowledge of mathematical concepts, respectively. The Reading Comprehension section tests a student’s ability to read passages and analyze text. Finally, the Essay section presents students with one analytical prompt to answer.

When can my child take the ISEE?

The ISEE is offered several times throughout the year, depending on your location. Students can take the test multiple times a year but only once per testing season (August–November, December–March, April–July).

How is the ISEE scored?

This is a little complicated, so bear with us. The ISEE ranks students by way of “stanines,” which represent percentile ranges. First, a student’s raw score is calculated by totaling their number of correct answers. That raw score is then converted into a scaled score, using a predetermined curve based on the difficulty of the particular test. The scaled score is then converted into a percentile, which represents where a student falls in comparison to other students. For example, a student who scores in the 30th percentile did better than 30% of ISEE test-takers from their grade. Finally, a student’s percentile is placed into a stanine, as follows:

Stanine Percentile Range
1 1-3
2 4-10
3 11-22
4 23-39
5 40-59
6 60-76
7 77-88
8 89-95
9 96-99

What type of student is the ISEE best suited for?

The ISEE places a heavier emphasis on mathematical reasoning, so—if a particular school accepts both tests—we tend to recommend the ISEE for stronger math students and the SSAT for stronger verbal students.

If you’re embarking on secondary school admissions and want to discuss the process or enlist the help of a qualified, dynamic tutor, please don’t hesitate to contact us.