What is the ISEE?

The ISEE, or “Independent School Entrance Exam,” assesses an applicant’s skills and compares their scores with those of other applicants in the same grade. It’s used as one method of determining an applicant’s qualifications for admittance into top-performing private schools.

Breakdown of the ISEE

The ISEE has three levels:

  • Upper Level (for students currently in grades 8–11)
  • Middle Level (for students currently in grades 6 or 7)
  • Lower Level (for students currently in grades 4 or 5)

Here’s a breakdown of the ISEE, by level:

SectionLower LevelMiddle LevelUpper Level
Verbal Reasoning34 questions (20 minutes)40 questions (20 minutes)40 questions (20 minutes)
Quantitative Reasoning38 questions (35 minutes)37 questions (35 minutes)37 questions (35 minutes)
Reading Comprehension25 questions (25 minutes)36 questions (35 minutes)36 questions (35 minutes)
Mathematics Achievement30 questions (30 minutes)47 questions (40 minutes)47 questions (40 minutes)
Essay*One writing prompt (30 minutes)One writing prompt (30 minutes)One writing prompt (30 minutes)
Total Time2 hours 20 minutes2 hours 40 minutes2 hours 40 minutes

*The essay will not be scored, nor will it be included in your home report, but it will be sent to the schools to which you are applying.
In addition to these three levels, there’s an ISEE Primary Level exam for grades 1-3. It consists of a Mathematics section, a Reading section, and a Writing prompt.
There are some differences between each of the Primary Level exams. For example, both the Primary Level 2 and 3 exams (for students currently in 1st and 2nd grades) contain a picture with the Writing Prompt, which offers students the opportunity to be creative and self-expressive with their individual writing styles. In Primary Level 2 Reading Comprehension, there is a short Auditory Comprehension section that tests how students listen to a passage, which contains no text. Students then answer questions that relate to the passage.
Each ISEE Primary Level exam is one hour long and is only available at some schools. For all Primary Level tests, the Writing section is untimed, allowing all students to type at their own pace. Following is a breakdown of the Primary Level tests.
Here’s a breakdown of the primary exam, by grade level:
SectionPrimary 2 (for current 1st grade students)Primary 3 (for current 2nd grade students)Primary 4 (for current 3rd grade students)
Auditory Comprehension6 questions (7 minutes)
Reading Comprehension18 questions (20 minutes)24 questions (28 minutes)24 questions (28 minutes)
Mathematics24 questions (26 minutes)24 questions (26 minutes)28 questions (30 minutes)
Essay**one writing prompt, with a pictureone writing prompt, with a pictureone writing prompt
Total Time53 minutes (+ writing time)1 hour (+ writing time)1 hour (+ writing time)

**The essay will not be scored, nor will it be included in your home report, but it will be sent to the schools to which you are applying.
On every level of the test, each question has four answers–(A) through (D). You are not permitted to use calculators, dictionaries, or rulers. You must bring your own pencils and erasers, as well as black or blue pens for your essay.

How the ISEE is Scored

Scores on the ISEE work similarly to those on the SSAT in that you will be compared against national and local averages. Your score report for the ISEE will include test scores and diagnostic information. It will also indicate whether your scores are at the expected level given your performance on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections.
An ISEE score report will include a stanine score, which indicates a student’s percentile range. Percentile ranks range from 1–99, while stanines range from 1–9. Think of stanines in groups of three: a score of 1–3 is below average, 4–6 is an average score, and 7–9 indicates an above average performance.

As on the SSAT, you are not expected to answer every question. Your test performance is compared only to others in your grade. Unlike with the SSAT, you are not penalized for wrong answers. You will be graded only on the number of correct answers you get.

How to Register for the ISEE

ISEE accepts registration by mail, phone, fax, or online. For more information, go to the official site at erblearn.org.

ISEE Contact Info

Phone: 800-446-0320
Email: ISEE@measinc.com
Fax: (919) 682-5775
ISEE Operations
423 Morris Street Durham,
NC 27701

What is the Difference Between the SSAT and the ISEE?

The SSAT, or Secondary School Admissions Test, and the ISEE are largely similar, but with a few key differences:

  • On the ISEE, the Verbal section contains Synonym and Sentence Completion questions. On the SSAT, the Verbal section contains Synonym and Analogy questions.
  • On the ISEE, there are Quantitative Comparisons in the Quantitative Reasoning section (Upper and Middle Levels only).
  • On the ISEE, there is no penalty for a wrong answer. That means it is always in your favor to guess if you’re not sure of the answer.
  • On the ISEE, there are four answer choices, (A) through (D). On the SSAT, there are five answer choices, (A) through (E).