The ISEE – What to Expect on the ISEE

The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is created by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). It is used as a component in the admissions process of many private schools. There are three levels of the test. The Lower Level is for students going to fifth or sixth grade; the Middle Level is for students going to seventh or eighth grade; finally, the Upper Level is for students going into ninth through twelfth grade. Each level tests students knowledge in four areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematics achievement, and essay writing. Though the format of each test is the same, the material covered on higher level tests will necessarily be more difficult than that on lower levels. This article will discuss the material found on the test, what to expect on test day, how to prepare, and how to interpret an ISEE score.

The verbal reasoning section of the ISEE contains three types of items: synonyms, single-word sentence completion, and phrase sentence completion. The next section, quantitative reasoning, is made up of what are essentially logic problems. Arithmetic calculations might not be required. In the reading comprehension section, students will be expected to read a passage and then identify main and supporting ideas, infer conclusions from the text, define words based on context, identify the organization and logic of the passage, and identify tone, style, and figurative language like personification and irony. Finally, the mathematics achievement section tests students on grade-appropriate math-generally, the problems involve arithmetic, algebra, geometry, measurement, and probability. Finally, the essay is based on a prompt and is not scored, but sent to the school the student is applying to.

When actually taking the test, students should be aware of its structure. Each of the sections is timed. The timings vary for the Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels, so parents should find the appropriate information on the ERB website. All the tests feature two five-minute breaks for students during the test. On test day, students should bring four #2 pencils and two black- or blue-ink pens (erasable ink is permitted). Most other items, including scrap paper, calculators, and reference materials, are not allowed. Cell phones and other electronic devices are strictly prohibited and cannot be taken into the test room.

Preparation is essential for success on the ISEE. The ERB does not recommend preparing students for levels they are not taking (i.e., teaching a fifth grade student material from the Upper Level test). There is an official guide to help students prepare for the ISEE on the ERB’s website. If your student requires further assistance, you should consider an ISEE test prep program to help bolster your student’s knowledge and boost their confidence in their abilities before the test. A test prep program will help your student learn test-taking strategies and apply them on practice tests, ideally, tests which accurately reflect the time constraints and other limitations of the real exam. Taking the ISEE can be stressful for a student and preparation will help them make the most of it.

, Andrew Thatcher ,