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ISEE Test (Independent School Entrance Exam)

What is the ISEE?

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE Test) is an achievement and reasoning test developed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) that is used to evaluate children around the country for private school entry. While ISEE scores are an important component of the student’s application to these schools, other factors, such as school records and interviews, also determine whether the child is offered a seat into the school.

The ISEE is offered at three different levels, with each level consisting of four sections plus on optional section.

The three levels are:

PrimaryStudents entering grades 2-4
LowerStudents entering grades 5-6
MiddleStudents entering grades 7-8
UpperStudents entering grades 9-12

The five sections are as follows:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Math Achievement
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Writing (Optional)

Except for the Primary level, all ISEE levels include all five sections. The Primary level only has the reading, math, and optional writing sections. Students entering 2nd grade will also be given an auditory comprehension (listening) section.

The ISEE practice tests and practice materials at help prepare students entering Grade 2 through Grade 12 prepare for the ISEE test. Our Student Success Team is also available around the clock to help you with any questions you may have regarding the ISEE Test, our ISEE practice test questions, and private school admission.

Video: What is the ISEE Test?

Below is a description of each of the five sections on the ISEE test.

  • Verbal Reasoning: This portion of the ISEE aims to assess a student’s vocabulary as well as their ability to reason and problem solve. The section consists of synonyms and sentence completion. The synonym component tests the student’s ability to choose a word that is similar to the target word. The sentence completion component tests the student’s ability to properly fill in a sentence by picking the correct word from the answer choices provided.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: On this section, the lower level test is comprised of word problems while the middle and upper level consists of word problems and quantitative comparisons. Additionally, the quantitative reasoning portion encompasses specific fundamental skills:
    • Numbers and operations
    • Algebra
    • Geometry
    • Measurement
    • Data Analysis and probability
    • Problem solving
  • Math Achievement: The questions on this section call for the identification of, and solutions to, problems requiring one or more steps in calculation. These items target skills pertaining to decimals, percents and fractions; and measurement (to name a few).
  • Reading Comprehension: Students completing a lower level examination will read five passages, each accompanied by five questions. Students completing the middle and upper levels will read six passages that are accompanied by six questions. These questions cover topics such as main ideas, supporting ideas, vocabulary, organizational structure, tone, and figurative language.
  • Essay: On all three levels, the student is required to plan and write a well-organized essay. This writing sample will be submitted to the school to which they are applying and allows the school to develop a sense of the student’s writing ability. While the essay does not receive an overall score, it is photocopied and sent to each school.

When is the ISEE test given?

Your child can sit for the ISEE exam once in each testing season: fall, winter and spring/summer, which means they can take it up to three times in one academic year. So, if your child has already taken the exam in September, which is part of the fall testing they will have to wait until December, when the winter testing starts.

Fall ISEE Testing Season

Winter ISEE Testing Season

Spring/Summer ISEE Testing Season


Find out the ISEE test dates in 2023 and 2024

How is the ISEE Administered?

When it comes to actually taking the ISEE, there are a few different options. A student has the option of taking part in “large group testing” at a school, or “small group testing”, offered at various testing offices. Currently, the test is being offered in both an online and paper-based format (The Primary Level is only available online). Both formats consist of the same number of questions as well as the same timing.

Do you have materials to help with the essay portion?

Many of the tests used for gifted programs includes a writing portion. While the ISEE essay is not scored, you will want your child to be able to write a well organized essay. Our website has a page dedicated to writing skills and how to structure an essay. Our ISEE practice tests also include practice essay questions to help your child prepare.

What is the purpose of the ISEE test, and why should my child take it?

The ISEE test is a standardized exam used by private and independent schools to assess the academic abilities of students seeking admission. By taking the ISEE, your child can demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and potential to their prospective schools. The test is one of several components considered in the admissions process, along with interviews, recommendations, and school records.

When should my child take the ISEE test?

The ISEE test is offered multiple times throughout the year, typically during three testing seasons: Fall (August-November), Winter (December-March), and Spring/Summer (April-July). It is recommended that your child takes the test in the season that best aligns with their preparedness and the application deadlines of their target schools. Keep in mind that many schools have specific deadlines for test scores, so plan accordingly.

How many times can my child take the ISEE test, and can they improve their scores?

Your child can take the ISEE test once per testing season (Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer), for a maximum of three times within a 12-month admission cycle. If your child is not satisfied with their initial score, they have the option to retake the test in a subsequent testing season. To improve their scores, your child should focus on understanding their weaknesses, reviewing relevant concepts, and practicing additional test questions. Retaking the test can sometimes result in higher scores, but it is not guaranteed.

How is the ISEE Test Scored?

The test profile provides information about the student’s overall performance on each section of the ISEE, except for the essay which is unscored and shared with the schools to which the student is applying. The test profile reports percentile ranks with a reference to ISEE norms. These norms are based on independent school applicants in the same grade who have taken the test during the past three years. The norm group for the ISEE consists of a competitive group of students who are also applying to independent schools. A student is only compared to another student who is in that same grade, and who has applied to independent schools in the last three years.  The ISEE scores are reported in four ways in order to provide a comprehensive picture of the student:

  • Scaled score: ISEE scaled scores for each section will range from 760 to 940. The scaled score is based upon the raw score, which is the number of questions that the student answers correctly. ERB will administer different versions of the ISEE each year. The scaled is able to take these changes into account and is able to allow ERB to report a score on a common scale that has the same meaning for all students. This is possible regardless of the test version that is taken.
  • Percentile Rank: The percentile rank is intended to compare the student’s standing when compared to other students in the norm group. Percentile rank scores will range from 1 to 99. For example, if a student scores a 55 on mathematics then that means that the student scored as well or as better than 55 percent of all students in the norm group and less well than 44 percent (out of a total of 99 percentile points).
  • Stanine: A stanine is a score from 1 to 9, with 5 being the midpoint. Stanines are produced by dividing the full range of students’ scores into 9 segments. An example of this is provided below:

Stanine Analysis

One crucial component of the ISEE test score analysis is the Stanine system. This overview will provide a detailed understanding of the Stanine Analysis and its significance in the ISEE test.

Stanine (short for “standard nine”) is a method used to classify test scores into nine categories, ranging from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest). Stanines are derived from converting a student’s raw score into a percentile rank and then grouping these percentiles into the nine categories. This method provides a simplified, easy-to-understand, and standardized way of comparing student performance.

A stanine analysis is intended to compare a student’s performance on the ability tests and the related achievement tests. These comparisons are made between verbal reasoning (V) and reading comprehension (R), as well as between quantitative reasoning (Q) and mathematics achievement (M). Each of these letters found in the stanine analysis box, located in the test profile, is the midpoint of a band that goes to either side of the stanine score. The percentile score is an estimate of a student’s level of knowledge. If the stanine is 5, for example, the percentile rank range is 40-59.

  • In the analysis portion, each section score indicates the number of questions answered correctly, the number of questions answered incorrectly and the number of questions omitted or not reached. For each section, the score is broken down by type of question, providing more specific information about a student’s relative strengths and weaknesses.

The nine Stanine categories are:

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

These categories have the following characteristics:

  • Normal Distribution: The Stanine system follows a normal distribution, with the majority of students falling in the middle categories (Stanines 4, 5, and 6) and fewer students in the extreme categories (Stanines 1, 2, 8, and 9).
  • Equal Intervals: Each Stanine represents an equal interval on a standard score scale, making it easy to understand the relative differences between scores.
  • Comparison: Stanines allow for a clear comparison of a student’s performance to the norm group, which consists of other students who have taken the ISEE test in the same grade and within a specific time frame.

What it means:

The Stanine Analysis plays a significant role in the ISEE test for both students and schools. Here’s what it means for each group:

For Students: Stanine scores provide students and their families with a clear understanding of their relative performance in comparison to their peers. This information can help them identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as inform decisions about school applications or academic support needs.

For Schools: Admissions teams at independent schools use Stanine scores to evaluate a student’s academic potential and fit within their institution. The Stanine Analysis helps schools compare applicants consistently and fairly while considering the varying academic backgrounds and experiences of students.

It is essential to remember that the ISEE test is just one aspect of the admissions process, and schools consider multiple factors, such as interviews, recommendations, and school records, in addition to Stanine scores.

The Stanine Analysis in the ISEE test is a crucial tool for understanding and comparing student performance. It allows both students and schools to evaluate academic abilities and make informed decisions about school admissions and academic support.

Video: ISEE Test Overview

How much is the cost of taking the ISEE Test?

Testing at Schools is $125 to $150

Many ERB Member Schools provide test administration locally for the convenience of students and their families. The amount of students tested per site depends on the school. The test fee is $125 for Primary Level exams and $150 for Lower, Middle, and Upper Level exams.

Testing at ISEE Offices is $175 to $240

Various ISEE testing offices provide testing in small groups or one-on-one. For grades 2-4, small group testing costs $175, and individual testing costs $200. For Grades 5-12, small group testing costs $210 and individual testing costs $240. The number of students in a group and the availability of individual testing may differ by location.

Prometric Test Centers is $210

Prometric is a global testing services provider with centers in the United States and abroad. They offer online testing for Grades 5-12 applicants. Note that these centers aren’t exclusively for ISEE testing—others may be testing simultaneously. Note: Parents or guardians must stay at the test center lobby for the duration of their child’s test.

School-Administered At-Home Testing is $125 to $150

Many ERB schools offer at-home testing. The test fee is $125 for Primary Level exams and $150 for Lower, Middle and Upper Level exams.

To make certain your child’s at-home testing process goes smoothly, there are several steps you need to complete before the day of the test. You’ll need to download the testing application and run an automatic compatibility check on the computer or tablet that your child will use for the exam. Please note that ERB cannot be held responsible if there are interruptions to your home’s internet connection during the test. It’s also a requirement for a parent or guardian to be present in the home for the duration of the exam. Don’t forget to thoroughly read our detailed instructions for at-home testing.

ERB-Administered At-Home Testing is $150 to $200

ERB also offers at-home testing, administered by trained and vetted ERB proctors. The test fee is $150 for Primary Level exams and $200 for Lower, Middle, and Upper Level exams.

What if my child needs to reschedule or cancel taking the ISEE Test?

If your child needs to reschedule or cancel their ISEE exam, it’s essential to understand our policies to prevent any unexpected costs. Please take time to thoroughly check our rules on changing or cancelling test dates before you register. Also, be aware that the fees for making these changes may differ if your child’s test is scheduled at a Prometric Test Center, compared to other test locations.

What if we can’t afford the cost of my child taking the ISEE test?

If the cost of the ISEE is a concern, there are programs to assist families facing financial hardships. National Fee Waivers for the ISEE can be used to cover the costs of testing at a school or remotely from home. If your child is taking the test at a Prometric Testing Center, the ISEE Prometric Fee Waiver is available to cover those costs. It’s best to contact the school or schools where your child is applying, not to the ISEE Office or ERB. The school can provide you with the information you need to access this financial assistance.

What is the ISEE?

ISEE Interactive Practice Questions

Learn More About Getting Into Private Schools

Additional resources: For expert admissions help getting into NYC’s best private schools, go to Abacus Guide Educational Consulting

Tell us about your experiences

3 Responses

Duane R Evans

My wife and I as grandparents are interested in assisting our granddaughter’s educational growth, we are likely going to be assuming responsibility for Aimee due to her mom’s health issues.

Today we begin our search,


Do you offer ISEE primary sample questions at all? I hoped to get some information in this sight so my kid can be familiarize with the question types. Please advise.




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