What is the ISEE Test?

The ISEE, also known as the Independent School Entrance Examination, is used by many private, independent, and magnet schools. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB) is responsible for its development and administration. The standardized nature of the ISEE provides an objective way for schools to assess students' abilities and compare applicants. 

ISEE Test Levels

The ISEE test has four levels: Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper. Each level is designed for students applying to specific grade levels. 

ISEE Primary Level

  Auditory Comprehension Reading Break Mathematics Total Time
Admission to 2nd Grade 6 Questions
7 Minutes 

18 Questions
20 Minutes  

5–10 Minutes  24 Questions
26 Minutes  
53 minutes + a 5-10 minute break  
Admission to 3rd Grade   24 Questions
28 Minutes  
5–10 Minutes

24 Questions
26 Minutes                             

54 minutes + a 5-10 minute break
Admission to 4th Grade   28 Questions
30 Minutes  
5–10 Minutes 28 Questions
30 Minutes  
Total Time: 60 minutes + a 5-10 minute break

ISEE Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels 

  Verbal Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Break Reading Comprehension Mathematics Break Essay Total Time
Lower Level 34 Questions
20 Minutes 
38 Questions
35 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes  25 Questions
25 Minutes 
18 Questions
20 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes  1 Prompt
30 Minutes 
2 hours, 20 minutes plus two 5-10 minute breaks
Middle Level 40 Questions
20 Minutes 
37 Questions
35 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes  36 Questions
34 Minutes 
47 Questions
40 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes  1 Prompt
30 Minutes 
2 hours, 40 minutes plus two 5-10 minute breaks
Upper Level 40 Questions
20 Minutes 
37 Questions
35 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes   36 Questions
34 Minutes 
47 Questions
40 Minutes 
5–10 Minutes  1 Prompt
30 Minutes 
2 hours, 20 minutes plus two 5-10 minute breaks

What Is the ISEE Test Format? 

The ISEE test format is available in both online and paper-based formats. The test is divided into several sections. 

ISEE Test Sections  

Let's explore these sections in more detail.

Verbal Reasoning 

The Verbal Reasoning section of the ISEE tests a student's vocabulary knowledge and ability to reason with words. Here are the key components: 

Sentence Completion: These questions present a sentence with one or two blank spaces.  The student must complete the sentence with the correct word from the list provided. 

Synonyms and Meaning: Students are required to choose the word that is closest in meaning to the prompt word from among two or more related answer choices. 

Quantitative Reasoning 

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the ISEE test assesses a student's ability to solve mathematical problems and apply quantitative concepts. The questions in this section test a student's ability to understand and solve mathematical problems using critical thinking and reasoning skills rather than calculations.  

Types of Quantitative Reasoning Questions 

Here's a brief explanation of the two types of questions in the Quantitative Reasoning section: 

Word Problems: 

These ask you to solve math problems presented in word form

  • You need to read carefully, identify relevant information, and determine the steps to find the answer. 
  • You can estimate answers instead of doing full calculations. 
  • Eliminate unreasonable answer choices and make an educated guess. 

Quantitative Comparison Questions: 

These questions compare two quantities, Column A and Column B. 

You choose whether Column A is greater, Column B is greater, they are equal, or not enough information is given. 

  • First, check if you have enough information to compare before doing any calculations. 
  • If calculations are needed, estimate the quantities and compare estimates. 
  • Read any additional information carefully before comparing the quantities. 

Reading Comprehension 

The Reading Comprehension section is a crucial part of the ISEE and appears on all levels of the test. In this section, students are presented with a series of passages covering a wide range of topics, including history, science, and literature. 

Each passage is followed by a set of multiple-choice questions designed to assess the student's ability to comprehend and analyze the given text.  

The number of passages varies by level: 

  • ISEE Primary Level 2 has 3 passages. Levels 3 and 4 have 5 passages 
  • ISEE Upper and Middle Levels have 6 passages 
  • ISEE Lower Level has 5 passages 

The questions focus on 6 main categories: 

  • Main Idea - Identifying the overall message, theme or central idea. 
  • Supporting Ideas - Finding the explicit ideas that support the main idea. 
  • Inferences - Drawing conclusions from information not directly stated. This may involve comparing/contrasting, analyzing, or predicting. 
  • Vocabulary - Defining words based on the context of the passage, often in "most nearly means" format. 
  • Organization/Logic - Recognizing the sequence, structure, patterns or summary. Identifying literary genres like narrative or informational. 
  • Tone/Style/Figurative Language - Understanding the mood, tone, point of view, and figurative language like similes, metaphors, images, irony, and personification. 

The questions assess your comprehension skills by asking you to analyze various aspects of the reading passages provided. 

Mathematics Achievement 

The Mathematics Achievement section of the ISEE tests the math skills you've learned throughout your schooling. It covers areas such as numbers, algebra, geometry, measurements, data analysis, and problem-solving, following standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). 

Here's how it differs from the Quantitative Reasoning section: 

Calculations: In Mathematics Achievement, you might need to do calculations to find answers, unlike Quantitative Reasoning which requires little to no calculation. 

Answer Choices: Some answers in Mathematics Achievement might reflect common mistakes, but there aren't any tricky questions or answers designed to deceive you. 

Mathematical Terminology: You may need to know specific math terms as outlined in the NCTM standards, which might not be the case in Quantitative Reasoning. 

Unit Conversions: While you don't need to memorize U.S. standard unit conversions, you might need to use them if they're provided in the question. Metric unit conversions aren't provided, so you'll need to know them. 

Calculator Use: As with Quantitative Reasoning, you can't use a calculator or scratch paper for Mathematics Achievement, but you can write in the test booklet. 

Answer choices may represent common misconceptions or errors in mathematical procedures. However, there are no intentionally tricky questions. The Math Achievement section assesses the procedural math skills and content knowledge you have acquired. 

Essay Writing 

The essay is the last section of the ISEE test. You will be given a writing prompt on a topic of interest for students at your grade level. The purpose of the ISEE essay is twofold: 

  1. To allow you to share more about yourself and your thoughts on the given prompt topic.
  2. To demonstrate your ability to organize and express ideas effectively in writing for the schools you are applying to.  

Essay Preparation:  

  • Organize your thoughts 
  • Prepare notes or make a brief outline 

Write the Final Essay:  

  • Rewrite the essay prompt at the top of the first page 
  • Write the final essay on the two pre-lined pages 
  • Write in cursive or print using a blue or black ballpoint pen 
  • Write directly on the pre-printed lines in the answer document 

The essay tests your writing skills - how well you can develop a response to the prompt, structure your ideas logically, and communicate them clearly in a written essay format within the time allotted. 

It allows the evaluators to assess your writing abilities beyond the multiple-choice sections of the test. A well-organized and well-written essay can strengthen your overall ISEE performance.  NOTE-It is not scored by the test providers.

Take our free ISEE Middle Level Sample Test or Upper-Level Sample Test to experience the types of questions and format you'll encounter on the actual exam. These sample tests are designed to provide an accurate representation of the content and difficulty level. Try the free sample test today and make an informed decision about your next steps. 

Scoring The ISEE

The ISEE is a norm-referenced test, which means that a student's performance is compared to the performance of other students who have taken the test in the past three years and who are applying to independent schools. 

The ISEE scores are reported in the following ways: 

Scaled Scores: These scores are derived from the raw scores (number of correct answers) but are adjusted to account for differences in test versions. Scaled scores allow for a fair comparison between different test forms. 

Percentile Ranks: These ranks show how a student performed compared to other students in the same grade who took the test. A percentile rank of 71, for example, means that the student scored better than 71% of the students in the same age group. 

Stanines: Stanines divide the distribution of scores into nine groups, with Stanines 4, 5, and 6 representing the middle 54 percentile points, and Stanines 1-3 the bottom and 7-9 representing the top 23 percentile points. 

Stanine Analysis: This provides a visual representation of a student's performance on the four sections of the test, showing their stanine scores and a shaded range around each stanine to account for potential variations if the student were to retake the test. 

Where Can I Take the ISEE Test? 

The ISEE can be taken in several different settings. Wherever the student takes the test, they can expect a secure, professional environment consistent with other test sites. 


  • Available for Grades 2-12 
  • Remote administration 
  • Online format 
  • Individual testing 


  • Available for Grades 2-12 
  • In-person administration 
  • Paper or online format 
  • Group testing 

ERB Office: 

  • Available for Grades 2-12 
  • In-person administration 
  • Paper or online format 
  • Group or individual testing 

Prometric Test Centers: 

  • Available for Grades 5-12 
  • In-person administration 
  • Online format 
  • Group testing 

ISEE Online Test Prep

To be successful on the ISEE, it is important to take the time to prepare. TestPrep-Online offers level-specific, child-friendly ISEE practice test packages to help your child get ready for test day. Make sure your child is confident and prepared using TestPrep-Online's ISEE Preparation Materials, designed to help them succeed on this important exam.

Benefits of Taking Practice Tests

Reduce Test Anxiety: The more practice tests you take, the more comfortable and familiar a student becomes with the test format and types of questions. This increased familiarity can help reduce test-related stress and anxiety. Familiarizing with the format and question styles makes students feel more prepared and less stressed on test day. 

Build Confidence: Performing well on practice tests can boost your confidence and self-assurance, translating into better performance on the test. 

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: Practice tests help you identify your proficiency areas and areas that require more study and practice. This allows you to focus your efforts on the most challenging topics. 

Click here for free Sample Questions!

Create A Study Plan For the ISEE

Your path to ISEE success starts with thorough preparation using our high-quality practice materials.  Working through our realistic practice exams is essential to building your skills, increasing your speed, and boosting your confidence. Order your ISEE Middle Level or Upper Level practice packs today and take the first step towards ISEE mastery. 

The ISEE and other trademarks are the property of their respective trademark holders. None of the trademark holders are affiliated with TestPrep-Online or this website.

Need Help question mark
minimize close
Need Help question mark
Please fill out the form below and we will contact you soon.
Your message was sent. We will contact you shortly.
There was a problem sending your message. Please try again in a few minutes.