What You Need to Know About the ISEE Test: Complete Guide

December 5, 2023
5 min read

If you plan on attending a private school, you may need to take an entrance exam to qualify. Here you’ll find our detailed guide on everything to know before the ISEE test.

The ISEE test, or the Independent School Entrance Exam, is a strong option for students looking to take an admissions test for a private school. If you need an admission test with flexible options, an extensive online support system, and a penalty-free exam question model, the ISEE test may be the right choice.

If you’re looking for answers to what is the ISEE test or how long is the ISEE test, read on!

What Is the ISEE?

student doing homework

The ISEE test is a multi-level competitive entrance exam for second through twelfth-grade students used by private and independent schools to determine eligibility and proficiency in different subjects for class placement. The exam assigns six levels based on the student’s grade, covering different English and Math topics.

What’s on the ISEE?

Student writing on grid paper

The ISEE test uses material based on the grade level and adds extra sections as it increases in difficulty. Each level groups different grades, expecting the students to know everything on the exam even if they haven’t covered all the material. 

Below you’ll find a breakdown of what’s on each exam level.

Primary Exams

The ISEE offers three primary exams for the second, third, and fourth grades individually. Each exam has marginally different structures to better suit students in these grade levels. 

  • Primary Two starts with six Auditory Comprehension questions, each read aloud by the exam proctor. Students will then have twenty minutes for eighteen reading questions and twenty-six minutes for twenty-four math questions. The test should last about an hour with a break. 
  • Primary Three and Four have the same overall structure, with twenty-four on three and twenty-eight on four reading and math questions. Each exam takes roughly one hour, with a break between each section. 

Lower Level 

Students in the fifth and sixth grades take the lower-level ISEE test. This version includes four multiple-choice sections: Verbal Reasoning with thirty-four questions, Quantitative Reasoning with thirty-eight, Reading Comprehension with twenty-five, and Mathematics Achievement with thirty. The exam finishes with the standard ISEE essay. 

The lower-level exam takes about two hours and twenty minutes to complete, not including two five to ten-minute breaks.   

Middle Level

Seventh and eighth-grade students take the middle-level exam, covering the same major sections with different question totals. Verbal reasoning has forty, Quantitative has thirty-seven, Reading has thirty-six, and Mathematics has forty-seven. Middle Level also includes the essay. Expect this exam to cover what you’ve learned from these grades. 

Students taking the middle level have two hours and forty minutes to finish the exam.  

Upper Level

The upper-level ISEE has the same topic sections, question totals, and exam time as the middle level. However, Upper is designed for students in ninth through twelve grades to take it, covering everything they’re expected to learn in high school.    

Students are expected to know everything in their assigned exam level, regardless of being grouped with higher grades. This factor can make the ISEE more challenging, so careful planning of when you should take the ISEE and a strong study schedule is strongly recommended. 

How Is the ISEE Scored?

The ISEE uses a unique percentile-based system to assign students a score of one to nine. Since the entire exam is competitive, the test is designed to compare students across all grade levels to determine their eligibility for private school and individual abilities so that their future school can place them in appropriate classes.

After the exam, you might have trouble understanding your ISEE test score. Your results break down into two lists: the number of questions you got wrong and right in each section and your number for how you placed. A score between seven and nine should be good enough for admission into most private schools. 

The ISEE is also notable for not counting wrong answers, unlike the SSAT, which does on upper-level exams. Knowing this, students can better develop strong guessing strategies on the exam and increase their scores.

When to Take the ISEE

If you plan on attending a private school, you must take the ISEE or any other admission test. The best time to take the ISEE is after deciding to attend a private school but before choosing a specific one. Having your score ahead of time will help you determine what private schools you should apply for.  

How to Register for the ISEE

Female student smiling behind laptop

The best way to register for the ISEE is online. Parents should register students for the exam and work together to pick their test date. ISEE takes registration on a first come, first served basis, so the earlier you sign up before your desired exam day, the better. A testing calendar is available for students that need to schedule in advance. 

The ISEE has the most testing location options and dates for any private admissions exam. Students must only include their specifications and desired testing environment, and they are sure to find an ISSE test option that works for them. The ISEE offers larger in-school, in-office, and testing centers for students that need different accommodations. 

For more information and options on registering for the ISEE, the ISEE Test Quick Facts Guide should help. With seasonal testing options for students year-round, even students with busy schedules can find a reasonable testing date.

FAQs: What Is the ISEE?

Below you’ll find some common questions from students preparing for the ISSE.

1. What Is a Good Score on the ISEE?

A good score on the ISEE test is seven or higher. Understanding how the ISEE is scored is important, as the exam is competitive. The ISEE test uses percentile-based scoring, ranging between one and nine. With a seven or higher, you’ll land comfortably between the 77th and 99th percent of students with a competitive edge.  

2. How Long Is the ISEE Test?

For students wondering, “How long is the ISEE test?” the ISEE test takes varying amounts of time to complete. The test has different versions based on grouped grade levels that increase the difficulty and length. 

Students in grade levels seven through twelfth have two hours and forty minutes to answer 160 questions and an essay. Fifth and sixth-grade students have two hours and twenty minutes to complete 127 questions and an essay. Elementary-level tests take just under an hour for 48 to 56 questions.

3. How Long Should You Study for the ISEE?

There’s no right answer to how long you should study for the ISEE test. The amount of studying to aim for depends on how much  you need. With your grade and exam difficulty in mind, you should build a study schedule over the time you have before the exam. A good benchmark is 20-30 hours of real studying time.    

4. What Is the Hardest Section on the ISEE?

There is no consensus on what the hardest section of the ISEE test is. The entire exam is difficult because each level expects you to know everything on the test, even if you’re not in the highest grade level for that exam level. If you’re taking the high school exam, you can expect to see twelfth-grade level questions despite being in a lower grade.

5. What Is the Difference Between SSAT and ISEE?

The SSAT and ISEE tests exist as separate private school admissions exams options. The two exams have different structures, time limits, and scoring systems. The ISEE takes students in second through twelfth grade, while the SSAT only covers students in third through eleventh. 

Weigh your options carefully when considering which test is based on these differences.  The SSAT is more commonly accepted by private boarding schools than  the ISEE is. 

Final Thoughts

The ISEE is a great entrance exam option for acceptance into private and independent schools. With strong options for testing dates and settings, allowing for retakes, no penalty for wrong answers, and diversity in exam levels for students at different points in their education, the ISEE is ready and available for its students. 

However, do not take the exam difficulty for granted- the ISEE test will challenge even some of the most prepared students. Come prepared for the exam with plenty of study time, rest, and knowing strategies and ISEE tips that will lead to your success. 

Good luck!

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