ISEE Test Prep: A Guide To Help You Ace the Exam

November 27, 2023
4 min read

The ISEE, or the Independent School Entrance Examination, is an exam used by private middle schools and high schools across the US to evaluate the academic knowledge and educational capabilities of their applicants. It is run by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). 

While this is indeed a challenging exam, with the right study plan, you will be able to ace it, and we want to help with that! Which is why we at The Learner’s Collective have created this useful guide to assist you with all your ISEE test prep needs. 

By looking at everything from a realistic study timeline to general ISEE questions, we have got you covered in terms of adequate exam preparation so that, when it’s time for you to take your ISEE test, you will be more than ready and capable. 

When Should You Start Your ISEE Prep?

How you want to structure your ISEE test prep is unique to you and your lifestyle. This means you have options around when you should start preparing for the ISEE. 

While ERB does not mention a specific amount of time needed for successful prep work, we strongly suggest you give yourself five to six months of study time before your first exam. This way, you will be able to properly learn your course materials as well as adequately test your knowledge using tools like the ERB ISEE sample tests

Keep in mind that the ISEE schedule is divided into three seasons - fall, winter, and spring/summer. Students are allowed to register for an ISEE test once per season. 

This means that, if you are scheduled to take an exam in mid-July and you are following our suggested six month study timeline, then you should ideally begin your ISEE test prep in early- to mid-February. 

By giving yourself enough time to prepare, you are setting yourself up for future success. 

Student studying with schedule in front of him on blackboard

How to Prepare for the ISEE

Now you have established the necessary amount of time you’ll need to study, but you’re wondering, how do I actually prepare for the ISEE? Great question! 

One of the best ways to prepare for this examination is through the use of a tutoring program. The Learner’s Collective offers personalized and hands-on ISEE tutoring to help students maximize their potential for success. Having a private tutor is a great study option because they can give you personalized study plans and hands-on guidance to help keep you on track. 

In addition to a tutoring program, there are numerous online resources available to you. As we mentioned before, there are the ERB ISEE sample tests as well as the ERB ISEE What to Expect on the ISEE Guides

It’s a great idea to take one of the ERB What to Expect on the ISEE guides at the beginning of your preparation journey since these guides give you immediate scoring relative to your school of interest. 

These guides will give you feedback on your responses so you will be able to see which areas of study may require more focus than others.

That being said, we strongly recommend that you treat the ERB tests and guides as supplementary to a study plan because, while helpful, they are not intended as sole exam prep strategies. 

Female student reading books

FAQs: How to Prepare for the ISEE

Since the ISEE test is multifaceted, its likely you still have questions on how to prepare for the ISEE, which is why we have provided answers to some of the more commonly asked questions students and parents have about the ISEE. 

1. How long should you prepare for the ISEE?

While there is no designated amount of time required to prep for the ISEE, we recommend giving yourself five to six months to prepare for your first ISEE test. This way, you will be able to adequately familiarzie yourself with the exam material and the testing format. 

Being well prepared never hurt anyone so, if you want to take more time to study, absolutely do so.  

2. Is the ISEE test difficult?

The ISEE is considered to be one of the more challenging standardized tests in the US. One of the main reasons for this is because students are tested by level, rather than by their specific grade. 

The ISEE is broken up into four levels: 

Level Grades
Primary Grades 2-4
Lower Grades 5-6
Middle Grades 7-8
Upper Grades 9-12

When a student applies to take the ISEE test, they apply for a level, not a grade, and are, therefore, tested on all the material associated with that level. This means that students will be expected to answer question from a range of different grades. 

Another reason for ISEE’s difficulty is the contents of the exam. Though distinct, each level tests students on five subjects: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematical achievements, and essay writing. Each subject is given a specific amount of time for completion. 

The time provided to complete each subject section can change depending on your level. This means that each level will have a specific time allotted for students to complete it. For some, this can be seen as challenging; for others, this will be viewed as beneficial.  

Let’s break it down further. Take, for example, the mathematical achievements section. Students in the Lower level (grades 5 and 6) are given 30 minutes to complete this section while students in the Upper level (grades 9 to 12) are given 40. This is largely because Upper level students have more questions in this section than other levels.

We understand that all these components may make the ISEE sound intimidating but try to look at it like any other standardized test; with the right study prep and discipline, you will be more than capable of doing well on the ISEE. 

3. What is the hardest section on the ISEE?

The most challenging section of the ISEE will depend on your strengths. 

Some find the verbal reasoning section intimidating because of the quantity of new vocabulary they need to know while others find the quantitative reasoning section most intimidating because of the time limit and challenging nature of the questions.

If you are curious which section will be most challenging for you or your child, we recommend taking a practice test and a preliminary assessment to help them best prepare for their ISEE journey.  

4. What is a good score on the ISEE?

The ISEE is scored according to the stanine scoring system, which is a system that uses a nine-point scale to measure achievements. 

This means that a good, or average, ISEE score is typically somewhere between four to six while a great, or above average, score will likely fall within the seven to nine range. 

Stanine Score Score Percentage
1 Bottom 4%
2 7%
3 12%
4 17%
5 Middle 20%
6 17%
7 12%
8 7%
9 Top 4%

Keep in mind, however, that stanine scores are relative! This means that your score will be compared against other test-takers scores and vice versa. 

For this reason, it’s essential to put focus into developing a good study plan rather than fixating on scores as they change depending on school, location, and the profile of all applicants. 

Final Thoughts

By this point, you should have a better understanding of how to prepare for the ISEE. Remember to set time aside to make a study plan, take practice tests and prepare in ways that will set you up for future success and allow you to take the exam with confidence! 

Give yourself a reasonable window of time to develop a study plan, either with your parents, a trusted teacher, or a tutoring service specific to the ISEE. Having a tutor to hold you accountable can be really helpful for those days where motivation wavers. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to push yourself or think outside of the box when it comes to studying.  Apply what you learn in your everyday life–whether it be through incorporating ISEE vocabulary or having a friend or family member surprise you with a practice question each day! 

While the ISEE test can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be. With the right study plan, guidance, and test prep, you will be more than ready to confidently and successfully tackle the ISEE.

Best of luck!

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