The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam)


The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a standardized test designed and administered by the Educational Records Board (ERB) as part of the admissions process for many independent schools in New York City, across the country, and around the world. The test is designed to measure the verbal and quantitative reasoning and academic achievement of students in grades 4-11 (for entrance to grades 5-12). Schools use it to evaluate applicants' aptitude and apply a common standard by which to rank them against their peers.


There are three different versions of the ISEE:

  • Lower Level (Students in grades 4 and 5)
  • Middle Level (Students in grades 6 and 7)
  • Upper Level (Students in grades 8 to 11)

The test takes roughly 3 hours for the Middle and Upper Levels and 2 1/2 hours for the Lower Level.


ISEE Links

> Applying to Independent
Schools

> Registering for the ISEE
> ISEE Fees
> What is on the ISEE?
> ISEE vs. SSAT
> How do I prep for the ISEE?
> On Test Day
> ISEE Test Accommodations
> ISEE Make-up Exams
> How is the ISEE scored?
> When do I get ISEE results?
> What do the results mean?
> ISEE Practice Exams
> ISEE Contact/Resources

2015-16 ISEE Dates


Oct. 10
Berkeley Carroll
Oct. 24
Poly Prep
Nov. 7 Berkeley Carroll
Nov. 14
Horace Mann
Nov. 21
Poly Prep
Dec. 5
Avenues, Brearley, Caedmon, Poly Prep, Marymount, S.I. Academy, Town School, Riverdale, Dalton (HS only)
Dec. 6
Rodeph Sholom
Dec. 12 St. Aloysius
Jan. 9
Spence
Jan. 16
Avenues, S.I. Academy
Apr. 9
Friends Seminary

The ERB Office also has multiple test dates for each grade level throughout the year.

Date and Locations Details



Applying to Independent Schools


Although every school that uses the ISEE sets its own deadlines and application requirements, most schools adhere to a similar seasonal timeline, beginning the application process in the fall, receiving completed applications in the winter, and issuing acceptances in the spring. In the fall of the year prior to your intended matriculation, you should identify the schools to which you are interested in applying and contact them directly to verify their deadlines and specific application requirements. As a general guideline, the most popular ISEE test dates are in December. This is probably because students have almost the full first semester of learning under their belts, in case some of that content appears on the test, and they are still able to get in their applications by a winter deadline.

Remember, the ISEE is only a small portion of your total application. Schools will also require some or all of the following: application forms, school records/transcripts, interviews (with parents and children, usually separately), a school tour, recommendations/references/evaluations, and essays/writing samples. It cannot be emphasized enough: the requirements for each school vary, so you must contact each school for specific instructions on how to apply.




Registering for the ISEE


You must register for the ISEE at least three weeks ahead of time. The test is administered at independent schools and private testing offices across the country throughout the year, with most of the test dates concentrated in December and January. It is a good idea to get in direct contact with all schools to which you are applying to learn what options they offer for ISEE testing. Some schools, for instance, schedule closed testing dates that are limited to their current students and those officially applying for admission. Other independent schools offer periodic test dates open to all students interested in sitting for an ISEE. "Office testing," which may be the way to go if none of the test dates at NYC schools works for you, is available at the ERB, either in small groups or individually. See here for current test dates and locations. Finally, if all else fails, testing (online only and for almost twice the cost) can be scheduled at one of hundreds of Prometric offices in the U.S. and around the world.

Students can register for the test online, by mail or by phone. Registration online involves the creation of a password-protected ISEE account. We recommend this method since it will let you access the tools to select your test day, change your date or location, and manage the list of schools that will receive your score reports.

To register by mail, you will need the form in the middle of the hard copy of the ISEE Student Guide, which can be downloaded or requested by mail through the ERB website. To register by phone (for an additional cost), call (800) 446-0320 or (919) 956-8524.

No matter which registration method you choose, you can list up to six schools that you want to receive your results. Additional schools for an additional fee may be added either on the registration form or after the test.

When a student registers to take the test, the ISEE will issue verification of his or her registration. (If you have not received this letter within two weeks of registering, definitely call to find out why!) This ticket must be brought to the test site on test day. Students must also bring identification to the exam. Acceptable forms of identification are birth certificate, social security card, school report card, school I.D., passport, driver's license or green card.

Unlike the SSAT, which you can take up to 8 times in a year, you may only take the ISEE once in any "testing season." The seasons are Fall (August - November), Winter (December - March), and Spring/Summer (April - July). If you register for a second test during this period, your scores will not be reported to schools. This means that you will likely have a single opportunity to take the exam during the application period for your intended schools so plan ahead and be prepared!




ISEE Fees


The basic ISEE fee is $105 for registration online or by mail.

  • Phone registration is $130.

  • Late registration and walk-in registration when possible, carry additional fees of $20 and $35, respectively.

  • Changes and cancellations are $30.

  • Testing at the ERB Office is $175 and at Prometric offices, $185.

  • If you want to report to more than six schools, there is a $25 charge for up to 6 additional schools.

(These fees can be waived in cases of financial need. Waivers must be arranged directly with the school(s) to which the applicant is applying.)




What is on the ISEE?


The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) consists of five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and an Essay. The duration of the test and number of questions vary according to the level.

  • Lower Level (Students in grades 4 & 5): 127 questions -- 2 hours & 20 minutes

  • Middle Level (Students in grades 6 & 7): 160 questions -- 2 hours & 40 minutes

  • Upper Level (Students in grades 8-11): 160 questions -- 2 hours & 40 minutes

All three levels of the exam have two 5-minute breaks, one after the second section of the test and one after the fourth section. To allow for the time it takes to give instructions for the test and to accommodate the length of the breaks, Lower Level students should expect to leave the test room in about two hours and 35 minutes; Middle and Upper Level students should be prepared to spend 3 hours.

Follow these links for more detail about the types of questions on each level of the ISEE as well the number of questions and length of time allotted for each section.



The Lower Level The Middle Level The Upper Level


Back to ISEE Topics



ISEE vs. SSAT


At this point, historical differences in the preference by schools for one test or the other have generally been resolved. Today, most independent schools accept both during their admissions process. Some exceptions remain, particularly with regard to middle school admissions (in favor of the ISEE), and some schools, while technically accepting both tests, maintain a preference for one over the other. As ever, we urge you to stay in contact with your target schools to make sure that you are clear on their specific admissions requirements. That said, the fact that both tests are now fairly common currency in independent school admissions means families are increasingly trying to optimize their chances by identifying the exam that best fits their children's strengths.

As with most things in school admissions, the best practice is a highly personal matter. The simple fact is that some students perform very differently on the two tests, and we recommend some familiarity with the differences if your prospective schools accept either. The first difference to bear in mind is the question of frequency. The ISEE limits students to one sitting of the exam in a "testing season." Given grade-level specificity of the test and the timeline of the application process, this effectively means students take the ISEE only once. Students can take the SSAT up to eight times in an admissions cycle. The implications of this bear themselves out in a number of ways. The most important consequence is that the ISEE tends to be a bit more straightforward while the SSAT looks more like a test-taker's test. Unlike the ISEE, the SSAT includes a guessing penalty (a 1/4 point deduction for wrong answers) and classic analogies. In both cases, these are phenomena that exist only in the realm of admissions testing. As such, the SSAT generally requires greater familiarity (and tactical sophistication). Students often see improvement over repeat testings, and there is likely slightly more benefit to be derived from SSAT tutoring. The SSAT favors students who have less test anxiety and show an aptitude for test-taking. The ISEE, on the other hand, given its limited testing window tries to be more comprehensive so that the one testing opportunity reveals more: it is a longer test and includes a slightly broader array of question types.

Beyond that, the other major difference involves scoring. The SSAT breaks the score report into three subject subscores: Verbal, Math, and Reading, each with equal weight. As a result, the total headline SSAT score (the sum of the three) weighs verbal skills higher than math. In practice, this effect is softened by the fact that the subscores and their respective percentiles are also clearly marked, so math excellence will still be apparent. All the same, the ISEE is more even-handed.

When asked, we say that an ideal SSAT candidate would be a slightly more verbally-inclined student with a knack for test-taking. The ISEE would favor more math-inclined and well-rounded students and those who might occasionally have test-related nerves. All in all, the differences are minor and largely a matter of taste. For students unsure of which to take, our tutors generally start with a few practice problems from both tests to feel it out. If a clear winner is not readily apparent, full length practice tests approximating "real" conditions may reveal more.


Back to ISEE Topics



How do I prepare for the ISEE?


Always begin your test preparation by assessing your needs. You can download the free ISEE Student Guides, which contain both sample questions and a full practice exam for each level, here. You should begin your preparation for the exam by taking this ISEE practice test under conditions that replicate those you'll face on test day. That is, you should take the entire timed test in a quiet room without distractions, in one sitting, allowing yourself only the two allotted 5-minute breaks between sections. If you are not happy with your initial results, you should develop a plan to hit your target score by your exam date. You can do this by taking other ISEE practice tests and working through an ISEE prep book, both of which are available from multiple publishers. If that doesn't produce the results you're looking for, or if you know that you're just not going to be able to do it alone, Partners with Parents works with some of the best ISEE tutors, who will design a program to help you meet your goals by the time the test date rolls around. E-mail us or call us at (212) 928-5016.



On Test Day


Show up at least a 1/2 hour before your test time! Bring the verification of registration as well as your personal identification to their test site on test day.

Acceptable forms of identification:

  • birth certificate (photocopies not allowed)

  • social security card (photocopies not allowed)

  • school report card

  • school I.D.

  • passport

  • green card

  • library card (although theoretically allowed, we don't recommend depending on this as your form of I.D.)

Students should also bring at least two sharpened #2 pencils and at least two blue or black ballpoint pens. You are allowed to bring snacks and beverages, which may be consumed during break times only. No electronic devices are allowed in the test room, so leave your cell phones, beepers, and calculators at home. Scrap paper, books, and rulers are not allowed either.

Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before the test and eat a good breakfast before you leave for the test location. Again, show up at least a 1/2 hour prior to the start of the test! Listen carefully and make sure you follow the exact instructions of the proctor.




ISEE Testing with Accommodations


Students with documented learning challenges or physical disabilities may be able to take the ISEE with accommodations. In order to be eligible, students or parents must be able to document the following:

  • a disability that necessitates testing accommodation

  • a history of regular accommodation for the disability in the student's present school environment.

Acceptable documentation includes:

  • A full psycho-educational evaluation dated within the last 3 years

  • An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or 504 plan for the current year

  • A School Accommodation Plan for the current year

  • A physician's letter, if the disability is medically treated.

If this fits your situation, the best thing to do is start in the ISEE Accommodations section, of the ERB's website. This will quickly lead you to the current year's registration form as well as detailed information about the process.


A few things to note:

  • Submit your all of your forms at the same time, more than five weeks before the test. You should receive confirmation by email that the ERB has received your forms but this is not your ticket! The reviewer will contact you if there is an issue with your application. Your Verification Letter confirming your site and location should arrive by email more than a week before the test. This is the ticket that needs to be brought to the test. If it doesn't arrive, contact the ERB immediately.

  • Arrangements must be made each time a student takes the ISEE, even if approval has already been granted for a previous test date.

  • Be aware, testing with accommodations often requires selecting from among specifically designated test dates and locations. In NYC, Winston Prep (West 17th St) and Poly Prep (9216 7th Avenue, Brooklyn) are likely the best options.

  • Contact iseeaccommodations@erblearn.org or 1-800-989-3721 ext. 2613, for more information.




ISEE Make-Up Exams


Families that wish to make changes to registrations, cancel due to sickness or other extenuating circumstances or reschedule a missed test date must contact the ISEE Operations Office (1-800-446-0320). Each change requires an additional $25 fee. There are no ISEE make-up exams per se. In the event that you are sick or not in optimal condition on test day, the ISEE administrators recommend postponing testing because of the limitation on re-testing (i.e you can only take the test once every six months). Since there are so many test dates available in New York City, you should be able to find another test date and location without too much difficulty.




How is the ISEE scored?


A student's raw score on the ISEE is solely determined by the number of correct answers. This means that unlike the SSAT, the test assesses no guessing penalty. So if you run short on time or are not sure of the correct answer, you should still try to fill in a response for every question to pick up stray points here or there.

From the raw score, the ERB determines a scaled score to adjust for slight variations among different test forms (Range: 760-940). ISEE score reports also include each student's percentile placement. This ranks the student's raw score against the scores of all test-takers within the student's grade level over the previous three years (Range: 1-99). Bear in mind, ISEE test-takers represent a self-selecting group of generally highly competitive students. You should expect to see your child's percentile score rank lower here than you might be used to from other national tests.

Finally, the percentile is converted into a stanine, which is a nine-point scale that represents the test taker's score as compared to those of his or her peers. The majority of students will fall in the 4-to-6 range.


Back to ISEE Topics



When do I get the ISEE results?


Families usually receive scores by mail within two weeks of testing. The ERB also makes reports available online and by telephone, but these require an additional $30.

Scores are sent directly to the schools you have listed within 7-10 business days.

Back to ISEE Topics



What do the ISEE results mean?


As with most standardized tests, a student's ISEE results have a limited descriptive value. While they do give a window into some important skills that students will draw upon when in the competitive environment of an independent school, they also, to some degree, simply document a student's ability to take tests. Test-taking is a skill unto itself. A strong background in the material on the test (vocabulary, mathematical concepts and formulae, etc.) will of course help anyone, but standardized tests have a knowledge base of their own that is equally important: knowing the format, the specific preferences of the test-makers, and simply how to decode the questions are useful tools. As such, we urge you to prepare: take practice tests, do test-taking drills, and familiarize yourself with the timing and formatting of your test.


Back to ISEE Topics



ISEE Practice Exams


The best practice materials for the ISEE to start with are those published directly by the ERB test makers. You can download a copy of the official "What To Expect on The ISEE" here. This book has both sample questions as well as a full-length practice test. Several other publishers offer practice exams, but often third-party question writers have only a passing familiarity with the exam itself. Official questions tend to reflect more accurately both the level of difficulty and the typical tricks and traps students will face on the test.


Back to ISEE Topics



ISEE Contact Info/Resources


For further information about the ISEE, the best resource is the ERB's official handbook, "What to Expect on the ISEE." You can download it for free or purchase a hard copy. Other information is available on the ISEE website or by calling the ERB at (800) 989-3721.

For more information on the curriculum standards used to create the ISEE, you can visit the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) or National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).



ISEE Lower Level Content


As at all levels of the ISEE, the lower-level ISEE consists of five sections.

Verbal Reasoning (34 questions; 20 minutes)
This section consists of two types of questions: vocabulary and sentence completion. The first of these asks students to match a word to the answer choice that most closely approximates its meaning. The second presents students with an incomplete sentence and asks them to choose the word from a list of choices that best completes the meaning of the sentence.

Quantitative Reasoning (38 questions; 35 minutes)
Every question in this section is a word problem. As opposed to the Mathematics Achievement section, questions here require little or no calculation and instead test students' ability to think through mathematical concepts. At the lower level, topics include:

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Reading Comprehension (25 questions; 25 minutes)

Like the Mathematics Achievement section, the Reading Comprehension section tests students' command of curriculum-based concepts. Students will read five passages and answer questions about their structure, direct content, inferred claims, and contextual meanings.

Mathematics Achievement (30 questions; 30 minutes)
Like the Reading Comprehension section, the Mathematics Achievement section asks students questions based on their expected in-school curriculum. Here, it is important to remember that the ISEE is administered across a range of grade levels and therefore there will be content beyond the expected level of some students. Failure to answer all questions correctly may not be an indication of poor performance. At the lower level, students will see problems involving:

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability, and

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Essay (1 prompt; 30 minutes)
The essay requires students to write an impromptu essay that reflects grade-appropriate structure and style. Students will be presented with a prompt statement or claim to which they must respond. Their informed response should include evidence drawn from their experience, their reading, or their studies in school.




ISEE Middle Level Content


As at all levels of the ISEE, the middle-level test consists of five sections.


Verbal Reasoning (40 questions; 20 minutes)
This section consists of two types of questions: vocabulary and sentence completion. The first of these asks students to match a word to the answer choice that most closely approximates its meaning. The second presents students with an incomplete sentence and asks them to choose the word from a list of choices that best completes the meaning of the sentence.


Quantitative Reasoning (37 questions; 35 minutes)
This section includes two types of question: word problems and quantitative comparison. Quantitative comparison questions present students with two quantities, Columns A and B, and ask them to choose among four options:


A) Quantity in column A is greater.

B) Quantity in column B is greater.

C) The two quantities are equal.

D) The relationship cannot be determined from the given information.


As opposed to the Mathematics Achievement section, questions here require little or no calculation and instead test students' ability to think through mathematical concepts. At the middle level, topics include:

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Reading Comprehension (36 questions; 35 minutes)
Like the Mathematics Achievement section, the Reading Comprehension section tests students�¢?? command of curriculum-based concepts. Students will read five passages and answer questions about their structure, direct content, inferred claims, and contextual meanings.

Mathematics Achievement (47 questions; 40 minutes)
Like the Reading Comprehension section, the Mathematics Achievement section asks students questions based on their expected in-school curriculum. Here, it is important to remember that the ISEE is administered across a range of grade levels and therefore there will be content beyond the expected level of some students. Failure to answer all questions correctly may not be an indication of poor performance. At the middle level, students will see problems involving

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Essay (1 prompt; 30 minutes)
The essay requires students to write an impromptu essay that reflects grade-appropriate structure and style. Students will be presented with a prompt statement or claim to which they must respond. Their informed response should include evidence drawn from their experience, their reading, or their studies in school.




ISEE Upper Level Content


As at all levels of the ISEE, the upper-level test consists of five sections.

Verbal Reasoning (40 questions; 20 minutes)
This section consists of two types of questions: vocabulary and sentence completion. The first of these asks students to match a word to the answer choice that most closely approximates its meaning. The second presents students with an incomplete sentence and asks them to choose the word from a list of choices that best completes the meaning of the sentence.

Quantitative Reasoning (37 questions; 35 minutes)
This section includes two types of question: word problems and quantitative comparison. Quantitative comparison questions present students with two quantities, Columns A and B, and ask them to choose among four options:


A) Quantity in column A is greater.

B) Quantity in column B is greater.

C) The two quantities are equal.

D) The relationship cannot be determined from the given information.


As opposed to the Mathematics Achievement section, questions here require little or no calculation and instead test students' ability to think through mathematical concepts. At the upper level, topics include

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Reading Comprehension (36 questions; 35 minutes)
Like the Mathematics Achievement section, the Reading Comprehension section tests students' command of curriculum-based concepts. Students will read five passages and answer questions about their structure, direct content, inferred claims, and contextual meanings.

Mathematics Achievement (47 questions; 40 minutes)
Like the Reading Comprehension section, the Mathematics Achievement section asks students questions based on their expected in-school curriculum. Here, it is important to remember that the ISEE is administered across a range of grade levels and therefore there will be content beyond the expected level of some students. Failure to answer all questions correctly may not be an indication of poor performance. At the middle level, students will see problems involving

  • Numbers and Operations

  • Algebra

  • Geometry

  • Measurement

  • Data Analysis and Probability, and

  • Problem Solving

For more information on these topics, you can consult the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

Essay (1 prompt; 30 minutes)
The essay requires students to write an impromptu essay that reflects grade-appropriate structure and style. Students will be presented with a prompt statement or claim to which they must respond. Their informed response should include evidence drawn from their experience, their reading, or their studies in school.





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