An Overview of the ISEE and ISEE Test Prep

The Independent School Entrance Exam is used for admission to private elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. There are four levels of the test—Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper—each used in the admissions processes for students of different grade levels. Each level of the test is taken by students representing a range of ages, with the Middle Level test taken by students applying into grades 7 and 8 the most common. The ISEE’s unique format and scoring, combined with the younger age of kids taking it, make prep an essential component.

ISEE Format

Each of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels of the ISEE is composed of four multiple-choice sections followed by an essay prompt. The four multiple-choice sections are, in order, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement. The length of the sections, in terms of both the number of questions and amount of time allotted per section, differs significantly among the three levels. The Primary Level test is entirely distinct from the others, as it’s structured very differently and has several subtypes depending on the age of the student. Visit the ISEE’s website for detailed information on the level of the test that your student will be taking.

The defining feature of the ISEE is the difficult blend of content knowledge and testing techniques that it requires from students. This is best seen in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the Upper and Middle Level tests, where the quantitative comparison question-type tests challenging math concepts using a format that is entirely foreign to most students, making preparation twice as difficult. Don’t stress, though: our ISEE test prep programs blend content and technique in whatever proportion is optimal for each individual student, so we’ll student sure that your child goes into test day as prepared as possible.

ISEE Scoring

First, your student’s raw score will be calculated for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the ISEE; this raw score is simply equal to the number of questions that your student answered correctly in each section, as the ISEE does not apply a wrong-answer penalty.

Then, using a process called equating, the ISEE will produce a scaled score for each section; these scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the sections that your student completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed.

Finally, the ISEE will compare your student’s scaled scores to those of previous test-takers and produce a percentile and a stanine for each section. A stanine is a score from 1 to 9 that relates a student’s raw score to its location on a bell curve. More than half of all students will score in the 4-6 range, with progressively fewer students obtaining a given stanine as the scores get further from the mean of 5. A student with a stanine of 8 will be among the top 11% of testers; a student with a stanine of 9 will be among the top 4%.

The essay is unscored and will simply be included as a timed writing sample available to schools along with submitted scores.

It is important to note that the scaled scores, percentile scores, and stanines your student receives are calculated by comparing their results only to students of the same grade and gender. Because of this, a 6th grader does not need to get nearly as many questions correct on the Middle Level test as a 7th grader does in order to attain a given stanine.

The ISEE itself does not superscore, or combine individual section percentiles from multiple test dates to obtain a maximum overall percentile. If you wish to send scores from multiple test dates to schools, you must send the entire score report from each test date through your account on the ISEE’s website. Many schools may perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your student’s “best” performance on the ISEE. For the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, be sure to contact that school’s admissions department directly.

ISEE Registration and Test Dates

The ISEE is administered using a testing seasons calendar that divides the year into three 4-month periods: August-November, December-March, and April-July. A student may test once in each of the three seasons for a maximum of three times per calendar year. Tests can be taken at a variety of ERB-approved sites that include both schools and Educational Consultants’ offices.

It is generally to your student’s advantage to test more than once. Part of beating any test is giving yourself as many opportunities as necessary to succeed, and taking the test multiple times can be a great way for your child to maximize their improvement. To register for the ISEE, visit their website and follow the corresponding instructions.

The ISEE makes every effort to accommodate students who are unable to take the ISEE under standard conditions due to documented learning differences or physical challenges. Accommodations that a student receives are not flagged on score reports. To request ISEE accommodations, you must create a parent account and submit your application directly through the ISEE website. Complete instructions can be found here, along with information on how to contact ERB should you have any questions or concerns.

Get Started with ISEE Test Prep Today

To learn more about our ISEE tutoring and receive test prep advice, set up a free consultation with one of our Program Coordinators today!

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