(Secondary School Admissions Test)

Relative to grade level, the ISEE is one of the most challenging entrance exams there is. Proper prepration is key to success on the ISEE. That’s why we’ve compiled key info about the ISEE for you and your student.

About The Test

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is an admissions test created and administered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). Independent day schools use the test as a way to evaluate applicants.

Students applying to independent schools for entry to Grades 2-12 take this exam as part of the application process. The ISEE evaluates a student’s individual academic knowledge and reasoning skills. However, the content and format of the test is different from what most students experience in school.

That’s why preparation for a test like the ISEE is key!

Format & Testing Dates

Students can take the ISEE once per season (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer), for a total of up to three times per calendar year.

ISEE Seasons

Many independent day schools in the United States require applications – including ISEE scores – to be submitted by January or February for admission in the Fall. Therefore, for most students, testing happens in the fall and early winter seasons, and prep begins 6-12 months before test day.

Paper vs. Computer

Except for the Primary Level, the ISEE is offered as a paper-based or computer-based test. Which version to take is a matter of preference. Families should consider the following conditions:

  • Familiarity
    Older students may be more familiar with paper-based testing from their everyday schooling. Younger students growing up with remote learning may be more comfortable with a computer-based test. Comfort is key with a test as challenging as the ISEE.
  • Showing Work
    Students are more likely to show their work when working on a paper-based test. This is especially important on the math sections of the ISEE, since mental math often leads students to select distractors. Students will receive scratch paper for computer-based tests, though it’s often tricky for students to switch between their screen and their paper.
  • Practice
    Students need to practice bubbling in their answers on paper-based tests. Similarly, students need to practice using navigation features found on computer-based tests. Some students prefer typing the essay, while others prefer to use pen and paper. This is a matter of preference, but consistency is key.

Not sure how to create a test prep timeline?

No worries! We’ve done it for you. Click the image below to download our FREE ISEE Planning Checklist.


The ISEE is a peer-normed test, meaning each student will receive a score relative to a norm group of same-aged peers who have tested over the past three years.

It’s important to remember that your student’s ISEE scores are only part of their overall application, but strong ISEE scores can set him or her apart from the other applicants! 

Click on the image on the right for further information on how to understand the different sections of an ISEE Score Report:

Test Sections

Each level of the ISEE is split into timed sections. While Primary level subtests differ, the Lower, Middle and Upper levels of the ISEE assess students in four sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement. Additionally, there is an essay component that is not scored, but sent to schools you apply to as a student writing sample.

Test Content

The Verbal Reasoning section consists of two sections: vocabulary and sentence completion. In the former, students are given an abstract, grade-appropriate word and asked to select an answer choice that is most nearly the same in meaning, while in the latter, students are asked to choose the word(s) or phrase that best completes the missing word or pair of words from a sentence.

Directions: Choose the word that is most nearly the same in meaning as the word in capital letters. 


(A) bitter

(B) blinding

(C) evocative

(D) supplemental

Directions: Choose the word or pair of words that best completes the sentence.

The ——- way in which John complimented Jane was a signal to her that John had ulterior motives; she felt that his overtures were nothing more than a ——-.

(A) disingenuous . . . compliment

(B) glib . . . ruse

(C) insincere . . . truth

(D) sincere . . . fabrication

The Quantitative Reasoning section assesses a student’s ability to reason mathematically and usually requires little or no calculations. The Lower Level consists of only word problems, while the Middle and Upper Levels also include quantitative comparisons.

Directions: Choose the best of the four possible answers. 

The original retail price for a phone case was marked down 30% on Black Friday. The next day, it was marked back up 20% from the Black Friday sale price. What was the percent decrease from the original price?

(A) 6%

(B) 10%

(C) 15%

(D) 16%

Directions: Choose the best of the four possible answers.

All questions in this part have the following answer choices:

(A) The amount in column A is greater.

(B) The amount in column B is greater.

(C) The two amounts are equal.

(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information provided.

A state map has a scale of 3 cm = 500 km.

Column AColumn B
The actual distance between two towns that are 1 meter apart on the map1500 km


In the Reading Comprehension section of the exam, students are asked to read a passage and answer a set of questions specific to that passage. This section of the test is the most predictable as we know exactly how many passages and questions per passage to expect, as well as the expected genres and question types. This is also the section that will be most familiar to students from their everyday schoolwork.

Directions: Answer the questions following each passage on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage.

Which best expresses the main idea of the passage? 

(A) America should adopt an isolationist policy.

(B) The dream of a perfect America is unreasonable.

(C) America has achieved the status of a Great Society.

(D) America has accomplished much, but still has much to accomplish.

Directions: Answer the questions following each passage on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage.

The author implies that, despite reconstruction efforts, things will never be the same because 

(A) the specter of disaster will always loom.

(B) the townspeople abandoned the community after the disaster.

(C) many of the objects destroyed were irreplaceable and priceless.

(D) the quality of the new boardwalk will be inferior to that of the original one. 

Finally, the Mathematics Achievement section consists of questions normed to national mathematics standards that ask students to identify the problem and find a solution to that problem. These questions usually require one or more steps in calculating the answer.

Directions: Choose the best of the four possible answers. 

Lori has taken four tests so far in her math class. Her scores on these tests are 94, 100, 88, and 80. The score on her final exam will be counted twice in her mean. What is the lowest score she can get on her final exam and have a mean score of no less than 92?

(A) 200

(B) 190

(C) 100

(D) 95

Want to see more examples?

Private Tutoring

While some companies and tutors may tell you the best way to start is by having your student take a diagnostic exam, we actually believe the opposite! The ISEE is a long, competitive, and challenging exam that requires a lot of preparation and practice. That’s why we recommend that students meet with a tutor a handful of times, or attend a few small-group classes, prior to sitting for any full-length test.

The results we get from this “diagnostic” test a few sessions into the preparation program is a lot more meaningful than a blind attempt before introduction to the testing format and content. We use this data to plan each student’s ISEE course of study around specific concepts, skills, and knowledge. While every student has different strengths and abilities, we firmly believe in three interrelated and cyclical core principles when it comes to preparing for a test like the ISEE: evaluate, plan, and practice.

Preparing for a standardized test such as the ISEE can be a difficult and trying time. In addition to challenging material, preparing for a standardized test can often feel like an extra responsibility. We encourage you to reach out to trusted companies, like The Tutorverse, to help with your preparation. Strong tutors, teachers, mentors, and consultants can help you with many aspects of your preparation – from evaluating and reevaluating your needs to creating an effective plan to helping you make the most of your practice.

Small Group Classes

Ready to get your ISEE Prep started? Check out our Lower Level or Upper Level ISEE Boot Camps!

The Upper Level Boot Camp is also available in an on-demand format, so your student can get access to the same great materials but complete the work on an individualized timeline.

For students in Grade 5 taking the Independent School Entrance Exam in fall/winter of 2021 for Grade 6 admissions. Thinking about applying to an independent school? Chances are, your student will need to take the ISEE. We know the process, the schools, the test, and the scores.
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For students in Grade 8 taking the Independent School Entrance Exam in fall/winter of 2021 for Grade 9 admissions. Applying to an independent school? Chances are, your student will need to take the ISEE. We know the process, the schools, the test, and the scores.
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Asynchronous, self-paced course for busy 8th graders who can't fit a live class into their schedule.

Follow along with recordings of our live online classes. Work through the same great content as in our live classes when where you want.

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Digital Practice Content

Gearing up to take your test online with the ERB? Our Digital ISEE Content is the right fit for you. 

Get over 1,000 extra practice problems with our Questions Sets, and practice testing on the computer with our set of five proprietary Practice Tests! 

900+ Practice Questions

Build computer-based testing proficiency with our five fully automated Practice Tests. Improve command of content with our Question Sets module.

  • detailed answer explanations for each question
  • score reports and stanine estimates with each practice test

1,900+ Practice Questions

Score your best by practicing with test-like question sets. Improve results and fine-tune test-taking skills on five computer-based practice tests.

  • detailed answer explanations for each question
  • score reports and stanine estimates with each practice test

1,900+ Practice Questions

Master the test format on five practice tests to build confidence. Become a subject-matter expert to ace even the toughest ISEE questions.

  • detailed answer explanations for each question
  • score reports and stanine estimates with each practice test

Looking for vocabulary quizzes or other test prep content?

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