What's on the Test- ISEE

August 20, 2019 0 Comments

Independent School Entrance Exam

The Independent School Entrance Exam, or ISEE, is a test designed to align with national standards in English and mathematics to test students entering a school associated with its administration. The test is administered at three different levels depending on the grade range a student is entering. Students entering grades 5 and 6 will complete the Lower Level ISEE and students entering grades 7 and 8 will take the Middle Level ISEE. Students seeking admission into high school grades 9-12 will be required to complete the Upper Level, and is the focus of this informative article.

The following chart provides an overview of the test in the order that a student will complete the exam.


Number of Questions

Time Allotted (minutes)

Verbal Reasoning



Quantitative Reasoning



Reading Comprehension



Mathematics Achievement




1 Handwritten essay



Total Time

160 (2 hours and 40 minutes)

The total testing time is 160 minutes, or 2 hours and 40 minutes. During the testing time, students are given a 5-10 minute break following the Quantitative Reasoning section and Mathematics Achievement section.

Each subject area can be broken down and has a specific format within the section. While all subjects will fall in line with national standards for education, each section is designed to test standard material in a very specific way.

The subject areas pertaining to English Language Usage will be looking at a student’s ability to read text and evaluate the meaning. This will come in a variety of forms, such as using key words and context clues to determine vocabulary usage, as well as identifying main ideas, details, and other information within a passage. Additionally, the essay portion will evaluate their skills to use their own ideas and knowledge of language to construct a text that logically supports their argument.

Within the Verbal Reasoning section, the ISEE upper level will ask two types of questions: synonym and sentence completion. The synonym questions will test a student’s vocabulary knowledge and reasoning skills to determine the best answers. Similarly, the sentence completion will highlight those same skills, but test beyond word recognition and ask students to select options that best function within the meaning of the sentence. This will further draw upon word association with context clues, which will be highly tested within the Reading comprehension portion. In this section, students will be presented a passage with questions pertaining to it as a set. The question sets will be related to the passage, all testing for the students overall understanding of the information presented.

The Verbal Reasoning section will ask two types of questions: synonym and sentence completion.

The Quantitative Reasoning section is broken down into two categories: word problems and quantitative comparisons.

Opposite English Language Usage, the ISEE follows national standards for mathematics within education. Both the Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement sections test for core understanding within numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability, and problem solving.

Similar to the Verbal Reasoning section, the Quantitative Reasoning section is broken down into two smaller categories: word problems and quantitative comparisons. While the ISEE does not permit calculators at any point in the test, the quantitative reasoning section relies heavily on number estimation and quick comparisons. While students may be given problems to evaluate, all operations will be possible without a calculator and necessary formulas and/or conversions provided within the context of the question. The quantitative comparisons will be a unique form of testing a student’s mathematical reasoning abilities. A student will be provided two values, labeled Column A and Column B, and will be asked to numerically compare them. Answer options A-D will always be the same in every question, and a sample question can be found below. The items within the Columns may require calculation, but a knowledge and understanding of core content at the minimum.

The Mathematics Achievement section will draw upon on the essential content in a standard format of presenting information or mathematical procedure and to select the correct answer. This section of the test may require more than quick and simple reasoning. While the calculator is still not allowed, students may be heavily tested on their calculation skills in this section when provided all necessary information and formulas.

How is the ISEE scored?

Being the Independent School Entrance Exam, the scores are interpreted per individual and per school. There is no “Pass or Fail” score, as each school utilizes different scoring interpretations to assess a student’s placement within their program. Scores are generated from the number of correct answers and all questions (with the exception to the written essay) are multiple choice. Wrong answers and skipped questions do not count. An educated guess by eliminating at least one option from the choices, time permitting, is good practice. Schools may look at raw scores, or the number of questions right out of how many questions total. Other schools may use a percentile score or stanine ranking which places students within a range of scores that may measure performance. The essay is evaluated by each school individually.

Without a pass/fail scoring system, the test is designed to adequately assess a student’s abilities prior to school program placement. Students and parents are advised to check with schools of interest for their requirements or selection criteria to properly prepare, as the ISEE is not designed to be taken multiple times. Testing accommodations, along with extenuating circumstances, may be given to those with proper documentation.

Click here to preview our full-length study guide or for more information, visit the official ISEE website.