The Independent School Entrance Exam, more commonly known as the ISEE, is a standardized test used by more than 1,200 independent schools around the world. Unlike the SAT or ACT, the ISEE is a test that many people hear of for the first time when they begin preparing to apply to Independent Schools. They’re left with lots of questions! What is the ISEE? What’s on it, anyway? When should I take it? Do I have to take it? We’ll answer all of these questions and more below!
WHAT IS THE ISEE?
The ISEE is a standardized test administered by the Educational Records Bureau that is designed to evaluate a student’s scholastic aptitude. There are several levels of the ISEE: Lower Level, Middle Level, and Upper Level, as well as the Primary ISEE tests (for information on the Primary ISEE, please see our blog post about it!). The Lower, Middle, and Upper Levels all contain five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Math Achievement and an Essay. The first four sections are scored, and the essay is sent to schools for review.
HOW IS THE ISEE SCORED? AND WHAT DO THOSE SCORES MEAN?
The ISEE is scored based on percentile—that means your score is based on how well other students performed when taking the same test. Percentiles are then translated into stanines, which are scaled 1-9, with 9 being the highest score. Although the essay is not scored, it is still very important – schools receive the essay along with scores, and will use this to evaluate how well students can write in an on-demand setting.
Different schools have different expectations regarding scores. Some schools would like to see 8s and 9s, and some schools are fine with 5s and 6s. In order to find out what the expectations are at the schools you’re applying to, you can check in with a consultant or use a tool like Test Innovators to see how you’re performing compared to their expectations.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE THE ISEE?
Some schools require test scores, and some schools have made it optional. To know if you’ll need to test, you can visit the admissions websites of the specific schools you’re applying for. If you need a test, you’ll also need to decide whether you’d like to take the ISEE or the SSAT, which many schools accept instead. Some students prefer the ISEE, and others prefer the SSAT – students should determine which test works best for them specifically.
WHAT'S ON THE ISEE?
The ISEE has a Verbal Reasoning section, which includes vocabulary and language-based questions, Quantitative Reasoning and Math Achievement, which both test mathematical knowledge, and Reading Comprehension, which includes reading passages and targeted questions. There is also a broad essay question, which students need to answer in a well-organized, well-written essay.
The content on the ISEE is often different from what students see in their school curriculum. The verbal and reading comprehension questions require the use of multiple-choice strategies and are often formatted in ways that aren’t tested in schools. The math content sometimes exceeds what students are exposed to in their school curriculums.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR THE ISEE?
Since the ISEE tests topics that may not have been covered in school, we recommend scheduling a diagnostic test the spring or summer before you begin applications. The test will give you a good idea of your areas of strength and where you need to continue to improve. It’ll also help you understand how much time you’ll need to commit to preparation. Many students opt to work with a tutor or use an online curriculum to support their preparation. To learn how to make a comprehensive plan, visit our blog post about how to plan for an assessment. To learn more about tutoring options with SCT, please fill out an inquiry form on our website.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE THE ISEE?
The ERB divides the year into three testing seasons, and permits students to take an ISEE once per testing season. Most students take their first ISEE in the Fall season, which spans from August 1st through November 30th. Many students then choose to take a second test in December, when the Winter season begins. Although the Winter season spans through March, most schools will need scores by early January at the latest for the standard application timeline. The Spring/Summer season spans from April through July – this season is most frequently used by students applying outside the standard application window.
SHOULD I TAKE THE ISEE ON A COMPUTER OR ON PAPER?
Students may take the ISEE on paper or online. Each format has its pros and cons – some students prefer paper as it more closely mirrors content they see in school, and they can easily annotate the questions and readings. Some students also prefer writing the essay by hand. There are also students who prefer to take the test online, as they may find it easier to type the essay.
HOW CAN I REGISTER FOR THE ISEE?
You can register for the ISEE by visiting the ERB website. The website includes step-by-step instructions to register. Typically, registration for a certain season opens on the first day of that testing season. Students who get accommodations at school will need to apply for accommodations before registering. The ERB site has step-by-step instructions on how to apply for accommodations.