What You Need To Know About the Primary-level ISEE

What You Need To Know About the Primary-level ISEE


The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is used in the admissions process for private schools. The primary-level test is designed for students who are entering 2nd through 4th grades. In other words, a first, second, or third grade student would take this test.


The test has three sections: Auditory/Reading Comprehension, Mathematics, and Essay. Aside from the essay, the entire test is multiple choice.


Section Details

Auditory Comprehension

This section is only provided on the Grade 2 test. Students will listen to an age-appropriate passage without seeing the text of the passage on the screen. Then, students will listen to the questions and answer choices while seeing the text on the screen. Students will be asked to select the best answer among four answer choices.


Reading Comprehension

This section asks students to read passages and answer big picture and detail questions about the passages they read. The passages are appropriate in terms of genre, topic, length, and readability. There are both fiction and nonfiction passages on the test. All questions are multiple choice.



This section asks students to find the solution to a single or multi-step math problem. Students will be exercising their basic math computation skills based on grade-level standards. All questions are multiple choice.


*Note: The Auditory/Reading and Mathematics sections are based on grade-appropriate curriculum standards adopted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).


Essay (1 prompt, untimed)
Students are asked to respond in writing to a prompt that is age-appropriate and intended to give the admission team a glimpse into an individual student’s self-expression, writing style, and creativity. Students taking the Grades 2 and 3 tests will receive a picture prompt, and students taking the Grade 4 test will receive a written prompt. The essay portion is sent directly to the school for review and is not scored by the testing company.



All questions on the ISEE are equal in value, and a raw score is generated based on the number of questions a student answered correctly. There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the ISEE. The scaled score range for all sections of the primary-level ISEE is 200 to 299.


The ISEE score report provides a student’s percentile ranking of where the student stands relative to the ISEE norm group. The percentile rank is based on scores obtained from all students in a particular grade who have taken the test over the past three years. Percentile rank scores range from 1 to 99. If a student is in the 78th percentile on Math Achievement, this means that the student scored as well or better than 78 percent of all students and less well than 22 percent of all students.


ISEE scores are also reported as stanines, which range from 1 to 9, with 5 being the midpoint. Stanines are created by diving the entire range of students’ scores into nine segments.



The primary-level ISEE is 53 minutes for Grade 2, 54 minutes for Grade 3, and 60 minutes for Grade 4, plus the time for the essay, which is untimed. Also, there is a short break between the reading and math sections.

The primary-level ISEE is only administered via computer. Click here to learn more about testing locations and dates.


Students may take the ISEE up to three times in a 12-month admission cycle, once in any or all of three testing seasons. The testing seasons are Fall (August–November), Winter (December–March), and Spring/Summer (April–July). This means a student could take the ISEE in August, December, and April, but a student could not take the ISEE in August, September, and October since all three months fall in the same testing season.

Since students may take the ISEE multiple times if needed, families are able to selectively submit test scores to schools. Students may want to submit their entire portfolio of test scores from each time they took the test, or only submit test scores from a single administration. Students cannot send their highest section scores per test date. In other words, students can’t send a verbal reasoning score from a September test, a math achievement score from a December test, and quantitative reasoning and reading comprehension scores from a May test.