What You Need to Know about the Upper-level ISEE

What You Need to Know about the Upper-level ISEE


The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is used in the admissions process for private schools. The upper-level ISEE is designed for students who are entering or currently in 9th grade or above. In other words, an eighth grade student would take this test if seeking admissions to a private high school, as would a current high school student attempting to transfer from a public school to a private school.


The test has five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Math Achievement, and Essay. The first four sections of the test are multiple choice.


Section Details

Verbal Reasoning (40 questions, 20 minutes)

This section consists of two question types: vocabulary and sentence completion. The vocabulary questions pose an abstract word followed by four possible answer choices to define the word. Students are asked to select one correct answer among the four options. The sentence completion questions provide students with a missing word or word pair and ask students to select the appropriate word or word pair to complete the context of the sentence.


Quantitative Reasoning (37 questions, 35 minutes)

This section is made up of word problems and quantitative comparisons.  The word problems are multiple choice and provide students with four answer choices from which students must select the best answer. Several of the word problems can be solved without doing computations on paper. In fact, many of the word problems are testing a students’ general math logic and critical thinking skills rather than their ability to make specific calculations. The quantitative comparison questions ask students to compare two things and decide if Quantity X is bigger, or if Quantity Y is bigger, or if they are equal, or if the relationship cannot be determined based on the information given.


Reading Comprehension (36 questions, 35 minutes)

This section asks students to read six passages and answer big picture and detail questions about each passage. The passages cover a variety of subject areas including arts, contemporary life, history, and science.


Mathematics Achievement (47 questions, 40 minutes)

This section asks students to find the solution to a single-step or multi-step math problem. Compared to the quantitative reasoning section, this section is more traditionally a math section because students will be exercising their computation skills across many disciplines of mathematics.


*Note: The Reading Comprehension and Mathematics Achievement 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, 30 minutes)
Students are asked to write an essay in response to a short prompt. Prompts may relate to the student’s life, to the student’s community, or to the world in general. 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 and levels of the ISEE is 760 to 940.


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 given 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 upper-level ISEE is two hours and forty minutes in length. There are 5–10 minute breaks following the Quantitative Reasoning section and the Mathematics Achievement section.

Most students take the ISEE online, but a paper-and-pencil format is available for students in grades 5–12. 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 are able to 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.


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