Overview of the ISEE

The ISEE (Independent Schools Entrance Exam) is an admission test administered by the ERB (Educational Records Bureau). Many private schools in North America, and a handful of international schools, use the ISEE as a crucial part of the admissions process for grades 2 through 12.

The ISEE serves as a standardized metric by which admissions departments can compare students from different schools. There are many parts to an application, and the manner in which ISEE scores impact admissions is very school-dependent.

Regardless of the school, an excellent score on the ISEE sets you apart in the admissions process, especially at highly competitive schools. Based on our years of test prep experience, we believe that standardized test taking is a skill that you can master, and — like all skills — you need to learn and practice in order to improve.

Note: Is the ISEE related to the ERBs that I took? If you already attend an independent school, you may have taken the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP), which is commonly referred to as the ERBs. The CTP, like the ISEE, is developed by the ERB. However, the CTP is an achievement test administered by schools to assess their students’ current skills, whereas the ISEE is an admission test.

Scores on the CTPs and other achievement tests are often higher than ISEE scores. Achievement tests are designed to measure a student's grade-level proficiency in a subject, while admission tests like the ISEE are designed to compare many potentially qualified applicants.

Primary Level 2

Application to grade 2

Primary Level 3

Application to grade 3

Primary Level 4

Application to grade 4

Lower Level

Application to grades 5 or 6

Middle Level

Application to grades 7 or 8

Upper Level

Application to grades 9-12

What are the ISEE questions like?

There are two types of questions on the ISEE. Every section of the ISEE, except the essay or writing sample, consists of multiple-choice questions with four answer choices. They look like this:

How many answer choices do ISEE questions have?
(A) 1
(B) 2
(C) 3
(D) 4

Students indicate the answer (hopefully D in this case) on their answer sheets, bubbling in their choice.

The essay section requires students to write a response to the given prompt. These prompts might look something like this:

Who is one of your favorite characters from a book, and why?

Note: Primary Level ISEE: Students taking the Primary Level 2 and Primary Level 3 will receive a picture prompt rather than a written prompt. A picture prompt presents students with a picture and asks them to write a story about what they see.

The structure and timing of the Primary Level ISEE varies by grade. Because elementary-school children are at such a different stage in their schooling, many aspects of the Primary Level are slightly different from the other levels. Overall test-taking strategies still apply and will help younger students acclimate to standardized test taking, something with which they may not have much experience.

Note: Four main differences between the Primary Level ISEE and other levels: No Verbal section, unlimited time on the Essay section, only one Math section, and the test is only administered in computer format.

Primary Level 2 ISEE:

For application to grade 2

Section # of Questions Time
Auditory Comprehension 6 7 minutes
Reading 18 20 minutes
Break - 5 minutes
Mathematics 24 26 minutes
Writing Sample* 1 picture prompt untimed
TOTAL 49 58 minutes + writing


Primary Level 3 ISEE:

For application to grade 3

Section # of Questions Time
Reading 24 28 minutes
Break - 5 minutes
Mathematics 24 26 minutes
Writing Sample* 1 picture prompt untimed
TOTAL 49 59 minutes + writing


Primary Level 4 ISEE:

For application to grade 4

Section # of Questions Time
Reading 28 30 minutes
Break - 5 minutes
Mathematics 28 30 minutes
Writing Sample* 1 prompt untimed
TOTAL 57 65 minutes + writing

Note: The Primary Level writing sample is not administered to New York City test takers.

Lower Level ISEE:

For application to grades 5 or 6

Section # of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 34 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 38 35 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 25 25 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 30 30 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
TOTAL 128 2 hours, 30 minutes

Middle Level ISEE:

For application to grades 7 or 8

Section # of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
TOTAL 161 2 hours, 50 minutes

Upper Level ISEE:

For application to grades 9-12

Section # of Questions Time
Verbal Reasoning 40 20 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 37 35 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Reading Comprehension 36 35 minutes
Mathematics Achievement 47 40 minutes
Break - 5-10 minutes
Essay 1 prompt 30 minutes
TOTAL 161 2 hours, 50 minutes