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The ISEE is the Independent School Entrance Examination, and it’s used for admission to private middle and high schools. Read on to learn more about the ISEE.

Does my child need to take the ISEE?

If you’re planning to apply to a private school, chances are that your child will need to take an entrance exam. Which exam your child needs to take is dictated by the schools to which you will apply: some schools require the ISEE while others require the SSAT, HSPT, or a different test altogether.

Always be sure to check with your goal schools to learn about their particular admission requirements.

What are the different levels?

The ISEE has several different levels. The level your child will take depends on the grade the student will be in upon entering the target private school. Check out this chart to learn more about different levels of the ISEE:

For entrance to… Take ISEE…
5th/6th grade Lower Level
7th/8th grade Middle Level
9th-12th grade Upper Level


What’s covered on the ISEE? How long is the test?

Each of the three main levels of the ISEE includes these sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning: A test of vocabulary
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Math word problems with an emphasis on logical problem solving
  • Reading Comprehension: A series of reading passages accompanied by questions requiring recall, comprehension, and analysis
  • Math Achievement: Relatively straightforward math and computation

This table shows the number of questions and time limits for each section of each level of the ISEE:

Verbal Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Reading Comprehension Mathematics Achievement
# of Questions Time Limit # of Questions Time Limit # of Questions Time Limit # of Questions Time Limit
Lower Level 34 20 minutes 38 35 minutes 25 25 minutes 30 30 minutes
Middle and Upper Levels 40 20 minutes 37 35 minutes 36 35 minutes 47 40 minutes


The ISEE also includes an essay portion. The essay is not graded, but a copy of the essay is provided to schools along with the student’s score report. Schools often use these essays as writing samples when making admission decisions.

What’s a good ISEE score?

ISEE scaled scores range from 760 to 940. It’s nearly impossible to give a simple answer regarding a good score because different schools have different expectations from their students.

Most competitive schools examine an applicant’s percentile or stanine more closely than the student’s scaled score. The percentile represents how well a student scored compared to other test-takers, and the stanine is an abbreviated version of the percentile:

While it’s impossible to give a simple definition of a “good” ISEE score, it’s worth noting that ISEE test takers tend to be among the brightest and most talented students, which means a higher percentile/stanine is difficult to achieve because of the high bar of comparison. Students preparing for the ISEE should work towards the highest score possible in order to bolster their private school applications. Contact your local C2 is you’d like a free consultation for personalized ISEE test prep.