what is the isee test

If you or your child is entering their middle school or high school years, chances are that you are wondering, exactly what is the ISEE test? The ISEE is the Independent School Entrance Examination and is used to help determine admission to a growing number of private middle schools and high schools. Scoring well on this ACT/SAT style test can help open doors to these institutions.

As the market leader in ISEE test prep, Piqosity has seen the direct impact that scoring well on the ISEE can have on a child’s educational future. Here, Piqosity compiles everything you need to know about the ISEE test so that you and your child or student can get started off on the right foot. 

Why Should I Take the ISEE Test?

Before we get into the specific answers for the question “What is the ISEE test?” we believe it’s important to first establish why the ISEE is important.

Of course, the surface-level reason why students take the ISEE is because ISEE score submissions are required by the school they wish to attend. With a growing number of schools  (more than 1,200 nationwide, as of 2021) accepting the ISEE, more and more families find themselves researching the ISEE each year. In this way, it’s easy to think of the ISEE as just another part of a student’s school application. 

But this reasoning doesn’t really get to the core of why students should consider taking — and excelling at — the ISEE. Yes, doing well on the ISEE improves a student’s chances of getting into a prestigious school, but what that really means is that doing well on the ISEE helps open the doors to opportunities that may otherwise be closed to them. 

Just as college has value far beyond the time spent on campus, middle schools and high schools also influence a student’s future outside of the time they spend in the classroom. And just as the ACT/SAT often play a critical role in college admissions, scoring well on the ISEE can play a critical role in middle/high school admissions — all of which can give your student a leg up when it comes building towards a successful future. 

What is the ISEE Test? Covering the Basics.

1. Who Creates the ISEE? 

The ISEE is designed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB), a Manhattan-based corporation specializing in K-12 assessments like the ISEE and the popular CTP annual assessment given in many private schools. The ISEE determines not only what a student knows, but also how they think. 

2. When Should I Take the ISEE? 

The answer to this question is two-fold and covered in-depth in our article on when to prepare for the ISEE. The first factor to consider is the grade level to which a student is applying (not their current grade level); the second is the actual test dates.

Grade levels: There are 4 ISEE test levels: Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper. Students take the ISEE test for the grade to which they are applying. Piqosity does not offer test prep for Primary Level ISEE. Once a student gains admittion to a school using the ISEE, they typically do not need to take the ISEE again until applying to a new school.

Testing dates: The ISEE is offered in three “testing seasons:” Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer. If desired, students can take the exam once per season, so a maximum of 3 times per year. The test is offered at-home, at-school, in testing offices (for small groups/individuals), and at Prometric test centers (larger groups). To find test dates and locations in your area, visit the ERB admission registration system.

  • Fall Testing Season: August-November 
  • Winter Testing Season: December-March
  • Spring/Summer Testing Season: April-July

3. What Does the ISEE Cover?

When parents ask us “What is the ISEE test?” they are often most curious about the content of the exam. The Lower Level ISEE, Middle Level ISEE, and Upper Level ISEE all consist of 5 sections. Note that the essay section is not optional; several other test prep sites list it wrongly as “optional.”

  • Verbal Reasoning: Tests vocabulary and reasoning via synonym selection problems and sentence completion exercises.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Tests fundamental math concepts and reasoning via word problems and quantitative comparisons. Note: Lower Level uses only word problems.
  • Reading Comprehension: Tests reading comprehension (identifying main ideas, tone, etc.) via questions related to reading passages. 
  • Math Achievement: Tests fundamental math skills — frequently those involving decimals, fractions, and percentages — via math problems involving multi-steps. 
  • Writing/Essay: Tests writing skills by having students write a short personal essay on a given topic. 

It’s important to note that the essay element of the ISEE gives schools the opportunity to gain insight into a student’s mind, character, and circumstances that numeric scores cannot always demonstrate. This essay isn’t scored, but is reviewed directly by school counselors, and gives students the opportunity to shine in a different manner.

For specifics regarding the number of questions in each section, the timing of sections, section composition, etc., please refer to the ISEE guide section of our ISEE course page. 

4. What is a Good Score on the ISEE?

ISEE Scoring Chart

ISEE scores are peer-normed, meaning that a student’s scores will be scored relative to all students at their grade level who have taken the ISEE over the last three years. The essay is not scored, but is sent directly to schools for review by admissions counselors. 

After students take the ISEE test, they will receive a score report that includes a Scaled Score, a Percentage rank, and a Stanine score. In general, Stanine Scores between 1 and 3 are below average, average scores run between 4 and 6, and good scores run between 7 through 9.

Frankly, score reports for the ISEE often generate a lot of confusion. For a thorough explanation of what you’ll see, please see our article, “What is a Good Score on the ISEE?” 

How Can I Prepare for the ISEE?

Now that we have answered the question, “What is the ISEE test?” it’s time to consider how students should prepare for the exam. 

One essential thing to keep in mind throughout this process is that tests like the ISEE are testing skills that accumulate over time, often over years. No test prep course could (or should) claim to be able to build these skills from the ground up; there are no amount of tips and tricks that will overcome not being able to identify the main idea of a paragraph or manipulate fractions.

What test prep can aim to do is improve a student’s fundamental capabilities in core academics. It can also aim to improve a student’s test-taking skills and help familiarize a student with the particular intricacies different types of tests present. This is especially true for ISEE test takers, who tend to be younger and thus more susceptible to testing issues, like test anxiety. The best way to overcome these obstacles and achieve your test taking goals is through regular and thorough test practice. 

In general then, students, teachers, tutors, and parents can approach ISEE preparation as follows.

  • Create a free login and take Piqosity’s free mini-diagnostic test to see where a student stands in terms of readiness.
  • Decide on a test date and, based on that date, determine when to prepare for the ISEE.
  • Tutors and educators may be interested in our guide to how to tutor the ISEE during this phase.
  • Review prep guides to build familiarity with the test. Piqosity has created several free guides to the ISEE, including:
  • Begin practicing the ISEE test using ISEE test prep courses like those offered at Piqosity. Practice questions and lessons can help build a strong foundation, but the most ideal practice involves taking practice tests under test-like conditions.
    • This is the most important step in the entire preparation process! 
  • Take the ISEE test, review the results, and decide whether to submit their scores or start the process over again. 

Prepare for the ISEE Test with Piqosity!

“What is the ISEE test?” may seem like a complicated question, but Piqosity aims to clarify all things ISEE for students, tutors, and teachers alike. 

Looking for the “best ISEE test prep online?” The market-leader in ISEE test prep materials, Piqosity is proud to offer top-tier services for students as well as a quality LMS for those wishing to teach and tutor the ISEE. We offer a variety of competitively-priced plans so that you can find the right course for your student’s exact needs. 

Piqosity’s top course package provides students with 10 full-length practice tests, 50+ lessons and tutorial videos, personalized practice, a 1:1 tutoring session, and so much more! Check out our pricing plans for more info. 

Sign up for free (and in less than 30 seconds!) today and discover what Piqosity’s personalized ISEE test prep can do for you!

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