The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is an admissions test offered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) to its member schools. The ISEE choice for many independent schools throughout the country and abroad. The purpose of this exam is to quantify your academic accomplishments and reasoning ability. It’s used by private school admissions committees to predict your success at their school and is administered in either a paper or online format. ISEE registration may be done up to three times within 12 months, once in any or all of the three testing seasons. There are three seasons: Fall (August–November), Winter (December–March), and Spring/Summer (April–July). 


As part of the overall admissions process, the school you are applying to has requested ISEE scores. The school can view one common item for all applicants by requiring all students entering the same grade to take an admission test. The school looks at many items in conjunction with the ISEE scores, including your application, your current school records, and possibly an interview. In addition to the ISEE scores, all the admissions components help the school, you and your family determine which school is the best fit for you.

Levels of Exam and who can take ISEE:

  • Lower level: Students seeking admission to grades 5 or 6.
  • Middle Level: Students seeking admission to grades 7 or 8.
  • Upper Level: Students seeking admission to grades 9 to 12.

This article is focused on the ISEE Upper-Level. An Upper-Level ISEE can be taken on paper or a computer. It consists of five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and the Essay. Except for the Essay, all of the questions are multiple-choice with four answer choices, as defined in Table 1.

Table 1: Structure of ISEE Upper-Level

SectionsTotal # of QuestionTime (in Minutes)
Verbal Reasoning40 MCQ20
Quantitative Reasoning37 MCQ35
Reading Comprehensive36 MCQ35
Mathematics Achievement47 MCQ40
Essay (Optional)1 Prompt30
Total Time 2 hours, 40 minutes

What covers each section?

  • Verbal Reasoning— There are two subsections with questions on synonyms and sentence completion. This section tests grade-level-appropriate vocabulary and sentence-completion ability. Students are asked to choose the appropriate word or phrase that best completes the sentence.
  • Quantitative Reasoning— It covers multiple math concepts and contains several subsections as well as word problems. Concepts tested include (1) numbers and operations, (2) measurement, (3) geometry, (4) algebra, (5) data analysis and probability, (6) concepts/understanding, (7) applications/higher-order thinking, and (8) quantitative comparisons.
  • Reading Comprehension— Students are tested on their ability to understand and interpret questions based on six reading passages on humanities, science, and social studies topics. For each passage, you’ll get the passage first and then questions that correspond to it.
  • Mathematics Achievement— The fourth multiple-choice question (MCQ) section on the ISEE test. This section tests topics such as (1) numbers and operations, (2) algebraic concepts, (3) measurement, (4) geometric concepts, and (5) data analysis and probability.
  • Essay (optional)— An optional timed essay. An essay prompt is given to students and they are asked to produce an informed essay on the topic.

ISEE Upper-Level Scoring System

  • All questions on the ISEE are equal in value. 
  • The raw score is determined solely by the number of questions answered correctly since there is no “wrong answer” penalty.
  • The scaled score is based upon the raw score, which is the number of questions that the student answers correctly. Upper-Level scaled score is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Scaled Score of ISEE Upper-Level

SectionsScale Score Range
Verbal Reasoning797-935
Quantitative Reasoning815-940
Reading Comprehensive825-940
Mathematics Achievement806-940
EssayIt’s not scored, but a copy is sent to the schools to which you apply. All scores are converted to a grade-appropriate “stanine”, which represents a percentile range.
  •  Percentile Rank: A student’s percentile rank indicates how he or she compares to the other students in the norm group. Percentile rank scores will range from 1 to 99. For example, if a student scores a 65 on verbal reasoning, then that means that the student scored as well or as better than 65 percent of all students in the norm group and less well than 54 percent (out of a total of 99 percentile points).
  • Stanine: In stanine scores, the midpoint is 5; 1 is the lowest, and 9 is the highest. Stanines are produced by dividing the full range of students’ scores into 9 segments as shown in Table 3. The percentile score is an estimate of a student’s level of knowledge. If the stanine is 4, for example, the percentile rank range is 23-39.

Table 3: Stanine Score of ISEE Upper-Level

%Tile RankStanine

For more details, you can visit https://erblearn.org/. You can also score the ISEE practice test and get a detailed diagnostic report by using the Socrato online bubble sheet grading platform.

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