The ISEE – What to expect at the ISEE

The Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) is created by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). It is used as a component in the admission process of many private schools. There are three levels of the test. The Lower Tier is for students entering fifth or sixth grade; the Middle Level is for students entering seventh or eighth grade; finally, the upper level is for students going from ninth to twelfth grade. Each level tests students’ knowledge in four areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, math performance, and essay writing. Although the format of each test is the same, the material covered in the higher level tests will necessarily be more difficult than that in the lower levels. This article will discuss the material found on the test, what to expect on test day, how to prepare, and how to interpret an ISEE score.

The Verbal Reasoning section of the ISEE contains three types of items: Synonyms, Single-Word Sentence Completion, and Sentence Completion. The next section, Quantitative Reasoning, is made up of what are essentially logical problems. Arithmetic calculations may not be required. In the reading comprehension section, students are expected to read a passage and then identify main and supporting ideas, draw conclusions from the text, define words based on context, identify the organization and logic of the passage, and identify tone, style and figurative language such as personification and irony. Finally, the math performance section tests students on grade-appropriate math; Problems typically involve arithmetic, algebra, geometry, measurement, and probability. Finally, the essay is based on a message and is not graded, but is sent to the school to which the student is applying.

When taking the test, students must be aware of its structure. Each of the sections is timed. Hours vary for the lower, middle, and upper levels, so parents should find the appropriate information on the ERB website. All tests have two five-minute breaks for students during the test. On test day, students must bring four #2 pencils and two black or blue ink pens (erasable ink is allowed). Most other items, including scratch paper, calculators, and reference materials, are not allowed. Cell phones and other electronic devices are strictly prohibited and may not be brought into the testing room.

Preparation is essential to success on the ISEE. The ERB does not recommend preparing students for levels they are not taking (ie, teaching a fifth grader material from the higher level exam). There is an official guide to help students prepare for the ISEE on the ERB website. If your student requires more help, you should consider an ISEE test preparation program to help reinforce your student’s knowledge and increase their confidence in their abilities before the test. A test preparation program will help your student learn test-taking strategies and apply them to practice tests—ideally, tests that accurately reflect the time and other constraints of the actual test. Taking the ISEE can be stressful for a student, and preparation will help you get the most out of it.

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