The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a private school entrance test comprising an ungraded essay and four different multiple-choice sections: Verbal Reasoning (synonyms and sentence completion), Quantitative Reasoning (first math section), Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement (second math section). Students receive a percentile score for each section type as well as an overall percentile score, comparing their results to those of other ISEE takers from the same grade level over the previous three years.

There are three different versions of the test, depending on the student’s grade level. Students entering 9th grade and above take Upper Level; Students entering 7th or 8th grade sit for Middle Level; Students applying for the 5th or 6th grade take Lower Level. Students at the lower end of their test version’s grade level will encounter test problems they have not yet learned in school.

The Upper Level exam lasts about 180 minutes with five separate sections.


How is the ISEE different from the SSAT?

Good news: unlike the SSAT, the ISEE does not have a guessing penalty. This means students should answer (though not necessarily “do”) all questions. The verbal section is also more straightforward than it is on the SSAT, comprising synonyms and sentence completions that test vocabulary knowledge. However, the math section on the ISEE is weighted more heavily than it is on the SSAT, and the math content itself is more difficult. The SSAT contains a unique and tricky Quantitative Comparison section, which most students have not encountered in school. Many students who favor Math over Reading and Verbal generally prefer the ISEE to the SSAT.

What is a percentile?

The percentile score compares a student’s results to those of other students who have taken the ISEE in the past three years. If, for example, an 8th grade student received a 90 percentile score in Reading, this means that s/he scored higher than 90% of all other 8th graders who took the upper level ISEE reading section in the past 3 years, and that s/he is in the top 10% of this norm group.

What is a good percentile score?

This really depends on the school. Unlike the SHSAT, there isn’t an estimated cutoff score for the ISEE. That said, aim for 80-99 (overall) percentile for highly competitive schools and 50-80 (overall) percentile for moderately competitive schools. Admissions committees will also look at grades, recommendations, and interviews.

Should I answer all the questions on the ISEE? Is there a guessing penalty?

Because the easy and medium level questions are worth the same number of raw points as the difficult ones, students should do all the easy and medium level questions first. Make sure you get these correct before attempting the difficult ones, guessing on the hardest questions (no guessing penalty on the ISEE). This will improve your overall accuracy and speed, as well as increase calm and focus.

How do ISEE percentile scores compare to CTP4 percentile scores?

The norm group for the ISEE is highly competitive (much more so than that for the CTP4, which consists of public school students nationwide). Therefore, the CTP4 percentile scores may sometimes range 5 to 50 percentile higher than the ISEE percentile scores for the same student.

When considering the student’s scores, keep in mind that the Upper Level ISEE tests high school level material (which is particularly challenging in the math and vocabulary sections), whereas the CTP4 tests material at the student’s existing grade level. The ISEE is an entrance exam with tricky questions designed to mislead the student; the CTP4 is much more straightforward in how the questions and answers are designed.