Admission to an elite, private middle or high school can be very competitive! In addition to a student’s application, interview and teacher recommendations, a standardized test score is required for consideration. Typically, students have two choices: The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). The ISEE is thought to be the more advanced test, but many schools accept either. If you choose to take the ISEE, what should you know about the test?

What’s Tested on the ISEE?

close up of multiple choice test Students applying to prep schools have demonstrated superior academic success. There are three levels of the ISEE: Lower (grades 5 – 6), Middle (grades 7 – 8) and Upper (grades 9 – 12). Each level has five areas of testing that vary depending on your academic year. They are:

  • Verbal Reasoning: Vocabulary
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Word Problems
  • Reading Comprehension: Response to passages
  • Mathematics Achievement: Multiple choice math problems
  • Essay: Typically a descriptive essay in response to a prompt


Both of these prep school admissions exams test five similar sections. However, each puts their own emphasis on certain sections. For example, the ISEE emphasizes the quantitative reasoning section more than the SSAT.

The way a topic is tested also differs; the ISEE tests vocabulary through sentence completion and synonyms, while the SSAT uses sentence completion and analogies.

Preparing for the ISEE

At Ivy Bound, we recommend taking both the ISEE and SSAT, since many schools accept either test. However, specifically focusing on the ISEE, our tutors use materials that target success on the test.

Lack of Practice Materials

Unfortunately, not as many test prep materials are released by the ERB than there are for the SAT or ACT (College Board exams). However, the focus of ISEE preparation should be on coaching the student for this specific test-taking environment.

Developing New Skills

For many middle school students, this will be their first experience with a standardized test. Our tutors will work with students individually to develop general testing skills, including stress and time management, as well as pacing.

The Lower Level test has 127 questions to be completed in two hours, while the Middle and Upper Level tests have 160 questions to be answered in two hours and 20 minutes.

How the Essay Works

It is important to note that the 30-minute Essay is not scored. A copy of each student’s response to the prompt is sent to the respective admissions offices.

The ISEE is offered every season, but the most test dates fall during fall and early winter. In the past, students could only take the test every six months, but a recent change by the ERB now allows up to three times in an admissions cycle. To begin prepping for the ISEE, contact Ivy Bound today!