All about the ISEE
The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a series of admissions exams created by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). ISEE exams are used by private schools around the world to evaluate the academic readiness of their applicants. Students currently enrolled in first through eleventh grade may need to take an ISEE exam when applying for entrance into a private school for the following year. For more information, take a look at our article, what is the ISEE test?
The ISEE offers four testing levels: primary, lower, middle, and upper. The primary level covers grades two through four, offering a unique exam for each grade. In contrast, the lower, middle, and upper levels each consist of a single exam that covers multiple grades.
Students should take the exam that corresponds to the grade that they are entering, not the grade in which they are currently enrolled. The table below shows which grades are contained in each level.
|ISEE Level||Used for Entrance to|
|Primary||Grades 2, 3, or 4|
|Lower||Grades 5 & 6|
|Middle||Grades 7 & 8|
|Upper||Grades 9 through 12|
ISEE testing format
The ISEE can be taken in either an online format or a paper format. The online format is offered for all ISEE levels, while the paper format is only available for lower, middle, and upper level exams. Primary ISEE tests do not have a paper format option. Format availability may be further restricted by testing location.
Whether students take the online or paper version of the exam, they will see the same questions and receive the same amount of time to complete them. However, the testing experience does differ between the formats.
During the ISEE computer test, students read and interact with questions onscreen, and they must type their response to the essay prompt. If students need to work out problems offscreen, the testing site provides scratch paper and pencils.
Students taking the ISEE paper test will see the same test as those taking the exam online, but questions will be presented in a physical testing booklet. On the paper exam, answers must be marked on a separate answer document using a #2 or HB pencil, and the essay response must be written using blue or black pen. Scratch work can be done in the blank space in the testing booklet.
ISEE vs SSAT
Like the ISEE, the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) is an admissions assessment used by private schools to evaluate applicants. Both exams cover applicants applying for grades three through twelve, though only the ISEE provides an exam for students seeking entrance to second grade. While some schools accept only the ISEE or only the SSAT, some private schools do allow students to choose which exam to take.
When deciding between the ISEE and SSAT, it is important to consider the differences between the exams. For the most part, the ISEE and SSAT are similar in terms of content and structure. Both exams have elementary, middle, and high school levels, and both exams cover reading, writing, verbal skills, and math. However, the tests do have some differing question types, with the ISEE including synonym and quantitative reasoning questions and the SSAT including analogy questions. The SSAT's verbal section also contains passages from nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, whereas the ISEE only uses non-fiction passages. Students should practice each of the question types to determine which test better suits their strengths.
The two exams also are scored differently. On the ISEE, incorrect answers are not penalized, whereas the SSAT subtracts a quarter of a point from your score for every wrong answer. Also, for lower, middle, and upper ISEE levels, the ISEE includes both of its math sections as separate scores on the score report, while the SSAT combines its math sections into a single score. As a result, ISEE scores focus more on mathematical knowledge, while SSAT scores emphasize verbal skills.
So, given these differences, is the ISEE or SSAT harder? Difficulty differs based on students' aptitude for certain question types. For instance, some students may find the SSAT's verbal section harder due to the analogy questions or the passages of fiction or poetry. However, due to the scoring breakdown of the tests, students who are stronger in mathematics than writing may score better on the ISEE, while students who have stronger writing and reading skills may score better on the SSAT.