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Everything you need to know about the ISEE


The Independent School Entrance Examination, or ISEE, is a standardized entrance exam used by private and independent schools in the United States. The exam is administered by the ERB (Educational Records Bureau).

Which level to take

The ISEE is administered on four levels: Primary, Lower, Middle, and Upper. Atom offers exam preparation for the Lower, Middle, and Upper levels. Your child will take the level based on the grade that they are applying to.

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Exam format

All ISEE questions are multiple-choice, except for the essay prompt. ISEE questions have four answer options and each question is awarded one mark.

Students can take the ISEE either on paper or on a computer. The tests can also be taken either on-site or remotely.

Exam sections

The ISEE has four different sections:


There is also an essay section. The essay is not scored, but a copy is sent to the school or schools where the student is applying.

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section consists of Synonyms and Sentence Completion questions. In Sentence Completion questions, a statement missing one or more words or short phrases is given, and students need to choose the best answer option among four alternatives.


Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension section includes a set of non-fiction reading passages with related questions about the main and supporting ideas, vocabulary, and author’s purpose.


Mathematics Achievement

The mathematics section covers traditional math problems, which require calculations to be solved.


Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section presents tasks that need logic to be solved. These are primarily word problems, but also include quantitative comparisons (Column A versus Column B) in the case of the middle and upper levels.


Section Overview

The Lower Level ISEE is 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Middle and Upper Level ISEE are 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Here’s a breakdown of the number of questions in each section for each level.

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Each correct answer is worth one mark. Incorrect answers are not penalized. If you’re not sure the answer, then guessing is the right call!

ISEE exams are non-adaptive. This means that all students taking the exam do the same test, independent of the grade they are in. Those tests are scored equally.

What varies is the percentile a student is expected to fall in, as they are only compared to students their own age. The norm group against which each student is compared is composed of all students in the same grade who took the ISEE test within the past three years.

Viewing results

ISEE results are put together in an Individual Score Report (IRS). Families decide who receives the IRS, as well as the non-scored essay, and when.

When booking an exam date, families are given access to an account. One section of the account is the “Score recipient list,” which they can edit with the email addresses of schools, tutors, or family members they would like to receive the results.

They can add/remove recipients from that list as many times as they want for free before the test date. They can also add recipients for free after the test date and once they have reviewed those scores themselves. Each recipient gets a full report. Families cannot decide that recipients receive a partial report.

When to take the ISEE

Students may take the ISEE once per testing season. The most common testing season is in the Winter.

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How long to study for the ISEE

It is important to view entrance exam preparation as a marathon rather than a sprint. We recommend spending approximately 90 to 120 minutes studying each week for at least one year before taking the exam.

In our experience, the short and frequent approach to studying has the greatest impact on balancing progress with long-term engagement.

Resources to prepare for the ISEE

Atom Learning uses an adaptive algorithm to create a tailored learning journey for each student!

As the student works through the main course area, the algorithm will take into account their strengths and weaknesses, balancing new content with a review of more challenging topics.

Atom ensures that each student remains engaged and challenged without ever becoming demotivated. Students can access thousands of practice questions and hundreds of video and text-based learning resources in order to build their understanding.

The platform will also set weekly targets and provide guidance on how much time they should spend working on each subject in order to reach their goals.

Sample help sheet from Atom Learning

Students will have access to hundreds of videos and helpsheets to aid their learning as well as access to unlimited custom practices and practice tests to help them feel confident going into their exams. Below is a sample of just one of the hundreds of helpsheets that are available on Atom.

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