ISEE Program

Breakdown of the ISEE Program

The ISEE program or exam is an entry-level test for those school students who are looking forward to pursue their education in a private or charter school in the U.S. Many private schools make the ISEE test mandatory for their applicants, while others advise their applicants to appear for the SSAT exam. This article provides a breakdown of the ISEE program and explains its key features.

A Breakdown of the ISEE Program:

  1. Purpose

    The primary purpose of the ISEE program is to create an assessment mechanism to determine whether or not the students applying for admissions into certain grades in private schools have the grade-appropriate skills and knowledge in key subjects such as Math, English etc.

  2. Design

    The ISEE program is designed to assess the skills and knowledge of the students in different grades. Hence, the test is categorized into 3 levels - Upper-level, Middle-level and Lower-level. The Upper-level test ISEE caters to the students who are studying in Grades 8 and above, the Middle-level is designed for the students studying in Grades 6 & 7 and finally, the Lower-level is for students in Grades 4 & 5.

    At each level, the ISEE program is broken down into 5 subdivisions; namely, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement and Essay Writing. These sections appear in the actual test in the same order that they are listed here. All sections, except the Essay section consist of multiple-choice questions, with 4 answer-options per question. The questions in each section can be broken down into the following broad categories:

    Verbal Reasoning

    • Vocabulary items
    • Sentence completion questions.

    Quantitative Reasoning

    • Quantitative comparisons
    • Word problems.

    Reading Comprehension

    • Reading Comprehension questions in the following categories, based on the contents of the given reading passage:

      • Main theme
      • Supporting ideas
      • Inference
      • Vocabulary
      • Structure
      • Style

    Mathematics Achievement

    • Grade-appropriate Mathematical problems (designed on the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics).


    • One grade-appropriate Essay prompt, which may be either a one or two line topic or open-ended question.

    At every level, the ISEE program is administered in either one of these 2 formats – paper-based or online. All specifications for these 2 formats are the same, except the format in which the Essay response is submitted. In the online format of the ISEE exam, the essay response is to be typed out; whereas, in the paper-based format of the exam; the essay response must be written by hand.

  3. Time Limit

    Each level of the ISEE program has different time limits. The overall time allowed for each level of the test is summarized as follows:

    - Lower-level ISEE - 2 hours and 20 minutes
    - Upper and Middle-level ISEE - 2 hours and 40 minutes

    Within this overall time, each ISEE section is allotted a fixed time duration. The time limits for each section are provided in a tabular format in this official ISEE document -

  4. Scoring Methodology

    All the multiple-choice questions in the ISEE test are automatically scanned and the total count of correct answers is calculated. This count is designated as the raw score, which is then converted into a scaled score using a special ISEE formula. This scaled score represents the individual score of a student in the ISEE program. As a final step in the scoring process, the scaled score is converted into percentile and "stanine" ranks. These ranks are nothing but comparative representations of the scaled score of a student against the scaled scores of test-takers in a collective group. Most schools are only concerned about the percentile and "stanine" ranks received by the students and evaluate either one of them for determining if a student is eligible for admission or not. For example, many schools have established a "stanine" rank 7 or 8 as their minimum recommended score for eligible students.

Thus far, we have read about how the ISEE program is designed and administered. We believe that this breakdown of the program has given you an out-and-out mental picture of the ISEE test. For details on ISEE test centers, dates and registration, you may refer to the ISEE website -

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