10 FAQs About the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)


The ISEE is a private school entrance exam used throughout the United States to help schools make admissions decisions about applicants looking to enter grades 2 through 12. Such tests are required for admissions to most Houston-area private schools. The Enrichery is here to answer your frequently asked questions about the exam!


Q: What skills are tested on ISEE?

The ISEE is split into five sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Mathematics Achievement, Verbal Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension, followed by an Essay portion. Broadly speaking, the “achievement” sections test students’ hard skills, while the “reasoning” sections measure their capacity to apply those skills to abstract concepts and broader contexts.

For example, a Mathematics Achievement question on an Upper Level ISEE might ask students to determine the value of 9 + 5 x (6 + 4). In contrast, a Quantitative Reasoning question on the same exam might have students calculate the total percent decrease from an unknown number after it has been reduced by 20%, the result of which itself has been reduced by 40%. While the former question tests students’ awareness of the order of operations (i.e., PEMDAS), the latter requires a thorough understanding of how percentages modify hypothetical numbers. Please note: calculators are not allowed on the ISEE.

Similarly, while Reading Comprehension questions determine students’ ability to analyze a given text, the Verbal Reasoning section tests students’ vocabulary awareness through synonym recognition and sentence completion questions.


Q: Which ISEE is right for my child?

Students applying to grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 take the ISEE Upper Level.

Students applying to grades 7 and 8 take the ISEE Middle Level.

Students applying to grades 5 and 6 take the ISEE Lower Level.

While an ISEE Primary Level is available for students applying to grades 2, 3, and 4, schools tend not to require applicants at that age to complete an entrance exam.


Q: How is the ISEE formatted?

The ISEE Upper and Middle Levels last 2 hours and 40 minutes, with two breaks granted throughout.

The ISEE Lower Level lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes, with two breaks granted throughout.

While the official ISEE is available in either paper or digital format, at The Enrichery we have seen the most success among students who study and take the exam on paper, hence we prepare our students exclusively using physical textbooks, mock printouts, and handwritten homework.


Q: What do I need to know about the essay portion of the ISEE?

Regardless of your child’s ISEE level, the final section of the exam provides them with 30 minutes to write a personal essay in response to a prompt. Although unscored, this essay will be submitted directly to the schools to which they are applying and will supplement their application material. Essay training is included in The Enrichery’s ISEE preparation program!


Q: When should my child take the ISEE?

The deadline for most Houston-area schools to receive your child’s ISEE scores ranges from mid-to-late January. While The Enrichery encourages parents to contact schools directly and request the most updated information, our ISEE preparation team can make suggestions regarding the best time for your child to take the test considering their academic and personal commitments.


Q: How many official ISEE exams can my child take?

Many ISEE exams are held throughout the year at various locations across Houston. However, applicants can take an official ISEE only once per testing season, for a total of 3 times per year: once in the Fall (August through November), once in the Winter (December through March), and once in the Summer/Spring (April through July). 

At the Enrichery, we recommend that students take the exam twice, minimizing unhelpful pressure placed on the first attempt and allowing for additional intensive study before the second.


Q: How can I register my child for the ISEE?

Parents can register their child for the ISEE through the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) website. We are more than happy to provide parents with assistance throughout this process!


Q: How do I interpret my child’s ISEE score?

We get asked this question all the time at The Enrichery, and for good reason! There’s a lot to keep in mind, so buckle up.

The Individual Student Report you receive with your child’s scores will include a “Scaled Score” (760-940), a “Percentile Rank” (1-99), and a “Stanine” (1-9), followed by a breakdown of their raw results per section of the exam. What you need to know is that your child’s ISEE report analyzes how well they performed relative to all the other students who took the same exam. 

First, your child’s “Raw Score” is converted into a “Scaled Score” for each section of the ISEE, permitting students to more accurately compare their results across multiple official exams.

That “Scaled Score” is then mapped onto a “Percentile Rank,” comparing your child’s results to those received by all other students who have taken the same ISEE over the past three years. From there, your child is assigned a “Stanine” number which corresponds directly to their percentile classification. Stanine numbers closer to 5 represent an average performance level.


Q: What else does my child need to do while applying to private school?

Specifics vary but, broadly speaking, the private school admissions process may involve interviews, recommendation letters, admissions essays, transcripts, and fees. The Enrichery offers private school applicant interview practice upon request!


Q: How does The Enrichery’s ISEE Preparation program work?

At The Enrichery, students are first asked to complete a diagnostic ISEE so that our coaches can determine a baseline score before sessions begin. From there, the program spans 14 weeks, with one 1.5-hour session each week. Students also take mock exams every 4 sessions in order to track progress; parents and students alike are kept consistently informed as to the student’s improvement and shortcomings throughout the program.


The Enrichery offers ISEE preparation programs throughout the year. For more information, submit a request to contact us at https://theenrichery.com/contact-us-submission/!