Applying to a private school? It's all about the ISEE - Learning Lab

Applying to a private school? It’s all about the ISEE

15 JULY 2016 | MAURIE PONDER 


Some families are surprised to discover that applying to private schools can be just as stressful and time-consuming as applying to college. Similar to applying to college, the private school application process may require recommendation letters, transcripts, interviews, resumes of extracurricular activities, essays, and, of course, standardized testing. If your child will be applying for admission to a private school, there’s a good chance he or she will have to take the ISEE, or Independent School Entrance Exam.

The test is given to students applying to grades 5-12, so students in grades 4-11 may also be required to take the test. Not all schools require the ISEE, so it’s up to families to find out whether the schools they plan to apply to require the test, and it’s also up to families to register for the test online (https://www.erblearn.org/parents/admissions-testing-isee).

For many students, especially younger ones, this will be the longest, most difficult test they have ever taken, so a little preparation on the front end can ease the process quite a bit. Just knowing what to expect can help tremendously. Here’s a little information to start out with:

What does the test cover?

The ISEE has five sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, and Essay.

Verbal Reasoning tests a student’s vocabulary knowledge with synonym and sentence completion questions.

Quantitative Reasoning is logic-based math that tests a student’s ability to reason with numbers and should not require much calculation.

Reading Comprehension is a straight-forward reading test: read passages  and answer questions over them.

Mathematics Achievement is more traditional math that should be somewhat aligned with a student’s curriculum.

The Essay gives students 30 minutes to plan and write an essay over an assigned topic (topics are usually kid-friendly).

How can 4th graders and 11th graders take the same test?

The short answer is that they don’t take the same test. The test is divided into three levels: lower, middle, and upper. The lower level is for students applying to 5th and 6th grade, the middle level is for students applying to 7th and 8th grade, and the upper level is for students applying to 9th-12th grade.

If a student is on the younger end of the testing group, the test will probably feel difficult at times and may have questions over material the student hasn’t yet covered in school. This is especially true for 8th graders taking the upper level test, as the test covers high school math concepts. Keep in mind that when the test is scored, students are only compared to other students at their same grade level.

Can my child test more than once?

Yes, and this is a change from previous years. In the past, students could only test once per admission cycle, but starting in the 2016-2017 season, students may test up to three  times per season. The school year is divided into three windows: Fall (August-November), Winter (December-March), and Spring/Summer (April-July), and students may test once per window. It is up to families, however, to keep track of individual school deadlines.

To complement this new policy, families will now be able to review ISEE scores prior to reporting scores to schools they are applying to. In the past, scores were sent automatically. This new policy will give families more control over the process.

Most importantly, remember that knowledge is power, and the more informed a student is prior to ISEE test day, the better the results will be, and the better the chances of getting in to the private school of his choice.