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U.S. Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE): Part 2, The Breakdown

Updated: May 31, 2023

Taking an entrance exam for lower school may very well be your child’s first experience with a standardized test. To make it less daunting, we’ll break it down.

The key components of the Primary Level ISEE are outlined below. There are practice exams and tutoring services available, depending on the level of preparation your child needs.

There are four levels of the ISEE:

· Primary (entrance to grades 2-4)

· Lower (entrance to grades 5-6)

· Middle (entrance to grades 7-8)

· Upper (entrance to grades 9–12)

The ISEE can be taken up to three times a year, once per testing session.

The Primary ISEE is made up of three or four sections, depending on the grade to which your child is applying:


Primary 2 (for current 1st grade students)

Primary 3 (for current 2nd grade students)

Primary 4 (for current 3rd grade students)

1. Auditory Comprehension

6 questions, 7 minutes

2. Reading

18 questions, 20 minutes

24 questions, 28 minutes

24 questions, 28 minutes

3. Mathematics

24 questions, 26 minutes

24 questions, 26 minutes

28 questions, 30 minutes

4. Writing Sample

1 prompt with picture, untimed

1 prompt with picture, untimed

1 prompt, untimed

Total Time

53 minutes + writing time

1 hr + writing time

1 hr + writing time

The test is available online or as a paper and pencil test, depending on the location.

You will receive a score report for each section. The writing sample is not factored into the total score; however, it is sent to admission offices for their review.

Students are not penalized for incorrect answers. (Unlike the SSAT, which takes 14 points away for each incorrect answer.)

You will receive a scaled score and a percentile ranking. The percentile ranking will compare your child’s scaled score to that of other children who took the same test in the past three years.

We hope this demystifies primary ISEE and makes it a little less unnerving.

By Erin Brady

Erin Brady wears several hats at Bennett as Co-Director of Private Client Services and as one of our Global Team Leads (GTLs). As a GTL, she supports a consultant team that works with families headed to the greater NYC area, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada, overseeing their casework and providing updates to our corporate and RMC clients. She also serves as Account Manager of one of Bennett’s largest financial services clients in New York.

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.


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