All you need to know about ISEE

By Kevin Kwok

(Test Preparation Instructor at The Edge Learning Center)

We’ve recently seen increasing interest in the ISEE as an alternative to the SSAT. Could this test be a better fit for your school admission needs? Read on to find out!

Quick Facts

There are three versions of the ISEE: Upper Level, Middle Level, and Lower Level. The Lower Level is 2 hours and 30 minutes, while the Upper and Middle Level are both 2 hours and 50 minutes. 

LevelApplying To... 
US grade systemUK equivalentHK equivalent
ISEE UpperGrade 9 and aboveY10 and aboveForm 3 and above
ISEE MiddleGrade 7-8Y8-9Form 1 to 2
ISEE LowerGrade 5-6Y6-7P5 to P6

For all three levels, the ISEE has four sections in the following order:

  1. Verbal Reasoning – This section tests vocabulary 
  2. Quantitative Reasoning – This is the first of two maths sections. The Lower Level version will have word problems only. The Middle and Upper Level versions have both word problems and quantitative comparison questions. For the latter, you will be asked to determine which of two mathematical expressions has a greater value.
  3. Reading Comprehension – This section includes long reading passages and some corresponding reading comprehension questions.
  4. Mathematics Achievement – This is the other maths section. It involves more advanced maths concepts and is calculation-heavy.

There is also an essay component. Just like the SSAT, your essay is not graded, but it will be submitted along with your test score when applying to schools.

Finally, just like the SSAT, your ISEE score will have a scaled score component and a corresponding percentile score. The percentile score is used to denote how well you did when compared to other test-takers in your grade. 

Differences to SSAT

So why should one consider taking the ISEE instead of the SSAT? A few things:

Do you like maths? 

Due to the breadth of mathematical skills that are tested by the ISEE, those who are well-rounded at maths are a particularly good fit for this test. This includes students who are good at word problems, skilled at recalling maths concepts, and who can evaluate different types of mathematical expressions.

What about your vocabulary?

For those of us who aren’t bookworms or who like STEM subjects at school, the ISEE is also seriously worth considering because vocabulary recall is not tested as much. Instead, answering the sentence completion questions in the Verbal Reasoning section requires a good understanding of how to read into the context of a sentence. This is a more engaging, realistic, and fulfilling approach to vocabulary when compared to rote memorisation.

What are your reading habits?

With that being said, the ISEE’s reading section contains longer and denser passages than the SSAT. However, this can be seen as a tradeoff to make if you know that vocabulary isn’t your strong suit. Plus, the ISEE won’t have poetry in this section; the SSAT does occasionally include poetry in its reading section.

How we can help

If you’re still not sure whether the ISEE is the right fit for your admissions needs, we’re happy to help! Simply give us a ring to see if we can arrange a mock test, trial 1-on-1 lessons, or even a FREE 30 minutes with our Admissions Consultants to discuss testing, school applications, and more!

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