What Every Parent Should Know About the ISEE

Let’s face it, the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is going to be the most challenging academic experience your child has had up to this point in life. Taking the “ERBs” each year (more appropriately called the CTP4s) is a nice precursor to what to expect, but it does not compare to the level of rigor presented on the ISEE. This exam is a test of exceptionalism, not achievement, like the other standardized tests students are used to.

I will briefly discuss the structure of the exam, but much can be found online here.


There are 4 scored sections of the test which are multiple choice. Scores on these sections will result in percentiles and stanines. Our webinars and presentations break down this information into great detail, if needed.

  1. Verbal Reasoning: Synonyms and sentence completions. Both kinds of questions test your vocabulary and reasoning ability.
  2. Quantitative Reasoning: Tests your ability to decide how to solve math problems. It does not test the amount of math you have learned, but how well you think mathematically. 
  3. Reading Comprehension: Assesses your critical reading skills and contains reading passages related to history, science, literature, and contemporary life.
  4. Math Achievement: Tests mathematical skills you have learned from the very beginning of your school career.

And one unscored section of the test that will be sent to the schools in which you apply.

  1. Essay: Unscored, but many schools use it to gauge writing ability or class placement.

Contrary to popular misconception, it is NOT imperative that your child score a stanine of 7-9 in order to be considered for admission to any school. In fact, many admissions directors and the data we have collected have told us that a score of 5 or higher warrants a thoughtful consideration to the other aspects of the application process. You’re in the game! The application process includes personal statements, student and parent interviews, and several other unwritten expectations that you can read more about on Christina Simon’s Beyond the Brochure blog.


Although the meat of ArborBridge's presentations or webinars to parents and educators center around these topics (too much to share here), I’d like to share with you some basic test taking strategies that will not only work for the ISEE, but all other standardized and school tests as well. children

  1. Process of Elimination (POE): Rule out answers that clearly are wrong or do not make sense. There is no penalty for guessing on the ISEE (every question should be answered no matter what!), so eliminating an answer or two can make an educated guess much more…educated.
  2. Pacing: The clock is one of the biggest obstacles regarding this exam, especially if a student is not used to that kind of pressure (schools do not administer the CTP4s all in one sitting). Never spend too much time on any one question. If stuck on a solution, mark it and return later. That ensures that all questions in a section that a student CAN answer are addressed appropriately. Plus, sometimes the work needed for a different question will remind a student of a concept to help with the original question.
  3. Specific Section Techniques: Each section has unique strategies that can maximize performance. Stay tuned for a future blog (or presentation) that dives deeply into these sections.
  4. Motivation and Mindset: Above all, it is about confidence, determination, and concentration. Developing these traits will not only maximize your child’s potential on the ISEE, but will have a major impact in both school and life. Do not see the ISEE as a terrible obstacle. Instead, use this requirement as an opportunity to make your child is ready for their new, and more rigorous environment.


One of the most important things to consider as you prepare for the ISEE exam is anxiety and stress. The amount of content learning and practice that a student does will mean nothing if not in the right mental state during the day of the exam. This topic is vital and I will write a separate post in the next few weeks elaborating on much of the research we have done. For now, here are the top 5 things to immediately consider:

  1. A parent’s anxiety is transmitted to a child without even realizing it. You must always stay positive, celebrate ability and success, and NEVER say things to your child that will make them nervous about this one-time exam.
  2. Build test familiarity! Whether taking advantage of free practice tests proctored by others, finding purposeful tests online that correlate with the actual exam (we have partnered with a great team of test writers at https://iseepracticetest.com/), or accessing the many resources you can find in other printed materials. Just make sure you choose one that will help!
  3. Every single school day is another opportunity to prepare for this challenging exam. As a parent, I don’t need to tell you that your child should start the school year strong and keep up with all assignments. And, of course, your child should be reading every day, whether for school or pleasure…or both.
  4. For more information, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Sian Beilock speak at a recent conference for the Association of Educational Therapists. Her book entitled Choke has influenced a lot of our thinking on this subject.

Several other strategies will be shared in upcoming posts and webinars!

What are your next steps?

  1. Sign up for a free practice test and comprehensive score report on our websiteThe detailed analysis will be reviewed with you by one of our expert program managers. A sample score report we provide to parents can be found here.
  2. Attend one of our information webinars or live seminars (or a school presentation if you attend one of the schools I will be visiting). For more information on future webinars, seminars, and other educational information, make sure to join our mailing list by contacting lisa@arborbridge.com.
  3. Understand the registration process, including accommodations if necessary. Register here. For further information regarding accommodations, you can begin here.
  4. With any questions regarding the ISEE, you may reach out to us by emailing info@arborbridge.com, calling (917) 525-2548, or visiting www.arborbridge.com. One of our dedicated professionals will be happy to speak to you further and help you formulate a plan that is in the best interest of your child.

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Understanding the ISEE: An ArborBridge Webinar

Attend an ISEE webinar to gain the essential information you'll need to navigate the ISEE testing and independent school application process.[mk_button dimension="three" size="large" outline_skin="dark" bg_color="#c1392d" text_color="light" url="http://www.arborbridge.com/isee-webinar/" target="_blank" align="center" margin_top="0" margin_bottom="15"]REGISTER HERE[/mk_button]


About ArborBridge

An elite full-service tutoring company, ArborBridge is a world leader in educational support services, both globally and in its home base of Los Angeles. ArborBridge has pioneered online tutoring for everything from the SAT, ACT, and ISEE exams to academic support for middle school and high school students. Through its innovative online tutoring platform, ArborBridge has reached students in over 40 countries worldwide. ArborBridge's in-person tutoring services begin in early childhood, with its exclusive Essential Skills Program and continues through high school with support in every academic discipline. ArborBridge also specializes in helping students with mild learning disabilities reach their full potential. ArborBridge's tutors and directors are worldly, dedicated educators who have graduated from some of the top universities in the world, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Penn, MIT, UC-Berkeley, and UCLA.

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