A Play-by-Play of ISEE Scoring


As a drama/music/grammar enthusiast (a.k.a. nerd), I have often been baffled when watching sports with friends.  I will never forget the looks I got at one party when commenting on the color of one team’s “outfits”, only to be informed that they should be referred to as “uniforms”.  After being educated by several sports fans, I’ve found that one thing makes a major difference in understanding any game I may be watching, and that’s the SCORING.  Once I learned about touchdowns, extra points, safeties, field goals, and even 2-point conversions, I actually felt somewhat competent (and even interested) on Super Bowl Sunday (even though…let’s be honest…I was really there for the nachos).  In the same way, being able to navigate the plethora of score conversion charts will make the pathway to mastering the ISEE much clearer.  So let’s tackle this topic, shall we?

The basics of ISEE scoring:

  • Each section is scored separately, and there is no overall score.  A score report will have 4 scores, one for each of the following sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics Achievement.  The essay is not scored (see explanation below).
  • Here is the simple version: a raw score (the number of questions they answered correctly in each section) translates to a scaled score, which translates to a percentile (how a student did compared to his/her peers), which translates to a stanine, which is the number a school looks at when admitting students.

Here is the breakdown of score conversions:

  • Raw score: The number of questions answered correctly in a section.  This number will range from 0 to 47, depending on the number of questions in a section.
  • Scaled score: A number (ranging from 760 to 940) derived from the raw score that takes into account different test versions given on different dates. This is basically just a calculation that is pretty much meaningless to anyone but the ERB.  Just calculate it and don’t worry about what it means.
  • Percentile rank: A ranking that compares students of the same grade level who have taken the test over the past 3 years.  An applicant to seventh grade, for example, will only be compared with other seventh grade applicants, even though the Middle Level exam is administered to seventh and eighth grade applicants.
  • Stanine: A number (1-9) that simplifies the percentile ranking.  THIS is the number that schools typically look at when judging applicants.

Some answers to frequently asked questions about scoring:

  • There is no guessing penalty on the ISEE (unlike the SAT), so score is ONLY based on the number of questions answered correctly.
  • The ISEE can only be taken once a year, so there is not an opportunity to re-take the test and improve scores.
  • The essay isn’t scored!  At least there is one thing that is simple about ISEE scoring, and that’s the essay.  While the essay will be sent to the schools to which the student is applying, there is no score given by the ERB.  The essay, in other words, is more of a writing sample for the schools to see a student’s performance during a timed essay.  So while the student shouldn’t slack on the essay, it can take a little of the pressure off knowing that there is no formal score.

A word of caution about practice tests and score interpretation…practice tests are not all created equal.  For example, the official ERB practice test has fewer questions than the actual ISEE and many practice tests from other publishers.  This can make score comparison tough when looking at other practice test raw scores.  In addition to this, the material on different practice tests (again, all made by different publishers) varies widely in difficulty level and content. Imagine that you are taking an algebra class at your local community college and then you transfer to a class at UCLA.  Even though these classes will likely have much of the same content, the way in which it’s taught and tested will be very different.  For this reason, we always urge our students (and very often the more concerned parents) to use caution when looking at score estimations and comparisons between different practice exams.

For more in-depth information on scoring and other aspects of the ISEE, download the pdf file of “What to Expect on the ISEE” by following this link to the ERB website and selecting the grade level to which your child is applying.

At Unlocking Potential, we are clear that ISEE scoring can be enough to make anyone’s head spin.  After years of tedious calculations, we got smart and  created a chart that looks at the percentage of questions answered correctly on a practice test and gives an estimated scaled score, percentile rank (based on the most recent data published by the ERB), and stanine.  Given that these are all estimations, it should be loosely interpreted as a way to broadly inform students of performance levels and areas of strength and weakness.  This resource is available to all our families as a part of their workshop or tutoring package, and it can be requested as a free gift to you during our free consultation.

So now we send you out into the world of scoring, hopefully a little more equipped to wrap your head around ISEE scoring.  But please, don’t forget your helmet.

Remember, as with a sports player, expert coaching makes a huge difference in taking performance to the next level.  If you’re interested in going into the big leagues, do yourself a favor and set up your free consultation.  We may not be able to tell you exactly what a fourth down means, but we can definitely help prevent some penalties when it comes to ISEE scoring.

Your cheerleaders,

Jenni and Erin

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