ISEE Tutoring & Test Prep Courses2024-03-28T11:17:28-05:00

ISEE Tutoring and Test Prep

General Academic is Houston’s ISEE and SSAT-prep leader; More than 300 Houston-area students entrusted us with their admissions prep in the 2023-2024 testing cycle. On average our students improve their scores by 1.3 stanines or 20 percentile ranks.

No one understands private and select public schools like we do. Read our latest analysis of Houston magnet schools and private school tuition. For more than 20 years, thousands of students have aced the ISEE private school admissions test with the help of our 50+ published ISEE practice tests, private tutoring, and courses.

We offer both private one-to-one tutoring and group test prep classes. Private tutoring can occur in your home or at our Rice Village Study Lounge.

Our Proven Approach to ISEE Test Prep

Students start with a full-length diagnostic/ practice test to evaluate their current strengths and weaknesses. The test should be as realistic as possible including timed conditions. Having written more than 30 full-length practice tests for the ISEE, General Academic is the market leader in ISEE prep material publishing.

Upon scoring the test, our tutors and managers will evaluate the student’s position and outline a roadmap for improvement. The tutor will discuss test-taking strategies and general tips.

Concept review comprises the bulwark of ISEE test prep. To do well, students must have a firm grasp of the tested math and reading concepts. No amount of tips and tricks will compensate for not knowing fractions or how to identify a main idea.

As students strengthen their fundamental math and reading skills, they must still be able to apply that knowledge to the new and novel ways tested on the ISEE reasoning sections. The best way to ensure this capability is to work many test-like practice questions.

The process of ISEE test prep is continual, and the duration and intensity of preparation will depend on the disparity between the student’s starting place and desired outcome. Most of our students will take a minimum of 3 full-length practice tests and 2 official tests.

ISEE Test Preparation Services

ISEE Admissions Test Overview

We Support Multiple ISEE Test Levels

  • Upper Level – Applying to Grades 9 – 12
  • Middle Level – Applying to Grades 7 & 8
  • Lower Level – Applying to Grades 5 & 6

The Upper and Lower levels are most popular in Houston. We offer both classroom courses and private tutoring for the ISEE Lower and Upper levels; we offer private tutoring for the ISEE Middle Level.

Students may take the ISEE up to three times a year or once each during three 4-month periods generally corresponding to summer, fall, and winter. These 4-month periods are set by ERB; a student could not, for example, take the ISEE in both December AND January because of the limitation of taking the test only once during each prescribed period.

Let’s now assume that you are a current 7th grader looking to apply to 9th grade, which is generally the “prime entry year” for a private high school –

  1. Your first opportunity would be during the fall of your 8th grade year between August and November.
  2. The second and last opportunity for the admissions period would be during the winter of your 8th grade year between December and March.
  3. The third option, between April and July, is outside of the traditional admissions period

Note that Houston schools will not take the results from the April to July for the following admissions period. As a current 7th grader, ERB will count you as a 7th grader until August 1st, and if you register for an exam before August 1st, then you will be given the Middle Level ISEE instead of the Upper Level ISEE. Instead, April to July is more for families who have just recently moved to Houston during that time frame, and private schools have allowed them to apply.

The ISEE is scored along a normal curve, which is divided into 9 slices (“stanines”), where 1 is significantly below average and 9 is outstanding. The norm group consists of students who applied for the same grade from the past 3 years; students are not compared directly to students in their current year.

​Most Houston schools will accept average scores of 4, 5, and 6, but academically rigorous schools are more likely to enroll students with scores of 7, 8, and 9.

The Upper and Middle Level ISEE is a 5-part, 2 hour and 40-minute test with two breaks lasting between 5 and 10 minutes each. The ISEE Lower Level is a 5-part, 2 hour and 20-minute test with two breaks lasting between 5 and 10 minutes each.

Students will be tested on their knowledge of vocabulary, reading, writing, and math.

High achieving students at competitive schools should have already learned most of the tested concepts by the end of their first semester in 8th grade (Upper Level) or the end of their first semester in 6th grade (Middle Level) or 4th grade (Lower Level).

However, there will be some questions that ask about concepts that students have not learned as the Upper Level ISEE is taken by students applying to grades as high as 12, the Middle Level is taken by students applying to both grades 7 and 8, and the Lower Level is taken by students applying to both grades 5 and 6.

The ISEE is both an achievement and a reasoning test. Achievement tests strive simply to determine if a student has learned something they were taught. A reasoning test goes a step further to determine if a student can leverage what they were taught to reason their way through related but new and novel concepts.

To this extent, there are four, scored sections of the ISEE – two that test reading and vocabulary skills (Verbal Reasoning and Reading Comprehension) and two that test math skills (Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement).

​The best predictors of a student’s success on the ISEE are good grades in school in core academic subjects like math, science, English, and history. ​

​Therefore the best way for a student to prepare is to ensure that they’re doing well in core subjects well before a few months before they plan to take the ISEE.

Next up are standard good test-taking practices:

  1. Determine target score & what it takes to achieve
  2. Know the content and format of the ISEE
  3. Identify subject areas that are weak

Core academics are king. There are no amount of tips and tricks that will help students ace the ISEE if they do not know how to do division or punctuate a sentence.

Learn more about the ISEE at our Advice & Resources page.

Upper/Middle Level ISEE overview video by General Academic Founder Shelby Joe. Read much more about the ISEE at Piqosity.

Lower Level ISEE overview video by General Academic Founder Shelby Joe. Read much more about the ISEE at Piqosity.

ISEE Test Prep FAQs

Are there public schools that are just as good as private schools?2023-08-15T13:33:16-05:00

As the fourth largest public school district in the United States, Houston is fortunate to offer some exceptional public schools.

Our research shows that elementary school desirability and performance are directly related to the wealth of the surrounding neighborhood. Therefore top schools inside the city include River Oaks, West University, Horn (Bellaire), Poe (Southampton), and Roberts (University Place).

At the high school level, Houston’s best public schools are application-only magnet schools like Carnegie Vanguard, DeBakey, and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Click here to read our analysis of Houston’s magnet school lottery. 


Do private schools provide the best education?2023-08-15T13:25:26-05:00

We could debate this topic ad nauseam! Some Houston private schools like St. John’s, Kinkaid, and Strake Jesuit routinely boast of an exceptional number of students who score in the top 1% on the PSAT. However, ultimately the definition of “best” is different for each family, and indeed each child.

Click here to read our analysis of PSAT National Merit Semifinalists by school. 

How much do Houston private schools cost?2023-08-15T13:21:08-05:00

For the 2023-2024 academic year, the average Houston private school costs $25,674, which was up 6% from the previous year. Catholic schools were generally 20% cheaper.

Click here to read our annual analysis of Houston-area private school tuition. 

When and where do students take the ISEE?2023-08-15T13:17:13-05:00

Students are generally able to take the ISEE twice during the application cycle. In Houston, we recommend that students take the ISEE in mid-November and again in early January (if they were unhappy with their first attempt).

Students generally take the test either at their current school (for terminal middle schools) or at the school to which they’re applying.

Registration opens August 1st and does fill up, so parents should register as early as possible.

Click here to see the 2023-2024 ISEE test dates and locations in Houston.

What type of improvement do students see when preparing for the ISEE?2023-08-15T13:13:11-05:00

While it’s impossible for us to guarantee specific improvements given every student’s unique situation, our research shows that the average General Academic student improves by 1.4 stanines or up to 20 percentile ranks.

Click here to read our analysis about student score improvement. 

What is a good score on the ISEE test?2023-08-15T13:10:36-05:00

The ISEE is a peer-normed test graded along a normal curve, which is split into 9, evenly divided sections. Scores of 4, 5, and 6 are average while scores of 7, 8, and 9 are highest. A 1 approximately represents the bottom 3% of test-takers while a 9 represents the top 3% of test-takers.

In Houston, students applying to the most academically rigorous private schools like Annunciation Orthodox, St. John’s, Kinkaid, Strake Jesuit, or St. Agnes tend to have the best chances of admission with scores of 7 or higher.

Larger private schools with a more academically diverse population like Episcopal, Houston Christian, or St. Pius are more welcoming of average scores of 5 and 6.

When do students start preparing for the ISEE?2023-08-15T13:10:21-05:00

About half of General Academic’s more than 300 ISEE students start preparing by the end of August. When preparing for a standardized test, the most important tools are a diagnostic test and time. Students need to know where they are and how far they need to go to meet their goals.

Click here to read our analysis about when when Houston students start preparing for the ISEE. 

Stephen Hayes leads our ISEE test preparation services. He is the co-founder of General Academic and lead author of, “ISEE Upper Level Prep Guide and 6 Full-Length Practice Tests.”

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