Most students in Houston start researching ISEE prep in March and start tutoring by August the year they apply to a private school, with applications typically due in December and January. So, when is the ideal time to start preparing for this important test? Let’s take a closer look at the trends and insights specific to Houston students.

First, take a look at the above chart, which shows two things: a line (right axis) that represents monthly research into ISEE tutoring in Houston as measured by unique pageviews to General Academic’s ISEE tutoring website, and bars (left axis) that show the number of General Academic students receiving ISEE tutoring across the season. We can glean some key insights from these data:

  1. Research begins in Spring: By the end of the previous school year, about one-third of ISEE prep research has been done, and that number increases to about two-thirds by the end of summer. Meaning: by the time school starts back up, the most dedicated students already have their tutoring plan figured out!
  2. Practice begins in Summer: By August, about half of all students receiving ISEE tutoring from General Academic have already begun lessons!

If you’re a student in Houston aiming to apply to independent schools, you’ll likely need to submit your ISEE scores by the second week of January at the latest. Therefore, it’s recommended that Houston students begin their preparation well in advance to ensure they have ample time to master the required skills.

When should I start practicing for the ISEE?

Now is the time to get things moving! Ideally, you would have already established a practice schedule to begin in June, but you still have plenty of time to make one work for you now. Don’t worry, it’s still early in the timeline for your preparations.

It’s important to note that starting early doesn’t mean you have to dive headfirst into intense preparation. Instead, consider beginning with a diagnostic test (2.5-3 hours depending on your grade level) to gauge your current standing. This initial assessment will provide valuable insights into the areas that require more attention and allow you to create a personalized study plan.

Why the emphasis on early preparation? Here are a few key reasons:

  1. Familiarity and Confidence: By researching the ISEE and initiating the preparation process early on, you demonstrate your awareness of the test and your commitment to being well-prepared. Taking a mock ISEE test at your earliest convenience will help you gauge your current level and enable you to plan your preparation accordingly.
  2. Mastering Core Academics: Success on standardized tests like the ISEE relies heavily on having a strong foundation in core academic subjects. No amount of tips and strategies can substitute for a deficiency in basic academic skills. If you need to brush up on certain concepts or skills, it’s crucial to allocate sufficient time for remediation, especially if reading is an area of weakness. Additionally, it is important to note that the ISEE assesses not only skills students are expected to know already, but also skills they likely have not yet been exposed to; this is especially true for math concepts. It can help to become familiar with key concepts of next-level mathematics.
  3. Allowing for Adequate Preparation Time: In the game of life, having enough time is always better than feeling rushed and ill-prepared. Starting early will alleviate unnecessary stress and allow you and your child to feel confident and prepared on test day. Remember, cramming for the ISEE is not effective; you can’t magically acquire the ability to manipulate fractions or comprehend main ideas by cramming at the last minute.

How is the ISEE test scored and what is a good score in Houston?

Historically, the two most popular test dates in Houston fall in the months of November and January. While students can take the ISEE up to three times a year, most schools reviewing in-cycle applications will only accept scores from the two testing periods between August and March. These testing periods are as follows:

  1. August to November (some Houston schools only want results from after September)
  2. December to March (application deadlines for most Houston schools are in early January)
  3. April to July (usually for off-cycle applicants only)

It’s worth noting that Houston doesn’t have “national test dates” like the ACT or SAT. The exact test dates available in Houston will depend on the private school hosting the test. As such, most students take the ISEE first in October/November and then again in December/January if they didn’t get the scores they wanted the first time.

If your child has the time, then it is highly recommended that they plan to take the ISEE twice. Multiple test attempts have been scientifically proven to help students consistently improve their scores.

Test dates do fill up so it’s best practice to register for the ISEE test as early as possible. Be sure to register directly with the administrator ERB, and keep in mind that the registration cost is typically around $175.

Click here to view a full list of ISEE test dates for Houston students. Additionally, here are test dates for a few select Houston schools:

How do I prepare for the ISEE?

To ensure effective preparation, consider the following steps:

  1. Take a full-length practice test as a diagnostic tool. We offer these tests on most Saturdays for current and prospective clients.
  2. Review and reinforce math concepts tested on the ISEE.
  3. Read extensively and study vocabulary words.
  4. Learn and practice fundamental test-taking strategies.
  5. Take at least two more practice tests to solidify knowledge and become familiar with the test format.

Considering the steps outlined above, the average student should dedicate around 30-60 hours to ISEE preparation, including both regular tutoring sessions and homework. Spreading this time over four to six months would mean investing approximately 12 hours per month or just 3 hours per week.

Typical ISEE Prep Timeline in Houston

Parents may initially perceive this as a significant amount of test preparation. However, it’s important to recognize that most of this time is dedicated to ensuring your child is comfortable with the tested skills in math, reading, and vocabulary. Ultimately, preparing for the ISEE is more about ensuring your child is on par with their peers in core academic subjects than simply focusing on test preparation.

What is a good ISEE score?

Remember, a good ISEE score is relative to your peers. Scores in the stanine range of 7, 8, or 9 are considered good, while scores of 4, 5, and 6 are average, and scores of 1, 2, and 3 are below average. It’s important to consider the schools to which you are applying when determining what constitutes a good score.

Now that you have a better understanding of the ideal preparation timeline for Houston students, you can make informed decisions and help your child excel on the ISEE test. For more guidance on tutoring or comprehensive prep guides tailored to the ISEE Upper, Middle, or Lower Levels, reach out to General Academic for the region’s best at-home and in-office tutoring!

Remember, early preparation sets the foundation for success. Start planning now to give your child the best chance to shine on the ISEE and secure admission to the school of their dreams.

Learn More about General Academic’s ISEE Analysis, Products, and Services


  • Samuel Pearson

    Samuel Pearson is General Academic's Associate Manager. He graduated from Rice University in 2017 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science & Visual and Dramatic Arts. Before joining General Academic's team in 2023, Samuel was a high school teacher and technical director at a premier independent school in Houston.

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