Exam School Application Checklist & ISEE Test Prep Guide


This guide is an overview of exam schools for students and families who are currently in 6th or 8th grade during the 2019-2020 school year. 

Important 2019 Exam School Update: ISEE Exam Registration Deadline EXTENDED

  • BPS has extended online registration for BPS 6th grade students only; you can register your BPS 6th grader online here until 5 PM, Friday, Oct. 11.
  • The ISEE exam—the FREE test required for application to one of Boston’s three exam schools—will take place on Thursday, Nov. 7 in school for all BPS 6th graders.
  • All other eligible students—non-BPS 6th graders and all BPS and non-BPS 8th and 9th graders—may register on-site for the ISEE exam on Saturday, Nov. 23 at Boston Latin Academy, beginning at 8 AM.
  • Here’s a list of what students who register for the ISEE on-site must bring with them.
  • You can also text “EXAM” to 33777 to register right from your phone.

What Are Exam Schools?

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has three “exam schools” for students in grades 7–12. Boston’s exam schools are: Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. (Other areas of the country may refer to these types of schools as “magnet schools.”) Entry into these exam schools is determined by the student’s grades and their performance on a standardized test.

How Do I Choose Which Exam School I Want to Attend?

Each exam school accepts students entering grade 7 and another group of students in grade 9. The O’Bryant School also accepts a small number of students entering grade 10. You can learn more about exam schools here from BPS and by viewing each exam school’s profile here at our website:

Admission into exam schools is based on a student admission score made up of: 

  • Grade Point Average (GPA) 

  • ISEE Test Scores 

50 percent of a student’s admission score is determined by their GPA while the other 50 percent of their admission score is determined by test scores from the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), a national standardized exam.

We recommend visiting any school that you are seriously considering attending. You can find our School Visit Checklist here

Who Is Eligible to Apply for & Attend Exam Schools?

All of the following must be true:

  1. Students must be currently enrolled in 6th, 8th, or 9th grade (O’Bryant only) to apply; and 

  2. Students must reside in the City of Boston. Proof of residency is required for students not currently attending Boston Public Schools. 

What Is the ISEE? 

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is a national, standardized test created by an organization called the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). BPS uses this test to determine admission into one of its three exam schools. The ISEE is free of charge for all eligible students residing in the City of Boston. Students who are interested in attending one of Boston’s exam schools must take the ISEE in order to apply. Preparation for the exam is strongly encouraged.

The test is timed and includes four multiple choice sections in English Language Arts and Mathematics. There are four versions of the ISEE, based on grade groups; the Middle Level test is used for exam school candidates entering grade 7 and the Upper Level test is used for exam school candidates entering grades 9 and 10.

Boston School Finder recommends all interested students in grades 6, 8, and 9 register for and take the ISEE to increase their number of school choice options for grades 7 through 12.

When Do Students Take the ISEE?

Boston Public Schools will change how they administer ISEE in the fall of 2019. Previously, the ISEE was only offered on the weekend. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, current BPS 6th graders will have the opportunity to take the ISEE in their school, during the school day in November. All non-BPS 6th graders and all students in grades 8 and 9 can take the ISEE during a Saturday in November. Students who cannot sit for the Saturday administration due to their religious beliefs may take the test during a special administration held on a Sunday in November. (See our checklist and timeline for exact dates.)

After the test, all students will receive an individual ISEE test score report mailed to their home address in December.

My Student Has an IEP and/or Needs ELL Services. Can They Still Take the ISEE?

Yes. Students with disabilities and/or limited English proficiency may qualify to receive accommodations which allow them to fully participate in a testing situation. Parents must request these test accommodations in advance by the ISEE registration deadline using the Request Form for Testing Accommodations, available here at the BPS website or by filling out the paper registration form in the ISEE bulletin.

For complete information about requesting test accommodations for your child, please visit the BPS website.

When & How to Register for the ISEE

You can either register online for the ISEE or complete a paper registration form. You can register online at www.bostonpublicschools.org/exam. The paper registration form, along with an ISEE informational bulletin, are available at your child’s school, all Boston Public Libraries, all BPS Welcome Centers, and available here to download and print at home.

Click here to register for the 2019 ISEE Test. The deadline to register is Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

How Should a Student Prepare for the ISEE?

There are many ways to prepare for the test, including:

What to Expect on the ISEE Guide

The makers of the ISEE, Educational Records Bureau (ERB), have a comprehensive guide to help test takers better understand the general format of the test, the test directions, the types of test items, and the answer sheet. The guide also includes a practice test. 

What to Expect on the ISEE is free to download from the ERB website. Hard copies are available for purchase for $20 from ERB. Hard copies are also available at each of the district’s four Welcome Centers and can be borrowed from your local library. What to Expect on the ISEE is also available as a free interactive website from the ERB.

Test Preparation Program: Exam School Initiative

The Exam School Initiative (ESI) strives to increase diversity in the three Boston exam schools. The program utilizes certified Boston Public Schools’ ELA and Math teachers to assist students in preparing for the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) in November. The annual program hosted at Boston Latin School runs for two weeks in August with fall refresher courses in the weeks leading up to the ISEE exam. Please visit the BPS website for more information about ESI.

The Steppingstone Academy

The Steppingstone Academy prepares motivated, underserved students for acceptance to and success at top independent, Catholic, and public exam schools in the greater Boston area. To be eligible, applicants must be residents of the City of Boston and currently in their fourth or fifth grade year. Learn more about how to apply to this free preparation program at the The Steppingstone Academy website.

Additional ISEE Preparation Options

Depending on the school your child attends, your school may offer their own ISEE prep classes. There are also many private, for-pay options out there, but know that these private test prep courses can be expensive. You can find private ISEE test prep services by searching Google for “ISEE test prep in Boston.”

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