How to Apply to BPS Exam Schools: Everything You Need to Know

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With summer in full swing, you might not even be thinking about this coming school year, much less the next school year to come (2020-2021). However, if your child will be in 6th grade this fall (2019), it’s time to start preparing for a potential 7th grade option: one of Boston’s exam schools.

Boston has three “exam schools” which serve students in grades 7–12. Students must be currently enrolled in 6th, 8th, or 9th grade to apply and reside in the City of Boston. Admission to these schools is based on grade point average (50 percent of a student’s score) and test scores on the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), a national exam (50 percent of a student’s score). Interested students must take the ISEE and submit the exam schools on their list of preferences in January. You can learn more about exam schools here

Starting this fall, Boston Public Schools is changing how they are administering a key component of the exam school application process: taking the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Previously, the ISEE was only offered on the weekend; this year, current 6th graders will have the opportunity to take the ISEE during the school day on Thursday, November 7, 2019.

There are many steps and deadlines involved with the exam school application process, so we have compiled answers—based on resources that BPS has published—to some of your questions.

The below information is based on BPS materials on the Independent School Entrance Exam and Exam School Initiative.

Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)

What is the ISEE?

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is an admissions test used by the Boston Public Schools to determine entrance into one of three examinations schools. The test is timed and includes four multiple choice sections in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

When and where can my child take the ISEE?

  • Beginning Fall 2019, 6th grade BPS students can register to take the test at their schools during the school day on Thursday, November 7, 2019.
  • All other students may take the test on Saturday, November 9, 2019.
  • Students who cannot sit for the Saturday administration due to their religious beliefs may take the test during a special administration held on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at the Boston Latin School.
  • Students with disabilities and/or limited English proficiency may qualify to receive accommodations which allow s/he to fully participate in a testing situation.
  • Parents of students not currently attending BPS must confirm their Boston residency in person at a BPS Welcome Center by Friday, November 8, 2019.


When and how do I register for the ISEE?

Test registration materials will be distributed to all Boston area schools, all branches of the Boston Public Library, and all BPS Welcome Centers the week of September 9, 2019. Families may also submit an online registration by visiting the Boston Public Schools website.

The registration deadline for the ISEE is September 20, 2019.


Exam School Initiative (ESI)

What is the ESI? How can I participate in the ESI?

The Exam School Initiative is a two-week test preparation summer course designed to help your child prepare for the ISEE. The ESI will take place at Boston Latin School from August 12–23, 2019, Monday-Friday, from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm. Attendance for all 10 days is mandatory, so students must be able to attend the ESI in its entirety to qualify.

Boston residents including out of district students are invited to participate in the ESI based on their Terra Nova scores. Historically underrepresented Boston Public School (BPS) have been allotted extra seats for the ESI. Please contact your school directly to see if there are seats available.

How else can I prepare my child for the ISEE?

  • Educational Records Bureau (ERB): ERB, the makers of the ISEE, offers resources at their website.
  • 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.
  • ISEE Test Prep Book: The ISEE test prep book is available to download for free here or can be purchased online. You can also borrow it from your local library.
  • School-Based Prep: Depending on the school your child attends, your school may offer ISEE prep classes on their own.
  • Other Options: There are also many for pay options out there. You can find them simply searching Google.
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