ISEE – 10 Useful ISEE Tips for Preparation

Table of Contents

1. Don’t Study Above Your Level
There are three levels of tests that comprise the ISEE — lower, middle, and upper. Often, a test preparation company will advertise “ISEE Preparation” without specifying the level — this usually means upper-level only! Don’t study above your level! Students who should be preparing for the lower level ISEE should not be struggling to understand concepts that apply only to upper-level students! Instead of searching for ISEE preparation, search for your specific level, i.e. “ISEE Lower Level Preparation.” Which test your student needs to be take depends on the grade he or she is entering. Prospective fifth and sixth graders take the lower level; students entering seventh and eighth grade take the middle level; students seeking admission to high school (ninth through twelfth grades) take the upper level test. Parents might be tempted to help their students for a test above their level, in hopes that the content covered on the lower tests will be superseded by the more difficult material. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. According to the ERB, who administers the test, it’s best to prepare for your own test level.
2. Begin Studying Early
Like any other exam, the ISEE requires diligent and steady practice to master. The best way to prepare your child is to begin early. Studies have consistently shown that it’s important to begin studying well in advance and not to cram. To begin, you should read What to Expect on the ISEE, a free guide issued by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) which administers the exam. After this, you should begin working with your student at home and research various professional ISEE lower/mid/upper-level preparation courses. Don’t leave preparation to the last moment!
3. Know What’s on the Test in Advance
Standardized tests like the ISEE, with all the pressure and constraints they place upon the test-taker, are challenging. Why not make it easier by knowing what’s going to be on the test in advance? There are five sections on the ISEE: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematics achievement, and an essay. Each section has a limited scope that is outlined in the ERB’s What to Expect on the ISEE. By knowing what material is covered on the exam, you can help your student focus their study to do their best on the ISEE. If your child needs help with specific topics, you should consider seeking professional test preparation, preferably a company which specializes in the correct level of the ISEE, to help make the most of your child’s educational opportunities.
4. Take Practice Tests
While studying the material on the test is an essential part of any preparation program, students must also be ready for the restrictions and time limits the ISEE imposes upon test-takers. Many test-takers face difficulty when timed or under pressure. The best way to mitigate anxiety and nervousness is to become comfortable with the structure of the test by taking many practice exams which reflect the structure of the real test-timed, without calculators, etc. Professional ISEE test preparation can be very helpful in this regard, but be conscious of whether companies use real ISEE exams or simulated ones. The makers of the ISEE limit access to good preparation materials; consequently, many third-party books available on the Internet and through some companies will attempt to simulate test questions — but in the end there is no substitute for the real thing. The best preparation materials will come from established test preparation companies like Testmasters, Kaplan, or Princeton Review, which have a history of helping people prepare for the ISEE.
5. Practice Writing Essays
Even though the ISEE essay is ungraded, your student’s ISEE essay plays a critical role in the admissions process and cannot be neglected. The essay is sent on to the schools the student is applying to, where it is read by admissions committees. These committees will primarily be looking at the levels of maturity and organization displayed by your student’s essay; admissions officers will be most impressed by how clearly and coherently a student can communicate with written English. Another tip: don’t be negative! Nobody will admit a candidate who talks about how much he hates school, no matter how well the essay is written. Use practice essays from the ERB to start off with; consider ISEE test preparation programs that can provide professional feedback and guidance on essays.
6. Make a study plan
Making a plan is the most important step to increasing an ISEE score.  The earlier students can begin studying the better! Ideally, they should begin studying and practicing for the ISEE at least 3 months before their scheduled exam.  Students should set aside 10 minutes each day to review vocabulary words and 1-2 hours twice a week to practice strategies and complete practice problems. By doing this, they will slowly build their vocabulary and gain new skills without being overwhelmed.  As the exam date approaches, they can practice more than 2 hours twice a week. Consistent practice is the key to increased test scores!
7. Guessing

There is no penalty for guessing on the ISEE.  Therefore, even if students get a question wrong, their score will not decrease, which makes strategic guessing a great way to gain extra points! There are two scenarios where guessing should occur.

1. Students come across a question and have no idea what the answer is

No matter how much students practice and study, there is a chance that they will come across a few questions that they simply do not know the answer to.  They’ve tried all the possible strategies and still can’t get to the correct answer. At this point, they should take a guess and move on. Remember, this is a timed test, so they want to try to answer as many questions as possible before time runs out.

2. Students run out of time and still have questions left to answer.

Because the ISEE is a timed test, students must complete each section in a given amount of time.  This is not always possible and they may be left with some questions unanswered in the end. Don’t leave those questions blank because that means they definitely won’t get any points for them! Even if they don’t have a chance to read the question because they ran out of time, they should fill in an answer anyways.  This way, they have a chance of getting the correct answer and gaining points rather than leaving it blank.

8. Crossing out

Crossing out answer choices is a great strategy to use when students are unsure what the answer is.  The more answer choices they can cross off, the better chance they have of choosing the correct answer.  Typically there will be two obvious wrong answer choices, one close answer choice, and the best answer. If they are able to cross off the two that are obviously wrong, then they have a 50% chance of getting the correct answer with only two options left.  In the verbal reasoning section, use strategies such as prefixes and context to eliminate answer choices. In the math sections, use estimation and working backwards to eliminate answer choices. These strategies will enable students to cross out some answer choices to have a better chance of choosing the correct answer.

9. Timing each practice test

Each section of the ISEE has a designated amount of time in which students need to complete the questions.  One of the easiest ways to ensure a higher score is to be able to complete all the questions in the allotted time.  Students should time themselves during every practice section to get an idea of how long it takes them to complete each section.  If they finish well before the time is over, they should slow down to ensure higher accuracy. If they are unable to finish the section before the time is over, they should continue to take timed practice tests to ensure that they can finish on time.

10. Building vocabulary
Verbal reasoning is typically one of the more difficult sections for students because it contains a variety of vocabulary words that students may or may not have heard of.  One of the easiest ways to improve their score on this section is to learn new vocabulary words. By following a study plan and practicing vocabulary 10 minutes each day, they will start to embed new vocabulary into their memory.  Cramming as many vocabulary words the night before the ISEE is not recommended! Start early and students will be able to recall a higher number of vocabulary words. Another great way to build vocabulary is through regular consistent reading. This will provide exposure to new words in context which will allow for better retention of definitions.
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