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ISEE Prep Guide: 10 Tips for Acing the Exam

If you’re hoping your child will land a spot at a private high school next fall, it’s time to start preparing her for the Independent School Entrance Exam, better known as the ISEE.

The ISEE, a standard assessment of reasoning and achievement skills for students in grades 5 through 12, will be an important factor in your child’s admission decision, and ISEE prep cannot be ignored.

To help set your child up for success, read our ten tips for acing the exam.

1. Come Up With Your Own Answers Before Reading The Choices

This tip applies specifically to ISEE prep for the verbal reasoning section.

The test’s “tricks” aren’t in the questions; they’re in the answers. Defend yourself against the test makers by thinking of your own answer before reading the answer choices the test provides you. Pick the answer closest to the one you thought up, not the answer that “sounds” the best or the fanciest.

2. Read, Read, Read

The is perhaps the best ISEE prep you can do. Reading helps sharpen your mind, broaden your knowledge of the world, deepen your understanding of people, expand your vocabulary and develop your reasoning skills.

Make sure you are consistently reading high-quality books. Try tackling a few that might advance your reading level, like these 10 most commonly read books in high school.

3. Build Your Vocabulary

As you read, look up any unfamiliar words. Learning words in context will help you remember what these vocabulary words mean when you see them again on the ISEE.

Identify common word roots, prefixes and suffixes. For a list of the ones you should study and learn, click here.

4. Know The Test And How It Is Scored

You don’t want any surprises come test day. Make yourself as familiar as possible with the test format.

Familiarize yourself with the five different sections of the ISEE:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics achievement
  • Essay

The sections always appear in that order. All questions (except the essay) are multiple choice.

Take the time to look at sample tests so you know what the test will look like and what kinds of questions you should expect to see.

The test is scored three ways: with a raw score between 760 and 940, a percentile score of 1-99 comparing you to other students in the nation, and a stannic score of 1-9, an abbreviated version of your percentile score.

Most private schools focus on the percentile. If you would like to get accepted at an above average school, you will need to score in the top 50th percentile. The most elite schools will want your scores to fall in the top 85th percentile.

5. Manage Your Time

The number of questions and length of each section varies based on your grade level, though the essay is always 30 minutes. Do research during your ISEE prep to learn how much time you will have and know what to expect.

Make sure you leave yourself time to get through each section and plan accordingly. This means if you get stuck on a problem, guess and move on. Do not spend a significant amount of time on any one question.

6. Answer Every Question

There’s no deduction for a wrong answer, and considering the test is multiple choice, there’s no need to leave anything blank. If you don’t know an answer, guess. Make strategic guesses whenever possible, or work by process of elimination. When all else fails, fill in something random.

Keep an eye on the clock. If you are running out of time on a section, make sure you “tree” in answers, or randomly fill in answers, for the remaining questions. After all, you have a 1 in 4 chance of choosing the correct one!

7. Keep A Positive Attitude

Pukekohe High School states that “positive learning experiences create confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners.” Make this experience as positive as possible!

The ISEE is designed to be difficult, so do not get discouraged. You aren’t expected to know all of the answers the way you are on a school test.

Additionally, the ISEE groups many grade levels together. If you are an 8th grader taking the Upper-Level ISEE for grades 8 through 11, you aren’t going to be able to answer as many questions as an 11th grader would. Do not fret! This is why you are scored by a percentile, compared to other students of your own grade level.

If you find that the high-pressure nature of ISEE prep is getting you down, try these mental wellness tips to help you regain your confidence.

8. Be Ready For Test Day

Prepare yourself physically and mentally the day before the test as well as the morning of. Here are some important tips:

  • Take a day off before the test. Give your brain a break, and don’t do any ISEE prep work.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Might seem obvious, but it is oh so important if you want to be at your sharpest!
  • On the morning of, eat a good breakfast.
  • Wear comfortable clothes, and bring layers. You never know if the testing room will be cold or hot, and you don’t want your discomfort to distract you.
  • Wear a watch to help keep you on track with time management.
  • Bring extra pencils.
  • Leave your cell phone at home! You don’t want to risk invalidating your scores.

9. Get Prepared

Consider hiring a tutor. ISEE prep tutors can help you dissect the exam and teach your strategies for conquering the difficult questions and avoiding the traps.

You can try one-on-one tutoring or tutoring in a group class setting. Some tutoring companies and individual tutors even offer online tutoring as an option. Think about how you learn best and what financial resources are available to you, and choose accordingly.

10. Take Practice Tests

This is so, so important to best prepare you for test day. Take timed practice tests in one sitting, just the way you will be required to do for the real exam.

The ISEE requires quite a lot of stamina, and without practice, you won’t be able to build the endurance necessary.

What’s more, taking practice tests will help you identify and target your weaknesses. Doing so will help you use your ISEE prep time more efficiently and effectively.

The more practice exams you take, the less daunting test day will be.

Many factors can affect your child’s admission decision. Check out these 4 crazy secrets to earning higher grades and help your child get prepared on all fronts.

The ISEE may play a large role in determining your child’s fate for the next four years, but it’s just the first of many high-pressure tests your child will face in the near future.

Transforming your student’s mindset for the ISEE will not only help them get into the best private school out there, but it can also set them up for success when it’s time to face the even more challenging ACT.