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How To Ace The Independent School Entrance Examination

Updated: Feb 5

The Independent School Entrance Examination, or ISEE, is a test taken by students who are applying to independent private schools. There are 5 sections on the test – Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement, all of which are multiple choice, and an Essay at the end. You will receive scores for the first 4 sections, and the essay, while not scored, will be sent along with your scores to your prospective schools.

The format, length, and content of the ISEE are very predictable. By practicing and following some simple strategies, you can get ready to ace the ISEE!

1. Practice, Practice, Practice.

The most important thing you can do to get ready for the test is to practice. Although the questions vary from one version of the test to another, the length, format, and types of questions are the same. At first, you should practice answering questions without regard to timing. After you are comfortable with the test, you can begin timing yourself.

2. Learn from your mistakes.

After you take a section of a practice test, go back and review your “misses.” Try to understand why you selected the incorrect answer. Look for patterns – that is, types of questions that you seem to miss a lot. Focus your time and attention on the types of questions that give you trouble, not on the questions that you consistently get right.

3. Track your improvement.

As you become more familiar with the test, track your improvement. Don’t be afraid to set goals. How many questions do I want to get right in this section? What is my goal for an overall score?

4. Don’t Leave Any Blanks on the Answer Sheet.

The test is multiple choice (except for the essay), and there is no penalty for guessing, so don’t leave any answer sheet bubbles blank. If you don’t understand the question, or it is taking too long to answer, guess and move on to the next question. If you are running out of time, make sure to fill in any remaining bubbles at the end.

5. Strategies for Each Test Section.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section contains synonym and sentence completion questions. For the synonym questions, try to anticipate what the answer will be before you look at the answer choices. Sometimes it is helpful to think of a sentence in which the word is used to determine its meaning. If you can’t find the right answer, try using process of elimination to rule out incorrect answers. For sentence completion questions, each sentence will contain one or more clue words that tip you off at to what the missing word will be. If a question has 2 blanks rather than one, try tackling the blanks one at a time.

Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics Achievement

There are 2 math sections on the test. The first, called Quantitative Reasoning, has 2 types of questions – word problems and quantitative comparisons. The word problems test you on math topics like algebra, geometry, ratios, and percentages. The quantitative comparison questions require you to determine which of 2 amounts, the one in Column A or the one Column B, is greater, or they are the same, or you don’t have enough information to decide which is greater. The Mathematics Achievement section tests you on the math you have learned in school over the years. Don’t worry if some of the questions look unfamiliar - because each version of the test is given to more than one grade level, you may not have studied some of the math concepts.

Although you are not permitted to use your phone or a calculator on any section of the test, you definitely should use the space in the test booklet to work out math calculations in the math sections.

Reading Comprehension

The test also has a Reading Comprehension section. You will be given a series of short passages, each of which is followed by a number of questions. You may find it helpful to underline or make marks in the passage as you read to help you focus on the main ideas.


The final section of the test is the Essay. Although it is not graded, schools use it to assess your writing ability. As with any short essay, you should take a few minutes at the beginning to brainstorm ideas and organize your thoughts before beginning to write. Since you only have 30 minutes, your essay may be only a couple of paragraphs long. Try to leave a few minutes at the end to proofread and make edits.

6. Common-Sense Tips.

Finally, here are a few common-sense tips to make sure you are ready to go on test day.

  • It’s a long test, so get a good night’s sleep the night before and eat a hearty breakfast.

  • Bring a water bottle, a snack, a watch (the clock in the room may be broken or behind you), and 4 pencils and 2 black or blue pens (pencils for the answer sheet and pens for the essay).

  • Pace yourself during the test and focus your time on the questions you can answer.

If you have prepared thoroughly and followed these strategies and tips, you should be ready to do well on the ISEE. Good luck!

The Whole Kid’s ISEE guru, David Bell, a former high school English teacher and current Liverpool fanatic, can be reached for questions at


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