Prepare Your Child for the Independent Schools Entrance Examination ISEE- A Helpful Guide for Parents

Prepare Your Child for the Independent Schools Entrance Examination ISEE- A Helpful Guide for Parents

Do you have a child in your care who is preparing to sit the Independent Schools Entrance Examination (ISEE)?

If you do, you will understand how stressful a time this is for both the child and the adult. It can also be stressful to help a child deal with tackling such an important examination at such a young age. 

Naturally, given the competitive nature of young people, they want to succeed in any competition they undertake. And you, the child’s guardian, want to set them up for life by giving them the best educational opportunities you can.

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What Is the ISEE?

The test, which is administered by the Educational Records Bureau, is used for admission to independent schools and is a standardized multiple-choice test.

The test can be undertaken at three levels depending on the grade the child is seeking admission to in their chosen independent school.

  • Lower Level is administered to children seeking admission to Grades 5-6
  • The Middle Level test is administered to children who want to enter grades 7-8
  • The Upper Level test is for children preparing to enter grades 9-12

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What Is the Format of the ISEE?

The ISEE follows roughly the same format for each of the three levels. Students are tested on:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Math Achievement
  • Essay Writing

The number of questions asked and the time allowed to answer them varies a little from level to level.

  1. Lower Level has 140 minutes to answer 127 questions
  2. Middle Level is allowed 160 minutes to answer 160 questions
  3. Upper Level is likewise allowed 160 minutes to answer 160 questions

Students at all levels are also required to write an essay.

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Is the ISEE Hard?

Students are tested at the levels reached in the previous two grades. For example, students hoping to enter grades 7-8 will be tested at the levels they should have reached in grades 5-6.

Somebody looking at the system from the outside may presume this should present students with very little difficulty.

However, for the child, this can be challenging for a number of reasons.

  • They may not have studied to their optimum in the previous two grades, or life and family events may have interfered with their progress.
  • Many students will find the concept of doing an important examination at a young age daunting
  • Doing examinations within tight time limits is challenging for all exam takers

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How Can My Child Prepare for It?

The responsibility of preparing for the examination will more often than not fall on the adult’s shoulders, especially if the child is in one of the lower grades. 

For many parents, this may prove challenging, especially if this is their first time encountering these tests. Even more so if they are anxious to see their child admitted to an independent school.

However, there is help at hand. Test preparation companies are familiar with the ISEE and can provide the resources to get ready for it.

We recommend using TestPrep-Online for your child’s ISEE preparation. With thirty years of experience in preparing candidates for tests, they will provide you with a test prep pack giving you all the information you need about the tests as well as sample test papers for your child to practice on.

Working through the tests, candidates will become familiar with the style of questioning. A useful score checker will allow you to monitor their progress and identify areas where they may need extra practice. They will also learn to manage their timing while doing the sample tests.

To get an idea of the type of tests Test-Prep Online can provide your child with, here is a free sample Middle Level ISEE test paper.

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What Is Tested in Each of the ISEE Sections?

Verbal Reasoning

Here your child will be tested on synonyms and sentence completion. 

The synonym questions assess the child’s ability to recognize a word. The test will give a word and will ask the candidate to find the word that is closest to it in meaning from a list of four words.

The sentence completion questions will present the child with a sentence containing blanks. Again the child will have to find the word to fill a blank from a list of four words or phrases.

These questions test the child’s ability to understand a word. In the case of the sentence completion questions, the candidate will need to get an understanding of the overall meaning of the sentence.

Regular practice on sample questions will teach the child how to find the appropriate words as well as help them fill in any gaps in their vocabulary skills.

All levels allow 20 minutes for this test with the middle and upper levels having to answer forty questions and students at the lower level having to answer 34.

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Quantitative Reasoning

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has laid down the standards for this test. 

Algebra, geometry, measurement, analyzing data, and working with numbers and operations all feature in this section of the test. Again the questions are geared towards the level the child is at in their current school.

The test lasts for 35 minutes, with the two lower levels having to do 37 questions and the upper level 38. All levels have to do word problems where they read a piece of text and select one of 4 answers to each question.

Middle and upper level students will also have to do questions on quantitative comparisons. They will be asked to compare quantities in Column A with quantities in Column B and decide if the quantities are greater, equal, or if there is not enough information to make a decision. 

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Reading Comprehension

Students are given passages to read and have to select the correct answers to questions from a list of 4 answers per question.

The questions assess the candidate’s ability to summarize the main idea in a text and draw conclusions from the piece. They will also be asked about mood, tone, use of figurative language, and the point of view of the writer. 

Their understanding of vocabulary will be tested here as well. They will be expected to understand the meaning of a word from the context it is used in.

Candidates will have a minute per question here, with the lower level answering 25 questions in 25 minutes while the two higher levels are given 36 minutes in which to do 36 questions.

Math Achievement

In this section, candidates will have to do calculations to decide on the answers to questions. The two higher levels will have 40 minutes to 47 questions, and the lower level will have 30 minutes to do 30 questions.

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In this section, all candidates are given 30 minutes to write a short essay in response to a prompt.

Candidates can expect to have to write on topics where they generally talk about themselves and their own experiences or preferences.

They can expect prompts along the lines of their favorite place to visit, their favorite relative, the character in history they would most like to meet and why.

Practicing on sample papers will train the student to plan and outline their essay before beginning to write and will also teach them to be aware of errors they may be making in word usage, punctuation, and grammar.

Tips on Preparing for the ISEE

Preparing for the test can be demanding for a child who is already dealing with a busy routine of school and homework. However, to make the experience easier, try the following tips:

  • Begin the preparation with the student as coon as possible. Any last-minute scramble to get everything done before the test will add to the child’s stress levels and may impact their performance in the real test.
  • Make the preparation enjoyable. Children learn best when they are having fun. Turn doing the tests into a game, one that the child naturally wins!
  • Give rewards and not just for correct answers. Reward the child for effort and for giving up their precious free time for test preparation.
  • Try to keep preparation periods short and manageable.
  • Keep an eye on rest and nutrition. Even the calmest of children find test preparation difficult.

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Before the Test

The child will perform better if the day before the test can be kept free for rest and relaxation. Avoid any last-minute cramming. 

And remind them they are already a success before going in to do the test. They have put in the work. All that is left to do is to go in there and give it their best shot!

If you are preparing a student for the ISEE, you will find all the resources you need by clicking here.

Written by Elizabeth O Mahony

With 25+ years’ experience as a teacher and state examinations corrector, Elizabeth now writes for the education and careers industry. Her experience preparing students for examinations and running an academy for supplementary education give her invaluable insights into what it takes for job seekers and graduates to succeed in assessments.


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