As with other standardized admissions tests, doing well on the ISEE requires a combination of real academic achievement and test-taking savvy. In the long run, the best preparation for the ISEE is being a good student and an avid reader. In the medium term, focused test preparation can also be a great help. In the short term, just get a good nights rest. Cramming is not useful.
Many, perhaps most, students who take the ISEE will encounter at least some material that they are unfamiliar with. Sometimes, they havent learned the material in school and other times they have studied the concepts, but the ISEE presents them in a way that they dont recognize. In either case, as a tutor, my first goal is to teach students whatever curriculum that they may encounter on the test but which is new or unrecognized by them. For many students, this is where they will make the majority of their gains, at least on the mathematics portion of the test.
There are two primary test-taking techniques that are very useful on the math sections of the ISEE. One of these techniques is called plugging in, as in plug the answer choices into the question, and see which one works. The other is called picking numbers as in, pick a number, plug it into the question and then plug it into the answer choices, and when you have something that matches, you have the right answer. Of course, with the students I tutor, I go into these methods in much greater detail.
On the reading comprehension portion of the ISEE, students who read a lot always have an advantage. However, there are certain test taking techniques that benefit all students. One of my favorites is the process of elimination. When faced with a tough reading comprehension question, it often helps students to turn things around and ask themselves, Which of these do I know for sure is a wrong answer choice? In this way, they can eliminate the worst answer choices and focus more effectively on the choices that might actually prove fruitful.
Writing the essay is easy for some students and difficult for others. This is an area where practice really is the answer for kids who have a tough time. Also, I feel it is important to prepare students to write on any type of essay topic. In particular, ISEE essay topics can sometimes be uncomfortably personal. I coach students in how to successfully write on topics that they are not particularly comfortable discussing with strangers. The exact approach depends on the student, but one that often works is to write an obviously fictional and humorous response to a deeply personal and serious question. For example, if the topic were to discuss a conflict the student has had with his or her parents, I might suggest writing about the time your mother made you share your bedroom with the pony she brought home two Thursdays ago.
The ISEE is a timed test, and I have found that the time limit is a real difficulty for many students. For this reason, it is important for any student studying for the ISEE to observe the time limits given on practice tests and pay close attention to pacing. Also, it is important for students to be realistic about whether or not they can complete each section of the test. I guide my students in making this assessment- most of the time, students can complete the test, but occasionally it is better to be strategic and leave several questions undone at the end of one or more sections.
At all times, it is important to remember that the ISEE is only one portion of Independent School admissions. Schools look at test scores, but they also look at grades, personal essays, teacher recommendations, interviews and extracurricular activities. It is worth working hard to prepare for the ISEE exam, but it is just one test- it doesnt determine the path of anyones life. Keep it in perspective, and do your best.
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Article Added on Thursday, March 12, 2009
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