Last Updated On: February 15th, 2021

This blog is Part I of our How I Rocked My ISEE Upper Level series. To read Part II, check out: How I Rocked My ISEE Upper Level Test: Part II

Due to the pandemic the Educational Records Bureau has closed most of its paper and prometric test sites offering the primary level, lower level, middle level, and upper level Independent School Entrance Exams. Ariana was one of the first wave of students to partake in the ERB’s ISEE administered at home. High schools are still currently closed in New York City and Los Angeles, where the test is offered most regularly.

Check your test sites for their current status: ERBlearn.org: Educational Advisory Company Also for more FAQs on the new format, visit: Meet the ISEE At Home and read our blog: ISEE At Home: Taking the ISEE Exam Remotely through ProProctor.

The Online Testing Experience

Angela: Ok, so this question goes right into that online testing experience. Because I definitely wanted to ask it from YOU, from someone who is a guinea pig and ground-breaker of this new system online. What did you think about the experience overall? What was good and what was bad?

Ariana: It was definitely good. They were very quick getting me into the actual test. The whole verification was pretty easy to go through. There were multiple people I had to do different steps with. But I actually started the test earlier than my actual time. There were proctors there that I could chat with the entire time. They could see my face, my camera. And then the breaks I was able to leave my room and walk around my house if I needed to, grab a snack…

It was definitely less stressful than being in a room with everyone else doing a paper test because I was at home. It was more comfortable, but the format of the reading comprehension section is something that I think would have been nice to have a different format of that. But otherwise everything was nice and smooth and it went on well.

Well that sounds good, but oof, tell me about the PDF on the reading comprehension section. Could you highlight that PDF?

I tried to highlight certain things, but it was difficult. It took a little bit more time than it should to highlight something. And also the text, it was like, because you could change the size obviously if you wanted to…but then it was just multiple pages or difficult to scroll through or read depending on the size you chose. I think just the PDF format wasn’t very helpful.

The Test Prep

How many weeks did you have to prepare for the Upper Level ISEE?
I think I had about 2 months or a little less.

I think we worked together for something like 6 weeks. Do you wish you had more time to prepare? If you did, what would you focus on a little bit more?

I think the time we had to tutor was definitely a good amount considering I already had a background knowledge on doing these admissions tests. I think If I didn’t have that background knowledge a little bit more time would be helpful. If I had extra time I would definitely focus more on the verbal reasoning section. Doing my vocab cards and my synonyms since they’re more of my weak point. I think I would have taken the time to work on that.

When we were test prepping we had limited time and used Test Innovators online ISEE practice tests and exercises. Looking back on that now, do you think that was helpful? What about it was most/least helpful for you?

That was extremely helpful. Without that I don’t think I would have done as well as I did. I mean, the practice tests were really helpful. They gave accurate percentiles for the specific private schools I was applying to. They showed the different categories, showed me what I needed to work on. And the assignments themselves were very helpful. They were actually a little bit more difficult than the questions on the test. Which was helpful because it kind of over prepared instead of underprepared. Definitely without the Test Innovators I don’t know what I would have done.

Haha! You’re a big fan! Do you think they could make any improvements on Test Innovators?

I think, well especially because the online testing is newer, I think they should do some reading passages with the structure that was on the test. Because maybe it won’t be such a surprise to people and will help them manage their time better. The format surprised me a lot.

I completely agree with that. If you’re going to completely change one section then let’s see it. Let’s experience that beforehand.

Exactly. Because I actually feel like the format they gave on the Test Innovators…I think the actual ISEE should have taken that structure instead.

Do you think having a tutor to hold you accountable for homework and to go over the material was necessary for your success? And don’t feel like you have to say yes to butter me up!

Well I think having a tutor was obviously helpful to guide me and help assign the homework that I needed to do…but I’m already a motivated person, I think, so I didn’t need someone to make sure I was staying on top of all my work. But definitely having a tutor was helpful with kind of guiding me through the process and through different questions because obviously there was still stuff I struggled on and had no clue about. I think having a professional is definitely helpful.

Let’s not forget about another very important skill for this test, stamina! Do you think the practice tests from Test Innovators helped build your stamina?

Those were helpful yeah. Because I definitely did most of them in one sitting just to help me again build up that endurance. Some of them I split into two days to take, but those were very helpful to not just practice your test taking abilities, but just to make sure you’re able to sit there and take the test fully without falling asleep at the end.

I always had a snack and water with me. I’d always eat sugar to kinda get me all hyped up about it. That was helpful to keep me awake and finish the test off strong.

The Study Plan

Tell me about your nightly study plan. Were you able to spend a little time on the ISEE test each day? If so, what did you choose to do?

I wrote everything down honestly because that was really helpful. I would split up you know equal amounts of work per day until my next session. And also I kind of, when I got home from school and after I finished all my homework, I would just do my work kind of right away. I didn’t like take the time to go on my phone or anything because I knew I would I would be distracted and waste like an hour instead of actually doing my work.

And there were nights I took off. Like I obviously didn’t do it all day, every day. You know on the weekends sometimes I took off…you know hung out with my family and did other things. Some days I took on more work than others because I was feeling up to it, I was already kind of in that whole studying mood. And some days I felt lazy and did less. Every day kind of varied, but I tried to put my best effort into it. Tried to get it done before I could relax.

It seems like you really tapped into the idea of studying gradually. Do you think that method was a major factor in your success compared to times when you’ve approached things with one big chunk of study time?

I definitely think so because I obviously don’t want to do just 15 minutes every day. Then again I don’t want to do like 3 or 4 hours in one day. It was also depending on my mood. If I didn’t feel up to it, I didn’t force myself to do it because I knew I wouldn’t get it done correctly. I just spaced it out. A regular pattern was better than having a whole strict schedule.

Do you do that style of studying for other big tests? Do you normally break it down like that in preparation for something? A couple chunks throughout the week leading up to your test dates?

Yeah, that’s what I do. Yeah, I just took my midterms like a week ago or so. I took like 5 or 6 days before to start studying because I already knew I didn’t need that much time. The concepts I was pretty good with. I probably did like a chapter per day and spaced it out. You know for bigger tests and exams and projects I work on them a couple days before.

So this is your system. I like this!

Yeah, I’m not much of a procrastinator, thank god. I don’t save everything till the end.

That’s very good. I wish you could infuse that skill into all of my students.

I don’t know how people can leave everything till the end and get it done in time. I would be panicking. Fully.

Yeah. People love the panic though. They’re addicted to the panic. Before we leave this topic, is there any advice you want to share with other ISEE test-takers?

Take some time off. Try not to make this too stressful for yourself. For me I think I made this a little bit more stressful for myself than I should have. I didn’t take that much time off honestly. I was just kind of cooped up in my room working and you know came down for dinner, but then went back up. Definitely try not to put too much stress on yourself about this test. You know, I think if you prep you’ll be fine. You know how much you need to test prep.

What were your relaxation techniques like? The morning of and the night before?

I definitely followed your advice. I definitely recommend do not doing anything the night before. I mean my test was the day after Thanksgiving, so on Thanksgiving Day I actually didn’t even go anywhere. I was just, you know, at home with my family having Thanksgiving. So in the morning I did prep a little bit. Probably took like 15, 20 minutes just to look over some things and some concepts. But yeah, I tried not to worry the night before I went to bed. I kind of reviewed some stuff and then the morning I did too, but then put everything away and took my test. Just kinda relaxed and saved my brain cells and actual energy for the test day.

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