Last Updated On: February 15th, 2021

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

Sections and Strategies

Angela: What section or strategy did you feel needed the most of your attention?

Ariana: I would say more of the math and reading. Because math I kind of really had to pay attention and do all my work and double check my work. Whereas when you’re doing reading and verbal you’re just looking at the question and just putting your answer in. Like there’s no extra work really necessary. Well the reading did have a little bit, but you know the math I really had to make sure I wasn’t making any careless mistakes there. So the math got my full undivided attention. The reading too. I reread the reading passages a lot, parts that were a little bit more confusing. You know, went back to my questions, made sure my answers made sense.

Do you think you had to spend a little bit more time with any of the strategies too?

Honestly, not really. I think the reading strategies were definitely helpful in identifying the type of questions and reordering how I did them.

Math, again there weren’t that many concepts that I had to learn. I think reviewing some of the older concepts was important. The ones that I had done in early middle school.

Yes, like fractions, decimals. Things that you’re like “What? I haven’t seen this in years!”

I know. I remember proportions we had to go back and work on. Because I did a little bit of work on that but forgot.

How did you approach the verbal reasoning section? I know you think this is your weakest section.

For verbal, along with using the strategies, I just really went with my gut and how I felt about it. I mean, for synonyms, I did as much as I could using roots and prefixes and identifying all that stuff and eliminating. But then at the end of the day I just kind of went with what I thought made sense, what I thought was the best answer and I think that was helpful. I definitely did better than I expected in the verbal section!

And then the sentence completion. That wasn’t something I struggled with as much beforehand, but again just kind of plugging in words and seeing what made the most sense in the sentence. So that one I especially went with how I felt and my feelings.

Wonderful, strategies and your gut. Love the combo. Now you came into the admissions test with a frustration for the reading comprehension section. Can you tell me more about your frustrations with this? What do you think was more difficult in this section? Was it the structure of the reading passages or was it the individual question types that triggered you?

I think it’s a little bit of a mix of both. I think more of the structure though. Because every time I tried to go through the questions and first order them, you know the actual thing [reading passage] would just pop up right in front of it. I had to find the x button to close it out. Then go back to the other ones to actually answer them. Then there we go, popping up again. I think just that structure, it took away a lot of time. So I was kind of rushing at the end and kind of had a panic, you know a mini panic.

A mini panic attack?

Yup. So I think the structure [of the at-home test reading comprehension section]. And then again like I said kind of the wording of the actual paragraphs. The actual writing.

The questions weren’t that bad. They made sense to me. There were a couple, I don’t really remember which, but like a couple on the wording. A couple of the inference questions…the wording of those kinda threw me off a little bit. But it was mainly the passage itself.

Good to know. I was thinking inference questions too. That’s interesting you confirmed they were the toughest.

There was like one or two in there that were just, I had no clue.

Brutal. They can sneak up. Did you end up using strategies very much in the math section? Or did you kind of avoid them because you didn’t feel you needed them.

I didn’t really think about them that much. I just kind of went in there and just did it. I think the strategies are definitely helpful to learn and I did apply them to some of the questions. Especially elimination and guess and check. And plugging in and working backwards. For some of those that didn’t come as easily I definitely used the strategies as my second option.

You know I used to say this a lot. Once you know the math, you know it. Do you think that was true for you after you learned new concepts like trigonometry?

Yes, definitely. I actually had to take another exam for a charter school that I was applying to. The math definitely came in handy again. I still applied those strategies by the way on that test too.

Ah, good! Using that test prep!

Again some of them were basic math but when I didn’t know I used the strategies.

Test Prep Tips from the Pro

If there was something you could share with other students taking the ISEE what insider tips or suggestions would you give them?

Definitely just be confident in yourself. Honestly, you put all this time and effort in. Definitely don’t doubt yourself. If you are feeling nervous like I did before, try not to be. Think positive thoughts about the test day. You know you’ll do fine.

Stay on top of your work and try to motivate yourself. Think about where this will get you if you put the effort into taking the test. Then you will have a better chance of getting into the private school that you want to get into. Look into the future and think more positive thoughts and feel confident about yourself.

Is there anything you absolutely MUST recommend test-takers try? Any study plan, etc?

I think doing an overview on all three, four sections. You know verbal reasoning, math, reading comprehension. There were obviously some I focused on more. I did more verbal and reading than I did math, but I definitely still took the time on math. You know if you feel confident in one section, try not to be overconfident in yourself. I know that’s kind of countering what I just said.

Haha. That’s ok!

You know just go through all the topics and definitely don’t focus way too much on one thing. Because then you might forget things from a topic you’re not taking that much time on. I definitely went through all the different sections, you know, math, reading, and verbal.

You know one topic we didn’t talk about yet and I just realized I didn’t ask any questions about…

The Essay!

Yeah! The Essay! How did you feel about the question you were given and your confidence in your answer and your preparation?

So I’m pretty sure the specific question I was given was “What’s the most helpful technology to use in the 21st century?” So it was obviously a personal question. Myself as a writer, I definitely write fast. You know, I’m able to write an essay in the time slot that was given. I know that not all people have that strength in writing. It wasn’t something that I needed that much time on because I felt like writing came a little bit more naturally to me, but obviously if it’s something a student needs time on, then definitely go over that.

Definitely take a few minutes to plan it out. I know you’ll want to start writing right away. Try not to waste any time, but definitely take those few minutes to plan everything out because then you’ll write a whole smooth essay. And absolutely go over it at the end and know how much you can write. If you think you can only write one or two paragraphs in the time given, then write one or two good paragraphs and go over all of that. And then if you have time you can try to write a third one. Do how much you know you can do.

That’s cool. Know your limitations before you start.

Because you don’t want to aim to write a whole three, four paragraph essay when you’re going to run out of time.

Yes, absolutely. Good suggestion on that. Did you have any follow up writing samples for schools?

No, I did not, but for the schools I applied to in Atlanta for 8th grade there were some writing questions that I had to do.

Would you say they were similar to the ISEE essay?

I think so. I remember, they were personal questions. They were asking you know, “if you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would you meet?” You know, stuff like that. “What’s your favorite book or your favorite quote from a book?” Definitely personal questions similar to the ISEE.

For a closer look at the ISEE Essay structure, check out my latest blog on the ISEE essay: What To Expect On The ISEE Essay

Interviews

Yeah. And what did you think of the interview process? Do you think you’re getting the same experience you would have had in a non-COVID world?

It’s very different. There were definitely some perks to it, like I was able to have little note cards on the side of my computer. Because I was kind of freaking out about the interview. At the same time I kinda had my parents eavesdropping in to like…

Haha. Shout answers at you?

Well my mom was sitting there for the first two questions and then left. Because I don’t want to say something that they’ll think is wrong to say. That was a little more stressful whereas in person they obviously weren’t with me. So that was different. I think I kind of like the in-person interview because I was able to see the school at the same time, interact more with the person who’s interviewing me. So I think there are major differences, but it still wasn’t that bad honestly.

To view a helpful resource Ariana used for the ISEE and SSAT, check out Test Innovators: Test Innovators | Prep for Success. They offer ISEE practice tests and a number of questions for every grade level. After each test is taken you receive your stanine scores and have the opportunity to compare your percentile in each section to those of your peers applying to your chosen private school.

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