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Last Updated On: May 7th, 2022

While summer is typically every student’s favorite time of year to relax and smell the roses, that doesn’t mean you can’t also prepare and get ahead in school work and tests. The ISEE or Independent School Entrance Exam administered by the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) is one such test that a student should prepare for in the summer leading up to their fall or winter test. Most kids spend anywhere from 6 months to 1 year preparing for the test based on their prior knowledge and testing level.

Here are a few ways to prepare and make strides on ISEE test preparation during the summer:

Whether your child has a busy summer planned or a more relaxed schedule, all of these pro-tips can be implemented as much or as little as time allows …

1. Take Diagnostic Tests
The principal way to begin your child’s test preparation for the ISEE is to see where they’re at. LA Tutors offers free diagnostic tests to get your child started. Once you know where the baseline score is, it’s much easier to proceed. For example, if your child gets a stanine score of (2-3) in the math sections, that’s a clear indicator they have a ton of content to learn and they need to focus primarily on math preparation this summer. If your student is further along and has already started some prep, the diagnostic test can be helpful in seeing what sticks. If your child has already covered the entire math curriculum, but continues to score 5s, perhaps there’s a retention issue or some test anxiety creeping in, maybe even some trouble with testing endurance. Diagnostic tests speak volumes and can be extremely informative to students and parents.

2. Meet With a Tutor and Build a Prep Plan
TUTORS are crucial for the ISEE. While it’s easy to assume your child is intelligent and can handle ISEE preparation on their own, it’s not quite as simple as it may look. A tutor is meant to help you work with your baseline score to meet your testing goals. They focus on the holistic needs of the student: building their knowledge base, teaching strategies, improving weak areas, and strengthening their natural skills. Working one-on-one with an educator is absolutely the best method for success. Even if your student lacks the time, it’s worth the investment. Accountability is everything when you’re trying to make rapid progress over the summer.

3. Read Non-fiction
Let’s be honest, most students aren’t avid readers. There are a select few students who really enjoy reading and that is a beautiful thing. However, for the 80% of students who find reading to be tedious or uninteresting when compared to a tv screen, it’s essential that they get comfortable with difficult text before taking their ISEE. In the reading comprehension section of the ISEE most kids encounter science articles, history excerpts, and contemporary literature. Basically, the text on the reading passages tends to be dense, boring, and full of nonfiction. Even the most avid student readers are not huge fans of technical writing like this.

The best way to combat this issue, exposure. The only way to get more comfortable with non-fiction is to read it. If science articles make them queasy, that’s probably the best place to start. For the younger student, Time for Kids offers some great elementary news articles. For older students in middle and high school, try any major newspaper. Scan through the various sections to find challenging text about topics relating to health, science, history, technology, entertainment, lifestyle, and politics. While these texts may not be “fun to read ” it’s important they get exposure to texts that they don’t find commonality in. Once the text has been read, students should try to find the main argument or idea and the supporting evidence the writer uses. Additionally, they can observe the tone of the piece and the inferred information in the passage. This kind of comprehension and analysis is exactly what they will encounter on the ISEE and will be a fantastic way to prepare over the summer. Of course, doing one article every day would be the ideal for quick improvement, but even a weekly article can make worlds of difference for a student.

If your child refuses to read about modern health advancements on their summer break, that’s ok too. Realistically, reading any type of high level text and exposure to any kind of nonfiction is excellent. See if you can lure them with a nonfiction novel or memoir and if that doesn’t work, fiction it is. Exposure is truly the key with reading comprehension progress.

4. Learn Vocabulary Words
When in doubt, vocabulary is another good way to find gains. If time is limited for your child’s summer ISEE preparation, improving your vocabulary is a great method to master that tricky verbal section. Testinnovators, the ERB’s exclusively endorsed test preparation website, offers some handy downloads with commonly used ISEE vocabulary. Other free resources have plentiful lists of ISEE words with easy access. Some commonly used free websites for verbal ISEE preparation tools include, but are definitely not limited to: Quizlet and Piqosity.

While it can be easy to assume learning vocabulary is a standard skill, many children struggle with retention and memorization, as it’s no longer as well rooted in our education system as it once was. Although basic index cards are a great method for children that like paper over digital methods, it’s important to also develop games to study. Even if they choose to do a simple memory matching game or create a story using all of the new words, it’s all about the creativity with this preparation. For the kids that love digital flashcards, Quizlet is 100% the way to go. With Quizlet, they can create digital flashcards weekly and play games including a match game, spelling game, and more; it even has tests with multiple choice or matching to evaluate where they’re at after studying.

Pro tip: Always encourage students to study harder words. In recent years, the ISEE has been shown to give students difficult words beyond their designated level. For example, I have asked kids to share the tough words they saw on the test afterwards and discovered a lower level student encountered many middle level words they never even got exposed to. While this infuriates educators and parents alike, it can empower as well. Now we can assume best practices include studying not only their testing level words, but also root words, AND as many words in the next level as possible. This is why preparing the verbal section of the ISEE is a great practice to start early; it’s not only for the benefits of retention, but this study practice mimics study skills necessary for high school testing like SATs and ACTs.

5. Do Timed ISEE Essays
The essay section of the ISEE may seem like the most unimportant section of the test, but I’d argue it can be exceptionally impactful for particular students. For students where the admissions team is on the fence, it can be the difference between acceptance. While it’s not graded with stanine scores the way the other sections of the ISEE are, it still offers a large insight into academic rigor and more importantly, student personality. When students are given short interviews and campus tours, it can be challenging for all students to perform well or open up with unfamiliar adults. This is why the essay does really matter.

The ISEE essays are quite unique though. Most educators in school focus on persuasive essays and writing using textual evidence to support claims. While this is absolutely a necessary skill in life, the ISEE tends to have more personalized questions and no texts to pull from. Therefore, you can’t rely on words to validate the argument.

It’s important that students feel comfortable using their life experiences and personal details to argue, persuade, and reveal their personalities, while writing a constructive, impeccable essay. Seemingly easier than the standard persuasive essay, it can actually prove to be harder if they haven’t practiced this type of essay. Additionally, anything timed is a beast. It’s important for students to get used to outlining their essay in the first 5-10 minutes and executing a 5-6 paragraph essay in 20-25 minutes. That time frame is quick and it takes honed skill to be able to perform in that setting effectively. Ivy Global, a renowned test preparation company, has a selection of free ISEE essay prompts. High schoolers may have a leg up here because similar personal essay prompts are often used for college essays and the tactics and skills needed for those can be similarly applied to the ISEE middle and upper level prompts.

6. Do Practice Exercises
If your student has already taken diagnostic tests and feels ready to dive into the material on the test independently, don’t hesitate. Practice exercises are plentiful all over the internet and in test preparation books. While TestInnovators is still the number one choice by the ERB, plenty of other companies have mastered the test preparation game. Help your child make a plan and find the areas of weakness they want to target. Have them alternate between sections and support them in taking on content they need to practice or hone. Even practice exercises that may seem easy are helpful in building confidence and maintaining fundamental skills.

For more inside scoop on the ISEE test, visit our latest blog: The Inside Scoop: How to Approach the ISEE, SSAT, ACT, & SAT Testing of 2021.

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