Last Updated On: January 14th, 2020

There are a lot of rumors floating around about which section on the ISEE is the most relevant to schools when considering admissions applications. Some educators profess that the Reading Comprehension section is the most important since reading skills translate across multiple subjects. Others indicate that the Quantitative Reasoning section is more crucial because it demonstrates a student’s ability to apply the knowledge he/she has learned thus far.

Each of these theories has some truth to it, but the answer is much simpler. The most important section is the section with the lowest score. Allow me to explain.

Schools are looking for well-rounded students who show a mastery of advanced academic concepts in all areas. Since the perspective of admissions counselors will be the most relevant to consider, let’s take a look at why this might be the case. Take a look at the following case studies:

Section Student 1 Student 2
Verbal Reasoning 7 7
Quantitative Reasoning 8 6
Reading Comprehension 2 7
Mathematics Achievement 9 6

If you add up all the individual stanine scores, you may end up with the same “total” score, but an admissions director will see two very different students when comparing these two scores. Student 2 is above average and is scoring consistently in the top 30-40% percentile of all test takers. This student is a solid student with a good foundation who should be ready to excel at a competitive school.

Student 1’s scores tell us a much different story. While this student shows a proclivity towards the Math sections, the score of 2 in the Reading Comprehension section is cause for concern. Excluding an anomaly where the student had a really bad stomachache or emergency during that particular section of the ISEE, this score indicates that Student 1 will likely need a lot of assistance learning the fundamentals necessary to excel in any class requiring reading comprehension (e.g. Social Studies, English).

Research and data gathered from private schools around the nation agree with this analysis. Students with consistent, above average scores are more likely to be admitted to competitive top schools when compared to students with very high scores but one section that is significantly worse than the others.

So how can you avoid this situation? First, the student will need to take a practice test (click here for a free ISEE practice test!) to determine any areas of weakness. It’s important to remember that a bad score may not necessarily reflect lack of knowledge. Sometimes the format of the test or question type may affect a student’s score dramatically, especially if he or she hasn’t taken the test before. Once you know what the initial scores are, you can develop a strategy that will target those areas of focus. For more information or to request your own personal ISEE tutor, click here.

Eric Kim

Author Eric Kim

Eric is the Program Director at LA Tutors and has over twenty years experience as a private tutor. He has served as an academic counselor, college counselor to hundreds of students and now uses his experience across all areas of academia to help develop new curricula and programs designed to help students achieve their individual goals.

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