How To Improve ISEE Scores

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is the first of many huge, high-pressure tests your child will take, and giving him/her the right mindset is just as important as ISEE prep.

Sure, knowing the ISEE problems and patterns can dramatically improve your score. But, how you motivate your child can make the biggest difference.

Don’t pressure your child: There is a lot riding on this test. It can determine your child’s education all the way through high school and possibly even college. If you bring this up, your child’s head is going to start spinning. Don’t tell them that they “need” to perform well on this test or “if you don’t do well (insert terrible event) will happen.” You’re just going to add tons of a pressure, and they could collapse like a house of cards.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation: You need to find a reason why YOUR CHILD wants to succeed, not why you want him/her to succeed. Tell them that performing well can give them options for schools. Find a reason why they want to attend a certain school – maybe it’s the campus, computer equipment or sports teams. Your child needs to walk into that test, thinking: “Okay, if I do well I can go to the school with the really high-tech computers. That would be awesome,” instead of: “I need to do well to make my mom happy.”

That’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and ultimately that’s the difference between a great and mediocre ISEE score.

Read up: Before you do anything else, get a study book specific to the level test you’re taking.  Try to get a basic understanding and familiarize your child with the test questions. Your study book will show you everything you need to know for the test. But, figuring out how to learn it all is the real challenge, and you’ll need more than a book to do that.

Find your starting point: Every student has a different starting point. Some are great at math but struggle with verbal. Take a few practice tests to find your strengths and weaknesses. Then, focus on improving your weaknesses.

ISEE tutor: A private tutor is your best chance for success. It’s easy to find out where you struggle by taking practice tests, but only a tutor can help you improve in those areas. A tutor can help your child break complex problems down to simple structures. And the right tutor will help students discover the material on their own, which is essential to that ever-so-important intrinsic motivation.

Practice: Mimic the test scenario by taking practice tests in the allotted time given. Try to sit down and take a full 2-hour-and-40-minute practice test every Saturday morning. In between these tests, continue working with your tutor on your problematic areas, answering practice questions on your own and reading your study book. After 2-3 months of this, you will see a dramatic improvement in your scores.

Time management: You need to understand how much time you have to answer each question. See a test structure overview here to figure out the time per question. If you find yourself taking too much time per question, guess and move on. There is no penalty for guessing. If you take the time to read a question, make sure you at least make a guess because you might not have time to revisit it.

Background: The ISEE and the Secondary School Aptitude Test (SSAT) are the two most common standardized admissions tests for private schools. The ISEE has three levels: lower (students currently in grades 4-5), middle (grades 6-7) and upper (grades 8-11). Each test will determine potential acceptance into the following grade. So, 6th graders’ ISEE score will determine acceptance into 7th grade. The test can only be taken once in a 6-month period, and it lasts 2 hours 20 minutes for the lower level and 2 hours 40 minutes for middle/upper levels.

The test has the same five sections at each level: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematics achievement and an essay. The questions will vary in difficulty depending on level. The essay prompt will not be scored and only sent to schools you request.

Scoring: You’ll receive a scaled or raw score (between 760-940), percentile score (comparing you to other students) and a stanine score (abbreviated version of percentile, ranked 1-9 instead of 1-99). But, private schools really focus on your percentile score. If you want to land a seat at a top school, you’ll need a score in at least the top 85th percentile, at an above average school, you’ll need a score in the 50-75th percentile.