How To Increase ISEE Verbal Scores

The Verbal Reasoning section kicks off the ISEE (for every level), and it mostly tests your vocab skills. You’ll see two types of questions: synonym recognition and sentence completion.

See more from Varsity Tutors on general ISEE tips and ISEE information: how to improve your ISEE score.

Synonym recognition: Here, you are given a word and you have to choose the synonym (or the word closest in meaning) out of the four answer choices given.

Think of the definition of word: And try to use it in a sentence before you start reading the answer choices because they are written to confuse you.

Break words down: Consider the following example word “excavate.” It has the prefix “ex,” which means to exit. Also, consider the word’s connotation. Is it negative word (for example awful), positive (terrific) or neutral (jump)? Typically, the correct answer’s connotation will match the given word. “Excavate” is a neutral word, so look for a neutral answer choice. From this, you know the correct answer has to be similar to “exiting” and have a neutral connotation. Right away, you can eliminate infect (negative word) and pardon (positive word), and eventually eliminate display (does not mean exiting).

A. Infect (negative)
B. Display (neutral)
C. Pardon (positive)
D. Uncover (neutral)

Sentence completion: Here you have to choose the correct words to fill in the blanks.

Write words in blanks: At first, don’t even look at the answers and write your own words in the blanks. Then, try to match the words you’ve written with the examples given. In the following example, you might write “events” and “group of friends.” Then, just match your words to the closest answer choice, which is choice C (events; entourage).

The movie star always arrived at public events with an group of friends .
A. Actions; emissary
B. Functions; enclave
C. Events; entourage
D. Agencies; interview
E. Scandals; affair

Connotations: Just like synonym recognition, connotations (matching negative, neutral or positive words) can help you correctly identify answers here. With the following question, you know that the two words must have the same connotation. The book can’t be so good and receive bad reviews. That just doesn’t make sense. So, then you have to find the answer choice that has two words with the same connotation, which is answer choice “A” (controversial; mixed).

The book’s content was so good that it received good reviews.
A. Controversial; mixed
B. Monotonous; rave
C. Intriguing; horrible
D. Boring; laudatory
E. Exciting; indifferent

Transition words: Look for words like: “because, therefore, although, if, since, naturally, but, etc” to determine the direction of the sentence. For example, this sentence uses the word “but.” So, you know the sentence is going to change direction from “vicious rumors were untrue.” So what is the opposite of what untrue rumors would do? “Hurt” would be a good word to guess. And you’ll find the correct answer with choice “B” (Impugned; reputation).

The vicious rumors were untrue but still _______ the politician’s ________.
A. Elevated; status
B. Impugned; reputation
C. Interrogated; subordinates
D. Alleviated; difficulties
E. Supported; platform

Time management: In the middle and upper levels, you have to answer 40 questions in 20 minutes, leaving you with 30 seconds per questions. In the lower level, you have 34 questions in 20 minutes, giving you about 35 seconds per question. There is no penalty for an incorrect answer on the ISEE; so you have to make absolute sure you answer every question. If you find yourself taking more than 30 seconds on a question, make a best guess and move on. Don’t leave it blank and plan to answer it later.