Mastering the ISEE Essay

The key to mastering the ISEE essay is preparing yourself for the difficulty of developing a full essay within 30 minutes. Before we discuss the details of the essay assignment, there’s something you need to know: your ISEE essay is not being scored. It will be sent along with the rest of your test to the schools to which you are applying. It is going to be looked at alongside your admission essay (if the school requires one) and sample essays from your classwork. One of the main reasons for the schools to include an ISEE essay component is to ensure that each student’s application essays match the level of the essays they complete on the exam. It is a red flag to a school if it does not sound like the same student has submitted all of these pieces of writing. 

In addition to this, the reviewers are looking for a consistent writing style and general writing competency in each student. Don’t worry about the fact that this will not be as good of an essay as you could write if you had more time and could put together a revised draft. They know you don’t have much time and are not expecting perfection. 

Essay Questions

ISEE essay questions fall into two categories: 

  1. The Standard Essay: When you are prompted to craft a standard essay, you are expected to create an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement as well as supporting body paragraphs and a conclusion, which is a summation of the points presented and a restatement of the thesis. 
  2.  A Fiction Story:  Requires creative writing and using your imagination.  

Either way, you won’t have much time, just 30 minutes. Here are the types of prompts that you can expect:

ISEE Lower Level:
Topic 1: Describe in detail where and how you would spend your perfect vacation.
Topic 2: What would you like to do to make the world a nicer place in which to live? Explain.
Topic 3: Who is your favorite relative? Why have you chosen this person?

ISEE Middle Level:
Topic 1: If you could improve your school in one way, what would that be? Describe the improvement you would make and explain how it would benefit students.
Topic 2: What would be the perfect career for you some day?
Topic 3: There are many problems in our world today. Name one you would like to solve and explain how you would do it.

ISEE Upper Level:
Topic 1: Of the books you have read in the past year, which one made the biggest impression on you and why?
Topic 2: Your school requires you to perform forty hours of community service in order to graduate. Describe which type of community service you would choose and explain your choice.
Topic 3: Describe what you would consider a “really successful person.” Explain why you consider this person and this person’s qualities to be successful.

For the essay prompts that ask you to answer a question, such as Of the books you have read in the past year, which one made the biggest impression on you and why?, your goal is to structure an essay that answers the question and presents paragraphs with supporting evidence. Your essay should have four paragraphs: the introduction, two supporting paragraphs, and the conclusion. 

Your answer to the given question will form the thesis of your essay and will be the first sentence in your essay. It is simply rephrasing the question so that you are answering it. For example, This year I read The Giver, and it made a big impression on me because _________. What you put in that blank will be your thesis. For example, …it made a big impression on me because I could relate to how Jonas wanted more choices over how he lived his life, or …it made a big impression on me because like Jonas, I don’t always agree with all the rules that I have to follow. 

You then need to write two supporting paragraphs about your thesis. Each supporting paragraph should be a different reason why you have made your claim. For example, if you wanted Jonas to have more choices over how he lived his life, you could give two different of examples of times when he did not have choices in his life, each one its own paragraph. Or, if you don’t always agree with the rules you have to follow, like Jonas, you could have two separate paragraphs citing two separate rules that you don’t agree with in your own life. Notice how you can take this essay prompt in two different ways: you can directly use examples from the book, or you can make your thesis about your own life and how you relate to the book. Either way is fine, as long as you can come up with two supporting paragraphs, each its own reason to back up your thesis. Your conclusion will remind the reader of your thesis and will summarize the two supporting paragraphs, showing the reader why you chose them to back up your thesis. 

Schools want to make sure that you have developed each of your paragraphs in a clear and organized way, used interesting vocabulary choices, and varied your sentence structure. Schools are not looking for a perfectly polished essay, but they do want to see that you know how to structure your writing into the format described above, and that you can develop your ideas in a clear and cohesive way.

Our ISEE/SSAT test prep program is customized to address each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses, and we will develop a customized preparation plan to arm your child with powerful and up-to-date strategies for all sections of the test.

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