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The ISEE (which is short for Independent School Entrance Exam) is an admissions test that is required by a variety of domestic and international independent schools. The Lower Level exam is for students who will begin grade five or six the following fall. The test is divided into five categories: Reading Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, Mathematics Achievement, Quantitative Reasoning, and an essay that is not scored. The ISEE is just over two hours in length at 140 minutes total.

The Verbal Reasoning portion of the exam, like the Reading Comprehension section, requires a solid knowledge of the English language at or above grade level. While working through the Verbal Reasoning sub-test, students will complete sentences by choosing the correct vocabulary word, as well as solve synonym problems. There are 34 questions, and the time limit is just 20 minutes.

Synonym Problems

A large part of the ISEE Verbal Reasoning section involves synonym questions. Within this portion of the exam, your student will be faced with words he or she has known for some time, words he or she has heard and with which he or she is loosely familiar, and words that are completely unknown to him or her. It is advisable for students to begin by answering those questions that contain words that are well-known to them before moving on to those questions that concern somewhat familiar terms. Finally, students can circle back to the questions about words that are unfamiliar, and make an educated guess. Since scores are determined by the number of correctly-answered questions, your student will not face point deductions for incorrect answers and you can encourage him or her not to leave any problem blank.

Your student might also work through problems by initially covering up the answer choices and attempt to come up with a few synonyms to the word in the quesiton stem on his or her own. Even if the exact word is not listed, such initial work can an excellent starting place, as your student can look for the word that best matches the synonym that he or she student brainstormed.

Sentence Completion Questions

On these questions, your student can apply a similar strategy and first try to think of a word that would fit in the blank in a question’s sentence on his or her own. By predicting the term that should occupy the space in the sentence, your student can consider the context clues in the sentence by themselves before analyzing the potential answer choices. For instance, certain words like “while,” “but,” and “however” can change the direction of the sentence dramatically and greatly affect its meaning. These types of linguistic hints can signal which answer choice is correct.

It is important for your student to understand that multiple answers may seem correct, but only one will ultimately be the best fit. Encourage him or her not to be fooled by the first choice that merely sounds right, and to consider each answer choice to find the best possible answer.

Practicing both synonym questions and sentence completion questions can not only help your student prepare to give his or her personal best performance on the ISEE Lower Level Verbal section; it can also help him or her develop skills that he or she will continue to use in future classes and on future exams.


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