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How to get your child comfortable with the ISEE

Pencil and notebook
Pencil and notebook

The ISEE can be both daunting and anxiety-provoking. However, what you can do to relieve your child's anxiety is familiarize him or her with the test: with the directions, the included content, the timing, etc. All components are inter-connected; improving one can also improve the others. See below for an outline of these key factors:

Take a practice test
The best method to get to know the ISEE is to complete a practice exam. Have your child try the full test and see what it's like. Determine what's difficult and what needs further work. You can thus utilize this practice test as a diagnostic tool and as exam practice. Doing so will demonstrate to your child what he or she needs to do on the test. It will also assist in clarifying the exam’s own expectations.

Prepare for the format
It is worthwhile for your student to be knowledgeable about the format of the test and what the questions will look like. For example, it's important to know that the Verbal Reasoning section has two parts, one of which is a fill-in-the-blank section. Additionally, a portion in the Quantitative Reasoning section (on the Middle and Upper Levels) requires test-takers to compare two numbers. The instructions for these segments are a bit unusual, and it can help your child significantly if they are familiar with them before sitting for the exam.

Understand the grading
It can also help to know how the test is graded. The ISEE allots one point for each correct answer and zero points for each wrong or unanswered question. This means your student has nothing to lose by guessing on questions for which he or she doesn’t know the answer. If a student leaves a problem blank, they're guaranteed to not earn the points, but if they guess, they have a chance to guess correctly. Teach your child to answer each question. Practice deciding when to guess and move on, and when to stick it out and work through the question thoroughly, in order to exhibit good time management.

Create a steady pace
This leads to assisting your child with time constraints. Have your student practice with a timer to make sure they're on pace. If they consistently run out of time, discuss how each question is unrelated to what came before and why they shouldn’t allow the distress of a difficult problem to carry into the rest of the exam. Many children spend minutes between questions simply worrying if they answered the last one correctly or worrying that the next question might be particularly challenging. Have them take a deep breath and move on. They can always return to questions that they chose to guess on and/or skip after completing the rest of the test, if they have time. As your child becomes more comfortable and confident with the skills he or she needs to answer the questions, his or her pace should naturally quicken.

Use the content regularly
Content familiarity, however, is the most successful way to get your child comfortable with the test. Build your student’s confidence about what they need to know and need to do to answer the questions correctly. Discover where he or she feels uncomfortable (not simply where the score is low, but also where uncertain feelings persist), then work on those sections until your child knows those skills inside out and backwards. Practice vocabulary with flashcards and use the key words in sentences. For Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics, locate worksheets online or find the sections in a mathematics textbook that cover questions your child missed or omitted. For Reading Comprehension, have them read and read and read—magazine articles, newspapers, novels—anything at all! Then ask questions about the content of the reading. Finally, teach your student to ask these questions of him- or herself.

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