Saving the Best for Last: The ISEE Essay

We have finally arrived at the last stop on our journey through the ISEE…the essay!  Wait, so after 2 hours of staring at bubble sheets your child is expected to produce an organized, thoughtful, and coherent piece of writing?  Absolutely.

The good news?  It’s not graded!  This essay is used as a writing sample and sent to schools along with a score report to be considered along with his/her application.  Now, the pitfall of knowing this is dismissing the essay, thinking that there is no point to it.  Does this sound like the attitude of any teenagers you know?

In my opinion, there are at least a few reasons to put your best foot forward when it comes to preparing for and writing the ISEE essay.

  1. The essay gives an opportunity to show a student’s writing skill and personality.  It can differentiate a student from other applicants with similar scores and can be one factor that could make a difference in the admission process if all other things are equal with another applicant.
  2. Writing timed essays is an incredibly valuable skill that will be indispensible in all future academic endeavors and especially standardized tests.  Both the ACT and SAT have optional writing sections, and the format and timing are very similar to the ISEE essay.  This can be looked at as a great opportunity to learn strategies for timed essay writing and to practice and develop this skill.

If you’re at least mildly convinced that it’s worth preparing for the essay (now try convincing your 13-year-old), here are some basics that will help out any essay-writer.

The rules

  1. 30 minutes is allotted for the planning and writing of the essay.
  2. 2 pages are given for the essay itself. There is a page given for notes that is not sent to the schools.
  3. Students must use a ballpoint pen with blue or black ink (erasable ink is allowed).

 ERB’s suggested checklist of questions for students (bold added)

__ Did I put the topic in the box at the top of the first page, as instructed?

__ Did I plan my essay before putting it on the lined sheets?

__ Did I allow enough time to write my final copy on the lined sheets?

__ Did I write about the topic that was given?

__ Did I include details to add interest?

__ Did I follow rules for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization?

__ Can others read my handwriting?

__ Did I review my writing upon finishing?

So what’s the essay about?  The fall of the Roman Empire?  Nuclear physics?  No way!  It’s nothing even remotely complicated.  The essay is a personal reflection that asks the student to look into his or her own life for examples and evidence.  Here are the example topics given by the ERB:

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?

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.

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.

Not a lot of guidance is given by the ERB on how to write the essay, and many students find themselves puzzled by the LACK of structure and direction.  At UP, we give the students a step-by-step breakdown of how to write great ISEE essays and provide them with TWO things to focus on that will make their essays shine.  We won’t spend hours of precious preparation time on an essay that isn’t graded, but we will cover the essay in an efficient and effective way that will set the stage for a future of writing stellar timed essays.  To find out more about our programs or to register for tutoring or an upcoming workshop, set up a free consultation with us.  In the same amount of time that your child could write a practice essay, you could already be set with a curriculum that will suit your child’s ISEE preparation needs.  Now THAT’S efficiency!

This concludes our series on unlocking the mysteries of the ISEE.  We hope you have learned a bit more about the journey your child will be embarking upon and we look forward to serving you in any way we can!  Stay tuned for future newsletters with tips, tricks, updates, and other helpful ISEE hints.

Your writing warriors,

Jenni and Erin

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