Size Matters: The ISEE Math Achievement Section

They say that bigger is better (especially if you talk to a Texan), and I would completely agree when it comes to tax refunds and cupcakes.  But what about the line at the bank when you go to cash your tax refund or your waistline after too many cupcakes??

Sometimes bigger isn’t better.  Especially when it comes to the 47-question Mathematics Achievement section of the ISEE.  Today we will walk you through the basics of this second set of math problems and hopefully give you some perspective on this giant section.  And from here on out we will call it the “Math Achievement” section, because a 7-syllable section name is just kind of ridiculous…kind of like a 47-question section.  How appropriate.

Hold on a second…didn’t we already HAVE a math section?  Yes, we absolutely did.  So what makes this section different from the Quantitative Reasoning section?  Well, according to the ERB, there are two main differences, listed here as found in the ERB ISEE guide (bolded words added by us):

  • Unlike the Quantitative Reasoning section, you may need to do calculations to determine the correct answer for some questions.
  • Unlike the Quantitative Reasoning section, some items may require knowledge of mathematical terminology as indicated in the grade appropriate NCTM standards.

In other words, the focus for the Math Achievement section is much more on calculation, procedure, and terminology, whereas the focus of the Quantitative Reasoning section is on comparison and reasoning.

The biggest challenges of the Math Achievement section are:

  1. Length.  This is the longest section, with almost 50 questions for Middle and Upper Level students, clocking in at 40 minutes.   They spared the Lower Level students with only 30 questions and 30 minutes.
  2. Position in the test.  By the time they hit the fourth section (after those long and sleep-inducing passages), many students can hardly see straight.

At UP, we know that stamina is HUGE when it comes to this section of the test.  That’s why we condition the students in our workshops and tutoring sessions throughout the process with fast-paced practice drills, quizzes, and practice tests throughout their preparation. Students have to be able to pull themselves out of a test-coma and soldier on through the last few columns of bubbles, and we design our programs to equip students with the stamina to keep on wading through those equations until they can see the light at the end of the tunnel…or at least the essay at the end of the test.

So what’s even IN the Math Achievement section?  Short answer…a lot.  But in case you wanted it broken down for you, here are the objectives given by the ERB for each skill area and level.

Math Ach Objectives ChartLooking at the above chart will give you a good idea of what skills should be practiced when preparing for each level of the test.  Thorough coverage of the skills listed in each bullet point is a vital foundation for attacking these problems.

Now, you may be wondering how many of each problem there will be.  Yeah, we thought that might happen, so here we go with another chart to answer your brilliant question.

Math Ach Timing Chart

As you can see, for Lower and Middle Level students, the majority of problems are in the Numbers and Operations category.  Algebra increases drastically as a student moves up in grade level, and Data Analysis and Probability are heavily tested as well.  The Geometry and Measurement categories together make up about an equal share of what most people would consider “geometry.”

Alright, enough with all these charts!  Let’s get on the court with some examples, shall we?  The objectives are re-listed in each category for your convenience (gosh, we are just so darn helpful, aren’t we?).

Num Operations Whole Numbers Num Operations Frac Dec Per 1 Num Operations Frac Dec Per 2 Algebra 1 Algebra 2 Geometry 1 Geometry 2 Measurement 1 Measurement 2 Data Analysis 1 Data Analysis 2

Whew!  I think they must call it the Mathematics Achievement section because you feel like you’ve really achieved something when you finish 47 problems in 40 minutes!  I know I will certainly feel a huge sense of achievement when I finish this newsletter.

What do students need to perform well on the Math Achievement section?   Well, almost every single student we encounter needs some pretty major review and practice of the specific math skills that are tested on the ISEE.  Most students will also be missing a few concepts such as permutations, matrices, stem-and-leaf plots, or functions (especially the ones with weird symbols like smiley faces and hearts…those REALLY freak the kids out).  Our math curriculum at Unlocking Potential is specifically created around the five skill areas selected by the ERB (the ones shown in that massive chart earlier in this newsletter) and includes review, practice, and problem-solving with each skill area, covering a wide range of concepts within each area.  No other company that I have encountered organizes their curriculum this way (even though it is the most logical way to do it, in my humble opinion), and many concepts are missed or poorly covered by individual preparation books.

If you want to find out more about our offerings, contact us to set up a free consultation.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I can almost guarantee you will learn something, and we promise not to give you a pop quiz!

So, if you have gotten this far in our series on the inner workings of the ISEE, you will be happy to know that only one section remains…and that section isn’t even graded!  Check out our final chapter of The ISEE Revealed as we bring it home with the ISEE Essay.

Your beloved math maniacs,

Jenni and Erin

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