ISEE Test-Taking Strategy


Boston Tutoring Services has developed proprietary materials for tutors to use in ISEE test preparation. There are basic test taking strategies that we enforce in order to make the most of our students’ time on the test. In our training manual, we begin with general ISEE test-taking strategy.

One-Two Pass

In the Synonym, Sentence Completion, and Math sections, it is important for students to become comfortable with the one-two pass strategy.

In the first pass, the student should only attempt problems that they feel they have a good chance of being able to answer correctly. In the second pass, the student would attempt the remaining problems. By using the one-two pass strategy, students won’t get caught up on a difficult problem halfway through and run out of time before they can get to problems later on that might have been easier for them.

For the Verbal section, they will go through the entire Verbal section in one go on their first pass, and then go through the entire Verbal section again in their second pass. They should attempt:

  1. Synonyms they feel they can answer
  2. Sentence Completions they feel they can answer
  3. Synonyms they skipped in the first pass
  4. Sentence Completions they skipped in the first pass

For the Math section, they will go through the entire Math section in one go on their first pass, and then go through the entire Math section again in their second pass. They should attempt:

  1. Math they feel they can answer
  2. Math they skipped in the first pass

There will always be some questions that are easier for some students than others, and our job as tutors is to help them understand their strengths and weaknesses, so they know which kinds of questions to approach in the first pass and which to save for the second pass. For example, if a student routinely struggles with ratio problems, they should skip these in their first pass of the Math section.

Students need to practice keeping careful track of their answers on their bubble sheet! Using the bubble sheet can be tricky when utilizing the one-two pass strategy. When students are doing their first pass, if they plan to skip a problem and save it for the second pass, they need to somehow mark this on their test booklet. They need to know to go back to the question on their second pass while keeping track of everything on their bubble sheet.

Do Not Use One-Two Pass For the Reading Section: Students would not be using the One-Two Pass on the Reading section, because once they have read a passage they should answer all the questions they can for that passage.

Process of Elimination and When to Guess

On the ISEE, there is no penalty for wrong answers, so no matter what, the student needs to fill in every answer on the bubble sheet. However, they do not want to put equal effort into every question, because they will be unlikely to finish in time if they do this.

They should choose a letter that will be their “fill-in” answer, so if they can’t eliminate any answer choices, they will fill in that letter on the bubble sheet.

They need to learn which types of problems they may need to just “fill-in” when they run low on time near the end (for example, if ratios are always difficult for them, they should plan to save these for last and then “fill-in” if they run out of time). It is important that they can focus their energy on the questions they are most likely to be able to answer correctly.

Specific strategies for eliminating answer choices are part of each following chapter of our training manual. Learning to use the process of elimination is important, because the more answer choices they can eliminate, the better chance they have of getting the question right.

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