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The ISEE Essay: Tips and Practice Prompts

Essay Overview

The ISEE essay is the last section of the ISEE. Students are given 30 minutes to respond to a prompt. The essay is not scored, but a copy of the writing sample is sent to the schools to which the ISEE score report is sent.

The essay has two purposes: it shows schools how well you can write, and it also gives the admissions officers another opportunity to learn about you. Keep this in mind when writing your essay, and make sure to focus your essay on yourself. For example, if the essay asks you to write about your role model, write about the person you choose, but make sure to also write about yourself. How does this person inspire you? How has this person changed your life? Has this person taught you anything that you use in your everyday life?

Essay Tips

Read the Directions: On the official ISEE, you’re asked to write in a blue or black pen. You’re also asked to rewrite the essay prompt at the top of the first page of your essay. Make sure to carefully read the directions before starting your essay.

Manage your Time: Make sure you manage your time effectively. Give yourself time to organize and plan your essay, time to write your essay, and time to revise and edit your essay.

Structure your Essay: While there are no rules for how to structure your essay, it is recommended to have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We recommend the body of your essay be two to four paragraphs long.

Write Neatly: You are not graded on how neatly you write your essay, but make sure to write neatly enough so someone can read your writing.

Choose a Subject That Appeals to You: While you will be asked to respond to a specific prompt, the prompts often involve broad subjects. For example, a prompt may ask you to write about your role model. When choosing a specific topic to write about, choose something that interests you and shows you in a positive light. Use specific details and examples; after you choose your topic, be sure to think of two to three specific supporting details or examples. If you are asked to write about your role model, and you choose your dad, a supporting example could be the following: “My dad is my role model because he taught me the importance of hard work. He started working at the age of 16 and now runs his own business.”

Essay Practice Prompts

Below you’ll find five practice prompts for each level of the ISEE. For each prompt, set a timer for 30 minutes, and make sure to go somewhere quiet to write your essay. Write your essay on a sheet of lined paper (you can use the front and back of the sheet, but no more). Once you’ve finished, have an adult read over your essay and give you feedback.

Lower Level Practice Prompts

  • What is your favorite subject in school and why?

  • If you could go on your dream vacation, where would you go and why?

  • What is one of your favorite books?

  • What is your favorite activity to do outside of school?

  • What qualities do you think are important in a friend?

Middle Level Practice Prompts

  • What is a problem facing your community and how would you help fix this problem?

  • If you could travel back in time, what time period would you travel to and why?

  • Describe a time where you overcame a challenge. What did you learn from this experience?

  • Who is someone who has had a significant impact on your life? Describe the impact this person had and why it was so important to you.

  • What is a career you are interested in? What skills do you have that would make you succeed in this career?

Upper Level Practice Prompts

  • What does “being successful” mean to you? What are some ways that people can achieve success?

  • Who is one person, living or dead, that inspires you?

  • Write about a value that is important to you (examples: honestly, loyalty, dedication, open-mindedness). Why is this value so important to you?

  • What is your greatest skill? How do you use this skill in your everyday life?

  • What is something you are passionate about? How do you incorporate this passion into your life?


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