In the Reading Comprehension section, you will have 25 minutes to read 5 passages and answer 5 questions per passage, which makes 25 questions for the entire section.
The reading comprehension section is generally considered the most competitive part of the ISEE. The ISEE is a peer-normed test, which means that only a small percentage of students can get the highest scores like 8 and 9. In reading comprehension that means missing just a handful of questions could quickly knock your score down to a 6 or 7.
The six passages will cover a wide variety of topics, including
Each passage is followed by a number of questions that are based on the content of the passage. These questions are not designed to trick you or ask you to think too abstractly about the passage. All answers to these questions can be found within each passage.
There are 6 primary question types:
As you read, determine the central theme or idea of the passage. The main idea of a passage embodies the whole passage - not just parts of it.
Each passage is filled with supporting evidence meant to support the author’s claim or other important ideas within the passage. You’ll be asked to identify these bits of information.
You are asked to draw conclusions from content that is not explicitly included in the passage. However, you will be able to find everything you need to answer these questions in the passage.
You will be asked to identify the meaning of particular words used in the passage. Thankfully, you can use context clues to figure them out – and often, you can answer them using your vocab knowledge alone.
Organization and Logic
You will be asked to identify sequences, patterns, and relationships between ideas in the passage. You will also be asked to identify the overall structure, or a summary of the passage. Finally, you may also be asked to identify how the passage is written (i.e. narrative, informative, instructional).
Tone, Style, and Figurative Language
You’ll need to understand mood, tone, point of view, and figurative language.
Standardized tests often claim that they test real-life skills and concepts you’ve learned in school. While this is true to some degree, students who are used to reading at their own pace may be thrown off by the timing of the ISEE, which gives you less than 6 minutes to read each passage and answer the accompanying questions.
On top of that, the passages found on the test are usually - to put it bluntly - rather boring, which can make it even more difficult to stay focused and retain information. Even if you’re someone who enjoys reading, you probably enjoy it a lot more when you can choose to read about topics that interest you. That is not the case with the ISEE Reading Comprehension section.
Simply put, standardized tests require you to read in a certain way: you must take care to read each passage quickly, while also ensuring that you absorb the information, regardless of how interesting you find it to be. In order to read passages efficiently, you must also take steps to ensure that you focus on the right information - that is, the information that comes up in the questions.
This is where active reading skills come in. Active reading refers to the process of note taking and engagement as you work through a reading passage. Developing a strategy for tackling any reading passage on the ISEE using active reading skills will help you decrease the amount of time you spend reading the passage, in addition to answering questions more efficiently and accurately.
Applying Active Reading Skills
Here is a summary of the systemic approach - and key active reading skills - you can use to work through any ISEE Reading Comprehension passage.
Let’s take a look at how you might apply these active reading skills to an ISEE Reading Comprehension passage. The passage used here is a real sample passage provided by the creators of the ISEE, and it is accompanied by 6 official practice questions.
For the purposes of this example:
Use your knowledge of the passage to predict an answer, eliminate wrong answer choices, and arrive at your best guess!
A Note on Vocabulary Questions
Many of the ISEE Reading passages you encounter will include a vocabulary question. Here is an example of what a vocabulary question looks like (it refers to the passage about female foreign correspondents from the previous section):
As with sentence completion questions on the Verbal Reasoning section, vocabulary questions allow us to use context clues to get the right answer. Let’s focus in on the first paragraph of the passage so we can understand the context in which the word “strife” appears:
Here is the sentence in which “strife” appears:
“By the 1980’s, women were the accepted authorities on Latin America, and they appeared in force to cover repression in Chile, strife in El Salvador, and the war of the Contras against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.”
Even if you don’t know what “strife” means, you might notice that it is part of a list of events that female foreign correspondents covered:
The nouns in these list items have a decidedly negative connotation - the paragraph discusses the unrest, struggle, and violence that people in Latin America experienced in the 1980’s.
Of the answer choices, “conflict” (choice B) is the only one that carries a similar connotation and meaning to these nouns. Moreover, “conflict” makes sense in the passage if we replace “strife” with it:
“[Women] appeared in force to cover . . . conflict in El Salvador”
Therefore, “conflict” is our answer!
Note that you can almost always answer vocabulary questions before you have even read the passage. If you find yourself short on time during the test, try prioritizing vocabulary questions, as they can take significantly less time to answer accurately compared to other question types.
As with all sections of the ISEE, your practice for the Reading Comprehension section should be frequent, thoughtful, and reflective:
We discussed earlier how reading on the ISEE differs from how you read in everyday life: you don’t get to choose what topics to read about, and you are forced to work through passages and questions very quickly.
However, this does not mean that reading outside of your routine ISEE practice won’t help your performance on the Reading Comprehension section!
Reading texts on a wide variety of topics and in diverse genres will help boost your confidence on test day. Websites like NewsELA that provide free articles on everything from science and technology to arts and culture are great sources of nearly endless reading material. You can even practice some of the active reading strategies described above as you read for school or for pleasure to get even more practice in.