ISEE Essay Strategies

Topic choice

Try to choose a topic that showcases something you care about and are familiar with. Remember to write in a way that shows you in a positive light, and that highlights part of your personality. This is your chance to show the school who you are outside of school!

For example, imagine that you are given this prompt:

If you were granted the power to move anywhere in the world, where would you decide to live and why?

Make sure to pick a topic that is personally important to you! Is there a place you have visited that has meant a lot to you, or a place where people that you care about live? Make sure to choose something you know about, care about, and can tell stories about.

Essay structure

For the personal essay, you should have a clear, focused topic that directly answers the given question.

It should be structured much like essays youʼve written in school:
1) an introduction
2) two or three body paragraphs
3) and a conclusion

In the introduction, state your topic and then introduce your 2-3 reasons ‒ these will be the topics of your body paragraphs. In the body paragraphs, include specific examples from your experiences to support each of these reasons. Then, in the conclusion, rephrase your main points and offer something new to the reader, such as describing how this topic will affect your actions in the future.

Time management

With limited time to write, managing your time effectively is incredibly important. Start by spending the first 2-5 minutes outlining your work. After you have a plan, go ahead and get writing! This is where you will spend the bulk of your time. Youʼll need to watch the clock, and save yourself 2-5 minutes at the end for review.

Plan: 2-5 minutes
Write: 15-20 minutes
Revise: 2-5 minutes

Examples and details

The magic is in the details! Your writing should include examples and specific details that make your writing come alive. The body of your writing should draw on details and stories from your life so that the reader can get to know you better.

If you are writing about a place youʼd want to move, for example, tell about an important visit you had there. Describe the scenery and the sights and sounds! Use words that appeal to the readerʼs senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.


Editing and reviewing at the end is a crucial step in creating a polished writing sample.

Try to catch any grammar, spelling, capitalization, or punctuation mistakes, and change "weak" words or phrases to "strong" ones.

I walked to the beach → I strolled leisurely to the beach. -or- I dashed down the path to the beach.

Neatness and organization matter! You want your writing to be as smooth and polished as possible. Make sure you write slowly enough that your handwriting is legible.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, express yourself! Schools are trying to learn more about you and what you care about, so let them get to know you.