ISEE Reading Strategies

Find evidence

The most important rule of reading comprehension is that the answer is always in the passage. This means that reading comprehension is really like a scavenger hunt, and your objective is to get as good as possible at sleuthing, finding the lines that give the answer to the question as quickly as possible.

If any part of an answer choice doesnʼt match the information given in the passage, it is incorrect. Even one word can make an answer choice wrong! The correct answer should always have the same meaning as the information in the passage.


Think of your own answer first

Whenever possible, after you read a question, come up with an answer in your head before you look at the answer choices. This will help you to eliminate wrong answer choices, and find the best answer.


Eliminate extreme answers

In general, avoid answer choices that are too extreme. ISEE passages are usually moderate in their claims. If you see answer choices with words like “only,” “always,” “never,” “best,” “every,” or other extreme words, these are unlikely to be the correct answer. You should only choose them if you are absolutely sure that this sentiment is in the passage as well.


Main idea strategy

Make notes and/or underline as you read the passage. Jot down the main idea of each paragraph as you read. At the end of the passage think, “so what?”, and “what was that passage all about?” These notes will help you tackle the questions and not waste precious time re-reading sections, unless the question calls for it.

If answers aren’t in line with the main idea, start eliminating those answer choices. If youʼre torn between a couple of answer choices, determine how many lines of the passage talk about each answer choice. The one that covers more of the passage is a better answer.


Tone strategy

Tone questions ask how an author feels about the information in the passage. Start by determining if the tone is positive, negative, or neutral. To help decide, pay attention to adjectives and other charged/feeling words in the passage. Find the answer that best matches the way the author is talking about the subject.

Note: Neutral tone answer choices may be "informative" or "factual." A persuasive tone is indicated by words like “should” “ought to” “must” and “need.”


Vocabulary in context strategy

Tackle vocabulary questions like sentence completions. Donʼt look at the answer choices at first. When you are asked what a word means in the context of the passage, go back to that place in the passage, reread, cover the word if necessary, and decide what it means in context. Use direction words and context clues to guide you. Then, come up with your own word to go in the blank and find the closest answer choice. Afterwards, plug your answer into the sentence and make sure that it fits.


For more specific Reading Comprehension strategies, see our question-by-question explanations after completing a practice test online or check out our video course.