How is the ISEE essay graded?

  • Posted By: Nora Martin
  • February 3, 2014
Many of my students ask me how the ISEE essay is graded. I answer: It is not “graded” but rather sent to the schools to which you apply.

So, who reads your essay? People who work in admissions at your schools of choice.

The 30-minute timed ISEE essay is their opportunity to see how you write without any assistance or adult editors.

What do they look for?

They care to some degree about content (don’t say things that make you sound unkind!), organization (write an essay not a paragraph or stream of consciousness), writing mechanics (check your capitalization and periods!), handwriting (it has to be legible!), voice (avoid “super-duper” casual language), etc.

However, on test day, don’t worry TOO much about content or grammar or handwriting… You have only 30 minutes!

Practice the essay ahead of time so that on test day your organization, mechanics, and handwriting flow (as smoothly as possible).

Essay Strategy (to Practice, Practice, Practice!):

First, decide on your main response to the given ISEE question (pick whatever response is easiest to write on!). (This answer is your thesis – the main point you will make and support in your essay.) Next, OUTLINE YOUR ESSAY (You must practice doing this!!!), noting supporting evidence for your thesis. Next, decide in what order you will talk about the ideas you brainstormed.

Ideally, your essay will have an introduction with your main point (and mention of the 2-3 main supporting ideas), 2-3 body paragraphs of evidence supporting your main point, and a summarizing conclusion. Aim for a 5 paragraph essay.

For example, pretend my topic is: “Where in the world would you want to live for a year and why?” My outline could include the words:  “Brazil – because of the weather / I want to learn Portuguese/ I’m interested in studying Capoeira.” I could then start my essay: “If I could live anywhere in the world for a year, I would choose Brazil.” I would then continue by listing (in the order I planned to talk about them) the reasons I had outlined. “I’m attracted to Brazil for its tropical weather and rainforest and because I want to become fluent in Portuguese and intensively study the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira.” I would then make sure the body paragraphs of my essay first mention weather, then Portuguese, then Capoeira. I would end with a brief conclusion.

Remember to make sure your handwriting can be read. Stay within the margins of the answer sheets. If you wish to change something you have written you may neatly strike through the words you want to “delete.” You are given 2 lined pages; however, you do not need to entirely fill both pages.

If you have time, we recommend that you read over what you have written. Often when we write quickly, we make careless mistakes. Check to make sure you haven’t left out any words. Look over your spelling. See if you have capitalized words in odd places. Does your comma use look okay? Make sure your sentences are complete and remember you cannot connect two full sentences with a comma! If you mention people speaking, have you used quotes properly? Did you use the correct spelling of there/their/they’re andtwo/to/too?

Be your own editor and good luck!

Be sure to check out our practice tests, essay prompts, and more at

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