The ISEE Essay Section: What To Expect

  • Posted By: Geoff Dennis
  • December 4, 2017
A student writing an essay, likely the ISEE's essay section.

About the ISEE Essay Section

Did you make it through the ISEE’s four multiple-choice sections? You’re not quite done yet!

The fifth and final section on the ISEE is an essay section. Students are given 30 minutes to write an essay in response to a single prompt. Although the essay is not graded, as we’ll discuss below, it is still a critical part of the test.

How is my essay scored?

The ISEE’s essay section is not scored in the traditional sense, but your essay will be sent to the schools to which you send your score report. This means that your essay is a very important part of the test, and you should prepare for it just as you prepare for the multiple-choice sections. Practice putting your best foot forward!

Schools tend to use your essay in a few different ways. Admissions teams will consider how clearly you can express your ideas, how well you’ve mastered the grammatical and spelling conventions of standard English, and how you portray your thoughts and values.

Many admissions departments also compare your ISEE essay to other written works that you submitted as part of your application – this is a good way for schools to make sure that you (not a parent or a friend) were the person who wrote those other pieces.

What kind of prompts should I expect?

All three levels of the ISEE will present students with an open-ended prompt which encourages some combination of self-reflection, creativity, story-telling, and persuasion.

Here are a few examples of the types of prompts you should expect to see on the ISEE:

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

Describe a time when you helped someone in need.

Your friend calls to share great news with you. What news would you want to hear and why?

What topic should I choose for the prompt I receive?

Your audience is the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a topic for the ISEE essay. Who’s your audience? The admissions board at your school of choice.

So, consider how you’d like to portray yourself to the people who will be reviewing your application. You probably don’t want to choose a topic that makes you sound mean, insensitive, or out of touch with your prospective peers.

Try brainstorming a few topics for the prompt “If you were able to move anywhere in the world, where would you decide to live and why?” A good topic for this prompt would allow you to tell a story about yourself (maybe a story about when you went to a beautiful place and why that was inspiring to you) or describe some things that you are passionate about (maybe you’d want to live on a lake because you love vibrant ecosystems). A bad topic might be one about cutting yourself off from others or prioritizing material goods above all else (living in a penthouse suite and having everything delivered to you, for example).

Want to learn more about the ISEE's essay and it's importance in admissions decisions? Watch our webinar at this link.

Want to learn more about the ISEE? Read our breakdown of the ISEE here.

Find all of our ISEE preparation materials at!