More about ISEE Reading Comprehension

  • Posted By: Nora Martin
  • August 18, 2014

The Reading Comprehension (RC) section of the ISEE test is intended to test students' abilities to answer questions about short reading passages in a limited timeframe. Depending on the level, the ISEE RC section consists of 5 or 6 approximately 25-75 line-numbered passages with 5 or 6 questions per passage. While students don’t need “outside information” to score well in this section (as questions are about the provided passages), many students are challenged by limited time, difficulty in understanding certain question types, and advanced vocabulary. An important strategy for the majority of RC questions is to think of an answer to each question based only on the question and passage BEFORE reading answer choices. This helps students avoid tricky wrong answers and provides the best chance at earning their highest RC score.

Breakdown of number of questions, time allotted, and average time per question:

ISEE Level# of questionsMinutes to complete sectionAverage Time per question
Lower Level ISEE25251 minute
Middle Level ISEE363558 seconds
Upper Level ISEE363558 seconds

Question types:

RC questions fall into 6 question types. Examples are listed under each type.

1) Main Idea

  • The primary purpose of the passage is to...
  • The passage is primarily concerned with...

2) Supporting Ideas

  • According to the passage, medieval pageants and festivals for the poor were appealing because they...

3) Inference

  • The passage suggests that loyalty to a king rather than to a lord had which advantage?
  • What most probably led the author to experiment with caddis larvae?

4) Vocabulary

  • In line 4, “minute” most nearly means...
  • In line 6, “pundits” most nearly means...

5) Organization/Logic

  • Which best describes the organization of lines 8–17?
  • The sentence “I so admired Robie’s courage and resourcefulness that we became friends of the heart” (lines 24–26) is included in order to...

6) Tone/Style/Figurative Language

  • The author’s tone when discussing the news media is best described as...
  • The mood of the first paragraph (lines 1–10) can best be described as...

These 6 types can then be categorized as either “cover the answer” type questions or “true/false” questions (“true/false” examples below).

General RC strategy:

Examples of questions best solved using true/false strategy:

Below are some examples of the few ISEE question types for which students cannot “cover answer choices.” A good way to solve these questions is to read through the answer choices marking each one true or false (T or F); students who do this accurately will be left with just one T or F among several of the opposite (as modeled in question 1) – this “odd one out” is the best answer.

1) According to the passage, which is true of kangaroos?

(A) They are marsupials. 
(B) They are extinct. 
(C) They are carnivores. 
(D) They are vicious. 

2) The author of the passage does all of the following EXCEPT

(A) mention various countries that have shaped the culture of the Philippines.
(B) offer a possible solution to the political and economic difficulties in the Philippines.
(C) describe the function of the hacienda system.
(D) explain why no one is living on many islands in the Philippines.

3) The author of the passage appears to care most deeply about the fact that

(A) Gandhi considered himself a failure.
(B) Gandhi was born to an upper-middle class family.
(C) Gandhi was successful using non-violence.
(D) Gandhi was a saint.

4) The passage provides information to answer which question?

(A) What is the author’s perspective on arranged marriage?
(B) What does the author’s generation think of intercultural dating?
(C) Were people of the author’s generation likely to marry people of similar religious backgrounds?
(D) How many of the author’s friends are married?

The above questions can be tricky because students cannot predict an answer before reading the answer choices. Knowing how to mark each answer choice either true or false (or yes or no) can help students navigate these tricky question types.

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