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Six Insider Tips to Attack and Master the ISEE Sentence Completions

Prepped & Polished History Tutor for Online ISEE Test Prep to help you with Online ISEE Prep By Terri K., ISEE Test Prep Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

The ISEE has a Verbal Reasoning section that contains 20 sentence completions. These questions are designed to test a student’s vocabulary and reasoning ability. Each sentence completion item consists of a sentence with one missing word or pair of words followed by four potential answer choices. The student is the “detective” who must decipher the clues and select the correct word or pair of words that most appropriately completes the context of the sentence (keeping the sentence clear, logical, and consistent in style and tone). Sentence completion questions are arranged in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest. (Tip: Sentence completion questions come after synonym questions in the ISEE Verbal Reasoning section, but you can choose to do these questions first if you find them easier to answer).

Here are some tried and true tips and elimination strategies that will help you to more quickly attack and master the 20 sentence completions, since you only have approximately 30 seconds for each question:

1) A Strong Vocabulary: First and foremost, a strong vocabulary is an essential skill for the ISEE sentence completions. The best way to prepare and to strengthen vocabulary is to read all types of material as part of your daily routine. Take the time to look up unfamiliar words that you encounter and to make flashcards. Making connections with words helps to remember them (include definition, sentence, root, history, and even a picture, synonym or trigger word as a memory aide).

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2) Look for Familiar Word Parts (Roots, Prefixes): Knowing roots of words is a great aid in figuring out correct answers. Again, looking up words in the dictionary and adding roots to your flashcards will make a huge difference. For example: the root MOR (or MORT or MORS) means death in Latin. Now, even if you do not know the definition, you can more confidently guess the meaning of words such as mortuary (dead bodies are kept in a mortuary), mortician (prepares dead bodies for a funeral), immortal (cannot die). Other common roots are sub (under as in subterranean or submarine), extra (beyond – as in extraterrestrial), terra (Earth – as in terrain), geo (earth, ground as in geology), mar (sea as in maritime), anima (spirit as in animated), mal (bad as in malevolent).

3) First Step – Read the sentence to get overall meaning; cover up answer choices until you find the clue(s) in the sentence: Mentally fill in the blank(s) with your own answer that makes sense. Then, find the answer choice that is closest in meaning to your own answer. You might be surprised to find the exact word that you had in mind. Select that as your answer. If the word you thought of is not a choice, look for a synonym of that word. Eliminate any that are definitely wrong; it is often easier to eliminate wrong answer choices than to pick the right choice. If you still have choices left, guess among the remaining possibilities. Sometimes it is enough to know that the blank requires a word that means something good (positive) or something bad (negative). Note: To assist you in finding the right answer among the answer choices, one-word answers are listed alphabetically and two-word answers are listed alphabetically by the first word.

Always ——-, the journalist actively questioned the relevant viewpoints on both sides of the issue.
(A) enigmatic
(B) ignoble
(C) impartial
(D) partisan
When reading this sentence, you might recognize that the journalist is fair and unbiased. “Impartial” (choice C) is a synonym for fair.

4) Signal Words: There is almost always a word that obviously points to the correct answer. These signal words are clues that can aid you in figuring out what the sentence actually means.

– Support Signals – look for words/phrases that indicate that the blank continues a thought developed elsewhere in the sentence (examples: and, moreover, in addition, furthermore). A synonym or near-synonym should provide the correct answer. Example:
Mr. Jones is an intelligent and ——– teacher: his knowledge is matched only by his concern for his students.
(A) caring
(B) experienced
(C) unusual
(D) original
(choice A) caring is the answer, a synonym for concern.

– Contrast Signals – look for words/phrases that indicate a contrast between one idea and another (examples: but, although, however, even though, despite)
Although much of the worst pollution has been ——- in the United States, traces of many toxic chemicals still ——-.
(A) discussed . . . escape
(B) eliminated . . . persist
(C) exaggerated . . . remain
(D) foreseen . . . arise
(choice B) is the correct answer. “Although” is the clue that indicates a contrast and signals you to look for words with opposite or different meanings (eliminated, persist).

– Cause and Effect Signals – look for words/phrases that show that one thing causes another (examples: because, since, for, therefore, as a result, due to, though).
Because Martha was naturally ——-, she would see the bright side of any situation, but Jack had a ——- personality and always waited for something bad to happen.
(A) cheerful…upbeat
(B) frightened…mawkish
(C) optimistic…dismal
(D) realistic…unreasonable
(choice C) is the correct answer. “Because” is the clue that indicates cause and effect. Note: The word “but” indicates a contrast between Martha and Jack’s personalities.

5) Take One Blank At A Time: Double-blank sentences can seem daunting, but they are actually easier because they supply more clues. After you read through the entire sentence for meaning, insert the first word of each answer pair in the sentence’s first blank. Does it make sense? If not, you can eliminate the entire pair. Next, check out the second word of each of the remaining answer pairs. Both words must make sense when used together.
The skydiver was ——- to survive after his parachute operated ——-.
(A) unable…perfectly
(B) anxious…instinctively
(C) surprised…adequately
(D) fortunate…improperly
(choice D) is the correct answer. It is the only choice where both words make sense.

6) Eliminating/Guessing: Even if you can’t eliminate any choices, you should guess. There is no guessing penalty on the ISEE. Never leave a question blank. Of course, eliminate before you guess using the strategies that you have learned. On sentence completions, you are looking for the best answer, so use the clues that must be there, in order for the question to have one answer that is better than the others. If you only have a minute left and you are not yet done, fill in all remaining sentence completions.

Summary – 6-step strategic plan to answer sentence completion questions:
– Read the sentence to get the overall meaning.
– Look for clue words that show how sentence parts are related.
– Use the clue words to anticipate the answer based on the relationship indicated.
– Read the answer choices and select the best one.
– Check your answer by reading the sentence with your answer choice in place.
– If you still cannot determine the best answer, eliminate answer choices that clearly do not make sense. Then guess from among the remaining answer choices.

Which level of the ISEE are you getting ready for? Did you find these tips helpful?

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Terri graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Connecticut, with a dual degree in Education and English. She has 15 years of teaching and tutoring experience as a licensed teacher (Grades 5-12). Terri works with students from elementary school through college, and serves as an incredible resource when it comes to preparing for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, MCAS). em>

August 15th, 2013
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The 5 Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section

Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section

SSAT Reading TipsBy Grant Hanada, Tutoring and Test Preparation Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC

The reading comprehension section for the SSAT tends to be one of the hardest parts of the test for most students. Very few students are actually taught in school how to prepare for these types of reading passages and even fewer are given specific advice on how to tackle this in an effective way under time pressure. Here are 5 great tips for students to have when they approach the SSAT reading comprehension section:

1. You choose which passages to read.
Before the test, you should spend some time practicing all the various types of passages (historical, story, science, etc.) and know which ones you are stronger in. During the actual test, nobody will stop you from completing the passages out of order. Quickly browse each passage as soon as time begins and start answering the easier passages first and save the hard ones until the end. It is ok if you don’t have time to completely finish the hard passages, you can still get a great score!

2. Don’t read the entire passage like a book.
It is not important to know every detail like you would when doing a book report. Start each passage by doing a quick scan of only the introduction, the topics sentences of each paragraph, and the conclusion. You should be able to do this in less than 1 minute. Just gather the overall ideas and the general tone of the passage. That is it, don’t try and read the entire passage at once. When you get to the questions you will read specific parts more closely.
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3. Separate “specific” vs “general” questions.
There are always 2 types of questions—specific or general. A specific question will point you to a very specific part of the passage and often the exact line numbers. Do these types of questions first and leave the general questions for later. When you answer specific questions you should read a few lines before and after the specific area you are looking at for context, but make sure the answer you pick is directly related to the information in the specified lines from the question. General questions are much more broad and should be answered last because after you answer all the specific questions you should know the entire passage well enough to answer questions about the main purpose.

4. Be careful on “definition” questions.
Many passages will have a question that asks you to answer what a certain word means in the context of the passage. Usually the reason this word is important is because it is being used in a different manner than you are used to seeing. Be very wary of picking answers that are the typical dictionary definitions. Also, if 2 answer choices are synonyms of each other and since 2 answers can’t both be correct, most likely neither one of those answers are correct.

5. Be a skeptic.
As you look at all your answer choices you should be negative and critical toward every one. Imagine that they are all incorrect and that it would take direct evidence to convince you that an answer choice is really correct. Therefore, when deciding which answer is best, you need to find hard evidence from the passage to fully prove that an answer is the best. Also, be sure to not have any prior assumptions about topics. If you know a lot about dogs and the passage happens to be about dogs, forget everything you know. The answers must come directly from the passage alone. Remember, you are not picking a “perfectly correct” answer; you are picking the best answer.

Grant Hanada has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology from UCLA, and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.

To know more Best Tips for the SSAT Reading Section, do write to Prepped & Polished.

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January 13th, 2012
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Mastering ISEE Synonyms

[leadplayer_vid id=”520D305D4A7E4″]

Alexis Avila Founder/President of Prepped & Polished teaches tricks and strategies for mastering the synonym portion of the ISEE test.

First, figure out the definition of the word before looking at the distracting answer choices. Dissect the word and figure out the roots of the word. If you’re not sure about the roots of the word, then use a positive, negative, neutral strategy to find a matching charge of the word.
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Finally, go to the answer choices, and eliminate the three wrong choices.

Transcript (PDF)

Full Word-for-Word Transcription

Hi everyone, Alexis Avila, founder of Prepped and Polished LLC, here in
Boston, Massachusetts. Now one of the trickiest sections on the
independent school entrance examination, the ISEE test, especially for non-
native English speakers, is the synonym sections, but with a bit of help
learning tricks and strategies, you can easily make the ISEE synonym section
your most improved section.

Now the first thing that you want to do, is you want to come up with the
definition of the word before you look at the distracting answer choices.
So it’s okay if you don’t know the exact dictionary definition of each
synonym, as long as you can get the general essence of the word you’ll be
in great shape. So you do that by looking at the word’s roots. So in the
word excavate, there are two roots in this word, ex means exit, and cav,
root of cav means hull. Now if you don’t know the roots of a word, you can
still get the question right, try this approach. You might know that
excavate is not a positive word, like happy, it’s not negative word like
terror, it’s actually a neutral charge word, so if you know that, put a
neutral, a plus and minus, in parenthesis right next to the word, and when
you go to your answer choices, you’re going to eliminate any word that is
not a neutral word.

Okay, so now that you came up with some roots of the word, and you figured
out that excavate is a neutral charge word, let’s eliminate some choices.
Now we can eliminate in fact choice A, which is a negative word, and we can
eliminate C, pardon, which is a positively charged word, leaving us with
display and uncover. We’re going to go with choice D because uncover
closely mirrors the word excavate. So remember, if you take apart the
synonym and look for the roots and the charge of the word before you look
at the answer choices, then you’ll be in prime position to swiftly narrow
in on the correct answer. I wish you good luck and I’ll talk to you soon.

Did you find these ISEE Synonym tips helpful? What is your strongest/weakest section on the ISEE test?

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October 26th, 2011
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Fran H. (Wellesley, MA)

“I have hired Alexis and Prepped & Polished to tutor my twins for two years in a row. He first worked with them in the beginning of their 6th grade year in preparation for their first ISEE. After 6 or 8 sessions both kids were relaxed and prepared to take the standardized test. They also found it helpful to use Prepped & Polished as a weekly resource to resolve any math questions they had for their regular schoolwork. Their tutor was knowledgeable, punctual, efficient and yet relaxed and calm. Both kids always looked forward to their sessions with him. This year we followed a similar 6-8 session warm up for the test except that at their tutor’s suggestion, we separated the kids so they could benefit from a one on one. I appreciated the way he spent time on the actual material but also addressed test taking strategies (timing, scoring etc) so the kids knew what to do. It worked out really well and when we received the test results our hopes were confirmed. They improved significantly over last year’s results and we were very happy with their overall scores. Their success was certainly enhanced by Prepped & Polished!”

February 3rd, 2010
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