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About the ISEE Essay

The ISEE essay gives admissions officers a sample of the applicant's writing, helping them assess their writing skills, personality, and potential for success in the school's academic setting. While it is a crucial part of the overall ISEE evaluation, the essay itself is not scored by the ERB.

Writing Prompt: Your child will receive a writing prompt, which is a short passage or quote related to a specific topic. Prompts cover topics of interest to students at their grade level.

Test Instructions: During the 30-minute Essay Section, your child will be given a sheet of paper to take notes on. They must write the essay in ink on two pre-lined pages, rewriting the prompt at the top of the first page. The essay must be written in print or cursive with black or blue ink. Erasable ink is allowed.

Preparation: Encourage your child to practice writing essays on a variety of topics. Help them develop skills in analyzing prompts, organizing their thoughts, and presenting a well-rounded perspective supported by relevant examples or evidence.

How to Write an Essay for the ISEE Test 

This is a sample prompt: Write an essay about your favorite season. Describe what makes this season special to you, including any specific memories, activities, or traditions that you associate with it. Explain why this season stands out above the others and how it influences your mood and daily life. Use vivid details and examples to support your points.


Begin with a clear, focused topic sentence that answers the essay prompt directly. 

Introduce your main idea or thesis statement in the first paragraph. Clearly state your position: The introduction should clearly state your position or stance on the topic. For example, if the prompt asks about your favorite season, your introduction should state which season is your favorite. 

Keep it concise: While the introduction should be engaging, it should also be relatively brief, taking up only 2-3 sentences. The goal is to hook the reader and set up the rest of the essay, not to provide extensive details. 

💡Avoid clichés: Avoid overused introductory phrases such as: "In my opinion..." or "I believe that..."💡.

For example: 

Clichés of Origin: 

  • Time-based openers: "Since the beginning of time..." or "Throughout history..." These are vague and lack a specific focus. 
  • Quoting a dictionary: "Webster's defines..." Essays should showcase your own analysis, not dictionary definitions. 
  • Famous person quotes: Unless the quote is incredibly relevant and insightful, it can feel unoriginal. 

Clichés of Content: 

  • Personal anecdotes (when not specific): "The first time I realized..." can be effective, but only if the anecdote directly connects to the essay's theme. 
  • Hypothetical questions: "Have you ever wondered...?" This is a weak way to engage the reader. 
  • Exaggerated claims: "This is the most important issue of our time..." Such statements are subjective and hard to support. 

Clichés of Wording: 

  • Overused phrases: "A cloud has a silver lining," "Every rose has its thorn," etc. These are trite and predictable. 
  • Vague adjectives: "Amazing," "Wonderful," etc. Use more specific and descriptive language. 

💡Begin your essay with a unique attention grabbing statement💡

✍️Alternatives to Clichés✍️

Start with a surprising fact or statistic.

Pose a thought-provoking question relevant to your topic.

Open with a vivid description that sets the scene.

Introduce a relevant historical event or anecdote.

Start with a powerful quote that you can analyze.

✍️Body paragraphs✍️

  • Aim for 2-4 body paragraphs that support your main idea with specific examples and details.
  • Use each body paragraph to explore one of the main reasons or supporting evidence for your thesis. In each body paragraph, include specific examples, anecdotes, and details to support your key points. This helps bring your essay to life and makes it more engaging for the reader.
  • Organize your body paragraphs in a logical way, with each one building upon the previous one. Use transition words and phrases strategically to seamlessly guide the reader through the progression of your essay.
  • Don't just list facts or examples - take the time to analyze and explain how they support your main argument or thesis. This demonstrates your critical thinking skills.
  • Use a variety of sentence structures (simple, compound, complex) to make your writing more engaging and sophisticated. Avoid repetitive or overly simple sentences.

💡Here's a breakdown of some powerful transitions categorized by their function💡

✍️These are just a few examples, and the best transition words will depend on the specific relationship you want to show between your ideas. Remember, the key is to choose words that create a smooth flow, logical progression, and clear connections within your writing✍️

For Emphasis:

Indeed: Strengthens a point you just made.

Undoubtedly: Conveys strong certainty.

More importantly: Highlights the significance of a point.

In fact: Introduces additional evidence or clarifies a point.

For Logical Flow:

Therefore: Shows a conclusion based on previous information.

Consequently: Indicates a result of something previously mentioned.

Hence: Shows a logical connection between ideas.

Accordingly: Shows ideas are in agreement or follow from each other.

For Contrast:

However: Shows a difference or opposing viewpoint.

Conversely: Presents an alternative idea.

On the other hand: Introduces a contrasting viewpoint.

Despite this: Acknowledges an opposing idea but reaffirms your main point.

For Similarity:

Similarly: Shows a connection between similar ideas.

In the same way: Highlights a parallel between ideas.

Likewise: Indicates agreement or similarity with a previous point.

By the same token: Shows a related idea based on the previous one.

For Addition:

Furthermore: Adds additional information to support your point.

Moreover: Introduces another point that strengthens your argument.

In addition: Adds another element to your list of ideas.

What's more: Introduces an even more significant point.

For Examples:

For example: Introduces a specific instance to illustrate your point.

For instance: Similar to "for example" but can sound slightly less formal.

Specifically: Narrows down the focus and provides a concrete example.

To illustrate: Introduces an example to clarify your point.


Here's how to craft a powerful conclusion in just 2-4 sentences:  

  • Restate Your Thesis with a Twist: Don't simply repeat your thesis word-for-word. Rephrase it using different words or emphasizing a key aspect.  
  • Connect to the Bigger Picture: Briefly show how your essay's argument relates to a broader concept or implication.  
  • End on a Strong Note: Leave a thought-provoking question, a powerful image, or a memorable statement that lingers with the reader. 

By following this structured approach and incorporating these strategies, you can create a strong, well-organized ISEE essay that effectively communicates your ideas and showcases your writing skills. Proper preparation and practice with suggested writing prompts can help your child approach this section with confidence and do their best.

ISEE Essay Prompts

Your child will respond to a grade-appropriate writing prompt that may relate to their personal experiences, their community, or global issues. The prompts are designed to encourage your child to express their ideas and perspectives in a written format.

ISEE Middle Level Essay Prompts

  1. Is it important for students to participate in extracurricular activities? Why or why not? Provide examples to support your argument.
  2. Describe a person who has had a significant influence on your life. What specific qualities do they possess that you admire, and how have they influenced you?
  3. Do you think it's better to have a few close friends or many acquaintances? Explain your preference and provide reasons.
  4. Imagine you could change one thing about your school. What would it be, and how would it improve the learning environment?

Use one of these prompts to write an essay when you take one of our ISEE Middle Level Practice Tests to get a complete simulation of the test experience.


ISEE Upper Level Essay Prompts

  1. Discuss the impact of technology on society. Do you think technology has more positive or negative effects? Support your stance with examples.
  2. A Book That Changed My View: Write about a book that significantly changed your perspective on a particular subject. What was the subject, how did the book change your view, and why was it impactful?
  3. The Future of Education: How do you envision the future of education? What changes do you predict or hope will occur in the next 20 years?
  4. Historical Event: Choose a historical event that interests you. Explain why it is significant, how it has impacted the world, and what lessons can be learned from it.

For a complete test simulation experience, use one of these prompts to write an essay when you take one of our ISEE Upper Level Practice Tests.


Remember that the ISEE essay is an opportunity for your child to demonstrate his or her writing skills and intellectual curiosity, both of which are highly valued by independent schools. Proper preparation and practice can help your child approach this section with confidence and do his or her best.

ISEE Essay Plan

ISEE Essay Prompt: What is your favorite season? Why is it important to you?

Follow the guidelines set out above and work to a tight schedule.

State your position-My favorite season is Fall.

Then ask yourself why do you like Fall. Here are some brief notes:

  • It's a beautiful time of the year- we start a new school year
  • I like the traditions-Harvest, Halloween (pumpkins, Thanksgiving) Classic American
  • The falling leaves inspire reflection, and we think of change as the trees change

Many of these traditions involve spending time outdoors, gathering with family and friends, enjoying seasonal foods, and celebrating the fall harvest and Thanksgiving.

ISEE Sample Essay

Here is an example of a well-crafted ISEE essay written using the guidelines provided by our in house educational consultant.

Of the four seasons, Fall is definitely my favorite time of year. I look forward to its arrival every September when the summer heat begins to fade and the crisp, cool air starts to bring a burst of color to the trees. There are so many reasons why I love the Fall season. 

First and foremost, Fall marks the start of a new school year. Although the end of summer vacation is bittersweet, there is an exciting feeling of getting new teachers, classes, school supplies, and reuniting with friends after a long break. The start of the academic year brings a sense of energy and possibility. 

Another big reason I cherish Fall is the holiday traditions that come along with it. Classic American traditions like Halloween and Thanksgiving make Fall feel extra special. I love carving pumpkins, going trick-or-treating, and dressing up in costumes. Then Thanksgiving brings get-togethers with extended family to enjoy amazing seasonal foods like turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. These celebrations strengthen my connection to family, friends, and the year's natural rhythms  

Speaking of the rhythms of nature, the changes happening across the landscape in the Fall are breathtaking. The trees put on a dazzling display as their green leaves turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow before falling to the ground. Raking the fallen leaves into piles is a favorite activity from my childhood. The stunning Autumn colors and shedding of leaves inspire a sense of transition and reflection on the cycle of life. I recall the line in Emily Bronte’s poem that says, “Every leaf speaks bliss to me Fluttering from the autumn tree,” which perfectly captures the joyous feeling of witnessing the vibrant colors and gentle descent of falling leaves during the autumn season. 

Fall makes me want to spend as much time outdoors as possible before winter's chill drives everyone back inside. Going for crisp morning walks, sipping apple cider, picking apples or pumpkins from the local farm, and simply admiring the beautiful foliage are all reasons I cherish this season. The outdoors simply feels more alive and invigorating in the Fall air. 

Fall makes me want to spend as much time outdoors as possible before winter's chill drives everyone back inside. I cherish this season for taking crisp morning walks, sipping apple cider, picking apples or pumpkins from the local farm, and simply admiring the beautiful foliage. The outdoors feels more alive and invigorating in the Fall air. 

With the change of seasons, the gathering of families, the celebration of traditions, and nature's grand finale before winter, Fall is undoubtedly my favorite time of year. From the start of the school calendar to the holiday festivities, Fall is a season to be embraced and celebrated. 

ISEE Essay Practice Tips

  • Read the essay prompt carefully. During the test, you may be tempted to answer a question as quickly as possible. While keeping an eye on the clock is a good tactic, rushing through questions is not. Make sure you fully understand the essay prompt before attempting to answer it. An essay whose content is off topic is an immediate zero, no matter how well-written or insightful it may be.
  • Practice with sample prompts regularly. While you might not encounter the exact same prompt on the test, you'll likely face a similar one. This practice will help you understand the typical format, familiarize yourself with the appropriate writing style, and give you practical insight into the writing process required.
  • Set a timer. In order to replicate the test conditions as closely as possible, it is highly recommended that you set a timer. This will help you get used to the time constraints and thereby feel less pressured during the actual test.
    • Spend 2-5 minutes outlining your essay before you begin writing.
    • Allow 15-20 minutes for actual writing.
    • Allow 2-5 minutes at the end to review and edit your work.

Now that you've enjoyed and benefited from our expert teacher guidelines on how to write an essay, why not take your skills to the next level? Check out our TestPrep online ISEE practice tests and start preparing for your test today!

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