The ISEE: Reading Comprehension

Critical Reading questions appear on all levels of the  ISEE. The Reading section presents you with five to seven passages (depending on the test and level) and questions that follow. The passages will generally cover topics such as history, science, or literature. For each passage, you’ll be asked about the main idea and details presented. You’ll only get points for answering questions correctly, not for reading the text thoroughly, so keep your attention on reading as quickly as possible and answering as many questions as you can.
However, remember that if you are in the lower grade within your level, you DON’T need to answer all of the questions—in fact, you don’t even need to read all of the passages. You can get a great score even if you don’t answer all the questions, so don’t sweat it.

Reading Strategies

On the one hand, it’s a good thing that you’re inherently prepared for this section because you already know how to read. On the other hand, your previous reading experience has the potential to get you into a bit of trouble on this section of the test. Reading habits that may serve you well in school can get in the way on the test.
There are three traps that students commonly fall into on the test.
Trap 1: Reading too slowly
Trap 2: Continually rereading things you do not understand
Trap 3: Spending more time on the passages than on the questions
It is a mistake to approach the reading passages with the intention of understanding them thoroughly. You need to focus on answering the questions, not on getting to know the text.

Kaplan 4-Step Method for Reading Comprehension

The Kaplan 4-Step Method for Reading Comprehension requires you to do most of your work before you attempt to answer the questions. It’s very tempting to read the questions and immediately jump to the answer choices. Don’t do this. The work you do up front will not only save you time in the long run, it will increase your chances of avoiding the tempting wrong answers.
  • Step 1: Read the Passage

    The first thing to do is to read the passage. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. And although you don’t want to memorize or dissect the passage, you do need to read it. If you try to answer the questions without doing so, you’re likely to make mistakes. Although you’ll learn more about how to read the passages later, keep in mind that the main things you want to look for are the Big Idea and the paragraph topics. Additionally, you’ll want to note where the passage seems to be going.

  • Step 2: Decode the Question

    Several questions will follow the passage. And before you can answer each question, you’ll have to figure out exactly what’s being asked. You need to make the question make sense to you. Remember to predict before you peek at the answer choices. First, determine what the question is asking.

  • Step 3: Research the Details

    This does not mean that you should start rereading the entire passage from the beginning to find a specific reference. Focus your research. Additionally, don’t answer questions based on your memory. Go back and do the research. In other words, if you can answer questions based on your memory, you have spent too much time on the passage.

  • Step 4: Predict the Answer and Check the Answer Choices

    When you find the detail in the passage, think about the purpose that it serves.

Reading Comprehension Question Types

There are three basic question types in the Reading Comprehension section: Main Idea, Detail, and Inference questions. Since you can’t exactly deal with questions unless you have an accompanying passage, take one or two minutes to read the following passage. Mark it up. Read it with the goal of answering questions afterwards.

 ISEE reading comprehension

Hopefully, you understood that this passage was about why the Hudson River School became so successful. You should have also noted that the second paragraph addresses how American nationalism contributed to the success of the Hudson River School, and the third paragraph discusses how nationalist sentiment was evident in the Hudson River School painting style.

Main Idea Questions

A Main Idea question asks you to summarize the topic of the passage. Main Idea questions are pretty easy to recognize. They will always ask something general about the passage. Look for the answer choice that summarizes the entire passage. Rule out choices that are too broad or too narrow.

Which of the following best tells what this passage is about?
(A) The history of American landscape painting
(B) Why an art movement caught the public imagination
(C) How European painters influenced the Hudson River School
(D) Why writers began to romanticize the American wilderness
(E) The origins of nationalism in the United States

Do you see which one of these answers describes the entire passage without being too broad or too narrow?
(A) is too broad, as is (E). The passage is not about all American landscape painting; it’s about the Hudson River School. Nationalism in the United States is much larger than the role of nationalism in a particular art movement. (C) and (D) are too narrow. European painters did influence the Hudson River School painters, but that wasn’t the point of the whole passage. Similarly, writers are mentioned in paragraph 2, but the passage is about an art movement. Only (B) captures the essence of the passage—it’s about an art movement that caught the public imagination.

Detail Questions

Detail questions are straightforward—all you’ve got to do is locate the relevant information in the passage. The key strategy is to research the details by relating facts, figures, and names in the question to a specific paragraph. Note how the Detail question asks about what is specifically mentioned—or not mentioned. Scan the passage words or phrases in the answer choices. When you find the references, cross out the answer choices that do appear in the passage. The one left over will be the correct answer.

Which of the following is not mentioned as one of the reasons for the success of the Hudson River School?
(A) American nationalism increased after the War of 1812.
(B) Americans were nostalgic about the frontier.
(C) Writers began to focus on the wilderness.
(D) The United States wanted to compete with Europe.
(E) City dwellers became concerned about environmental pollution.

Four of the five answer choices are mentioned explicitly in the passage. (A) is mentioned in lines 18–22. (B) appears in line 31. (C) shows up in lines 28–29. (D) is mentioned in line 23. Only (E) does not appear in the passage.

Inference Questions

An Inference question, like a Detail question, asks you to find relevant information in the passage. But once you’ve located the details, you have to go one step farther: You have to figure out the underlying point of a particular phrase or example. Use your inference skills to figure out the author’s point. The answer will not be stated, but it will be strongly implied.

Which of the following best describes what is suggested by the statement that the Hudson River School paintings “fit the bill perfectly” (lines 25–26)?
(A) The paintings depicted famous battle scenes.
(B) The paintings were very successful commercially.
(C) The paintings reflected a new pride in the United States.
(D) The paintings were favorably received in Europe.
(E) The paintings were accurate in their portrayal of nature.

First, read the lines surrounding the quote to put the quote in context. Paragraph 2 talks about American pride; that’s why Hudson River School paintings “fit the bill.” Hudson River School paintings were about America. (C) summarizes the point nicely. Note how this question revolves around the interplay between main idea and details. This detail strengthens the topic of the paragraph, the growing sense of nationalism in America. (A) superficially relates to the War of 1812 but doesn’t answer the question. (B), (D), and (E) are way off base.
Now that you’ve learned some strategies for the analogy section of the ISEE, check out some ISEE reading comprehension practice questions!