Upper Level Essay
The SSAT Upper Level Essay requires students to write either a short story or an essay in twenty-five minutes. The essay topics tend to be broad and varied. In some cases, you will be asked to take a side on an issue (in other words, you will be asked to write a persuasive essay). In some cases, you will be asked to offer a description or show cause and effect (in other words, you will be asked to write an expository essay). Two sentences will be provided, and students are asked to select the sentence they find most interesting and use it as the basis for an essay or a story.
- Make sure your writing appropriately responds to the topic. Does the essay topic require you to take a position on an issue (persuasive essay)? Does it ask you to show cause and effect (expository essay)? Does the topic ask you describe or characterize some subject or topic (expository essay)? Are you being asked to tell a story (creative writing)?
- If you are writing an essay, make sure you have a clear introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. If you are writing a story, make sure your short story has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
- Budget your time! Make sure to save time at the end to edit for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Creative Writing Tips:
- Decide what point of view you will use and stick to it! Sometimes the point of view is established by the sentence provided:
- First person uses “I”: “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
- Third person uses “he”, “she”, “it”, “they”: “He couldn’t believe his eyes.”
- Decide what tense you will use for your story and stick to it! Sometimes the tense is established by the sentence provided:
- Past tense: I saw, I went, I did.
- Present tense (rarer and more difficult to maintain): I see, I go, I do.
- Establish the setting of your story using vivid description involving sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.
- In your first paragraph, establish the conflict.
- Conflict is the problem, difficulty, or challenge facing the main character.
- Every story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end (in other words, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion).
Persuasive Essay Tips:
- Persuasive writing requires you to argue for or against an idea; to take a side on an issue; to urge the reader to behave a certain way; or to urge the reader to agree to a certain position on an issue.
- Take a side. Don’t sit on the fence.
- Use concrete examples from history, literature, current events, or personal experience to support your position.
Right before you conclude your essay, consider writing a counterargument:
- In a counterargument, you present an opposing view and then show why it is not as strong as the view you have been presenting.
- Imagine an intelligent skeptic reading your essay.
- If you are asked to define something, provide your definition or explanation and then support your definition or explanation with details or examples from history, literature, current events, or personal experience.
- If you are asked to offer a description, think of two or three important qualities that you would like to discuss.
- Make sure you choose a subject about which you are familiar.
- Be as detailed as possible.
- When writing to establish cause and effect, establish the cause, define the effects, and offer solutions or explanations for why this is so.
You have twenty-five minutes to complete each writing sample. Here's a list of essay topics with which to practice:
Schools would like to get to know you better through an essay or story using one of the two topics below. Please select a topic you find most interesting and fill in the circle next to the topic you choose.
We have finally arrived at the last stop on our journey through the ISEE…the essay! Wait, so after 2 hours of staring at bubble sheets your child is expected to produce an organized, thoughtful, and coherent piece of writing? Absolutely.
The good news? It’s not graded! This essay is used as a writing sample and sent to schools along with a score report to be considered along with his/her application. Now, the pitfall of knowing this is dismissing the essay, thinking that there is no point to it. Does this sound like the attitude of any teenagers you know?
In my opinion, there are at least a few reasons to put your best foot forward when it comes to preparing for and writing the ISEE essay.
- The essay gives an opportunity to show a student’s writing skill and personality. It can differentiate a student from other applicants with similar scores and can be one factor that could make a difference in the admission process if all other things are equal with another applicant.
- Writing timed essays is an incredibly valuable skill that will be indispensible in all future academic endeavors and especially standardized tests. Both the ACT and SAT have optional writing sections, and the format and timing are very similar to the ISEE essay. This can be looked at as a great opportunity to learn strategies for timed essay writing and to practice and develop this skill.
If you’re at least mildly convinced that it’s worth preparing for the essay (now try convincing your 13-year-old), here are some basics that will help out any essay-writer.
- 30 minutes is allotted for the planning and writing of the essay.
- 2 pages are given for the essay itself. There is a page given for notes that is not sent to the schools.
- Students must use a ballpoint pen with blue or black ink (erasable ink is allowed).
ERB’s suggested checklist of questions for students (bold added)
__ Did I put the topic in the box at the top of the first page, as instructed?
__ Did I plan my essay before putting it on the lined sheets?
__ Did I allow enough time to write my final copy on the lined sheets?
__ Did I write about the topic that was given?
__ Did I include details to add interest?
__ Did I follow rules for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization?
__ Can others read my handwriting?
__ Did I review my writing upon finishing?
So what’s the essay about? The fall of the Roman Empire? Nuclear physics? No way! It’s nothing even remotely complicated. The essay is a personal reflection that asks the student to look into his or her own life for examples and evidence. Here are the example topics given by the ERB:
Topic 1: Describe in detail where and how you would spend your perfect vacation.
Topic 2: What would you like to do to make the world a nicer place in which to live? Explain.
Topic 3: Who is your favorite relative? Why have you chosen this person?
Topic 1: If you could improve your school in one way, what would that be? Describe the improvement you would make and explain how it would benefit students.
Topic 2: What would be the perfect career for you some day?
Topic 3: There are many problems in our world today. Name one you would like to solve and explain how you would do it.
Topic 1: Of the books you have read in the past year, which one made the biggest impression on you and why?
Topic 2: Your school requires you to perform forty hours of community service in order to graduate. Describe which type of community service you would choose and explain your choice.
Topic 3: Describe what you would consider a “really successful person.” Explain why you consider this person and this person’s qualities to be successful.
Not a lot of guidance is given by the ERB on how to write the essay, and many students find themselves puzzled by the LACK of structure and direction. At UP, we give the students a step-by-step breakdown of how to write great ISEE essays and provide them with TWO things to focus on that will make their essays shine. We won’t spend hours of precious preparation time on an essay that isn’t graded, but we will cover the essay in an efficient and effective way that will set the stage for a future of writing stellar timed essays. To find out more about our programs or to register for tutoring or an upcoming workshop, set up a free consultation with us. In the same amount of time that your child could write a practice essay, you could already be set with a curriculum that will suit your child’s ISEE preparation needs. Now THAT’S efficiency!
This concludes our series on unlocking the mysteries of the ISEE. We hope you have learned a bit more about the journey your child will be embarking upon and we look forward to serving you in any way we can! Stay tuned for future newsletters with tips, tricks, updates, and other helpful ISEE hints.
Your writing warriors,
Jenni and Erin