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. Finally, go to the answer choices, and eliminate the three wrong choices.

One of the trickiest sections on the Independent School Entrance Examination, the ISEE test, especially for non-native English speakers, is the synonym section. But with a bit of help, learning tricks, and strategies, you can easily make the ISEE synonyms section your most improved section.

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.


In the word excavate, there are two roots in this word; ex means exit, and cav, the 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, and it’s not a 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, infect, 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 will 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 a 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 Synonyms tips helpful? What is your strongest/weakest section on the ISEE test?

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