ISEE Exam Reading Passage Example

Heinrich Zille kleiner Junge
“Little Boy” by Heinrich Zille (1858-1929). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The following passage is based on comparable Critical Reading passages found on the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). The ISEE is used nationally for admission to private high schools. This passage was prepared by a Test Masters critical reading instructor for the purpose of familiarizing ISEE parents and students with the type of material they can expect to see on test day.

The Walk Home

John was counting the cracks between each block of sidewalk when he heard a car roar through the next stop sign down the block. His neck jerked erect, as he saw a blue mammoth of a car race down his street. He couldn’t quite make out what kind of car it was or who was driving, but he could tell they were in a hurry. John didn’t really think much of it though. Things like that happened all the time in a neighborhood filled with novice drivers like his brother, Jamie – who’d just turned sixteen. Hank, John’s best friend, had driven once, and said it wasn’t that great. But that only made John want to drive even more.

Letting the thoughts of his walk home deteriorate, John took out his key, opened the front door, and froze. The house was a frenzy of overturned tables, disheveled drawers, and broken glass. The TV was gone, their stereo, and even his mother’s gold-painted rose that was a gift from his grandmother.

“Mom?” As John called out he realized that it was foolish to do so. His mother wouldn’t be home until 4:00, after picking up his baby sister, Kylie, from day care, and Jamie had football practice until 6:00. His father worked late. It was only a quarter till 3:00. It was clear, however, that the routine that John had grown to love would not be happening. Not today.

John stepped carefully over the broken vase on his way to the kitchen telephone, and called his mother’s cell phone.

The phone went to a voice mail the first time, so John hung up and called again. The same thing happened the second time he called. He called a third time, and his mother picked up, and in a peeved voice she asked, “What’s up? I’m in a meeting.”

John was silent. Suddenly what needed to be said wouldn’t come out of his mouth. “John?” his mother ordered. She’d seen the caller ID.

“We’ve been robbed,” John said.

There was a pause.


“I said we’ve been robbed.” John didn’t realize how much it hurt to say again, and began to tear up. A sudden fear began to swarm him.

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“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m ok.” More tears. A sniff. He was trying to hold himself together.

“I’m leaving right now, okay? Call 911, tell them your name, our address, and phone number. Tell them the house has been burglarized and that you’re home alone. Okay? … John?”

The only sound he could emit was a whimper.

“You want me to call them?” His mother asked.

“Uh huh” John blundered; embarrassed that he wasn’t more courageous.

“Okay, I’ll call them. In the meantime go over to Hank’s and sit tight. I’ll come and get you on my way home, Okay?”


“And John?


“Don’t worry. They’ve already been there so there’s nothing for them to come back for. Okay?”

“Okay.” This made him settle down a bit.

“Now hang up the phone, and go over to Hank’s.”

As John hung up the phone, an epiphany swelled in his mind.

“The blue car…”


 1. Which of the following could be considered true concerning the reason for John’s mother instructing him to go over to Hank’s?

I)      To keep Hank company.

II)    To make sure John isn’t alone until she can pick him up.

III)  To keep John safe.

A)    I and III

B)    II and III

C)    II only

D)   III only


2. The word “novice” as used in the first paragraph most nearly means

A)    Teenager

B)    Student

C)    Beginner

D)    Imbecile


3. How did John’s mother know it was him calling without him saying his name?

A)    His mother had grown accustomed the family’s routine.

B)    She recognized his voice.

C)    John saw her number on the caller ID.

D)   John and his mother are incredibly intuitive.


4. John’s reference to the blue car indicates that

A)    he believes it was the burglars he saw on his way home.

B)    he wants a blue car when he starts driving.

C)    the burglars will get away with the crime.

D)    his favorite color is blue.


5. John freezes in the second paragraph because he

A)    doesn’t want to disturb the house.

B)    is trying to be quiet.

C)    is shocked by what he sees.

D)    plans to rob the house.


6. Why does John’s mother offer to call the police?

A)    John doesn’t want to.

B)    She knows John won’t remember.

C)    John doesn’t like talking to strangers.

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D)   John has been rattled by the situation.


1) The answer to this question is “B”. The reason why it is both roman numeral II and III is because the author explicitly states that John’s mother wants him to go over to Hank’s house. Seeing as how she gives this instruction after their house has been burglarized, it’s clear that she’s not comfortable with John being alone, let alone in the very house that has just been vandalized. The reason why roman numeral I is not a viable option, is because there is no motivation for the mother to provide comfort to someone who is A) not a victim of being burglarized, and B) not her own child. Therefore, answer choice “A” is incorrect because of the fact that roman numeral I is not factual, and answer choices “C” and “D” are incorrect because each is missing the other, correct roman numeral. Remember: with questions consisting of roman numerals, you must pick the answer choice that contains ALL correct roman numeral statements.

2) The answer to this question is “C”. “D” is automatically incorrect, because “Imbecile” means Idiot or Fool. We also cannot pick choices “A” or “B” because we cannot assume that the people driving are all Teenagers, let alone that they are all Students (especially since we don’t state any kind of learning institution in which they are enrolled). Furthermore, the word “Novice”, by definition, means Beginner.

3) The answer to this question is “C”. “A” is incorrect because we do not mention John calling his mother as part of his daily routine, and the narrator mentions John’s routine being ruined before he calls his mother. “B” is incorrect because John does not speak first during him and his mother’s conversation on the phone. “D” is incorrect simply because it is an assumption, and the fact that “C” is backed up by evidence in the sixth paragraph, where the author states, “She’d seen the caller ID.”

4) The answer to this question is “A”. “B” is incorrect because we don’t have any evidence in the passage that indicates that John wants a blue car specifically. In fact, we don’t know if John even wants a car at all; only that he wants to drive. “C” is incorrect because nothing in the passage states that the blue car was in fact driven by the burglars, and the passage stops before we learn for sure whether or not the drivers of the blue car were the culprits. “D” is incorrect because we never mention John’s favorite color. “A” is supported in the passage because it is implied by the author in the last line as an “epiphany” that John has of who performed the crime.

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5) The answer to this question is “C”. “A” is incorrect because the house has already been disturbed. “B” is incorrect because he calls out “Mom?” in the second paragraph (if he were trying to be quiet, he wouldn’t say anything at all). “D” is incorrect because… I mean, c’mon. “C” is supported in the passage because finding one’s house burglarized is shocking to anyone, especially since the author indicates that John was not expecting it in the least.

6) The answer to this question is “D”. “A” is incorrect, not necessarily because it is directly wrong, but because “D” is a far more accurate answer choice. Nothing in the passage suggest that John wants to call the police, nothing in the passage suggests that John does NOT want to call the police either. “B” is incorrect because John’s memory is not questioned in the passage at all. “C” is incorrect because the narrator does not indicate John interacting with strangers in any way throughout the passage. “D” is supported by the passage because “rattled” is a synonym of the word Disturbed, and the author clearly provides evidence saying that John is bothered by what has happened.

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