The Upper Level ISEE Verbal Reasoning section is composed of two parts – synonyms and sentence completions. You will have 20 minutes to answer 20 Synonym Questions and 20 Sentence Completion Questions. These questions test your knowledge of vocabulary and your ability to apply that knowledge.

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For Synonyms, you must know the definition of the word in all capital letters as well as the definition of each answer choice.


Systematic Approach to Synonym Questions

With 20 capitalized words and 4 answer choices paired with each capitalized word, you must potentially define 100 vocabulary words on the Synonyms portion of the ISEE’s Verbal Reasoning section. You do not receive any context for these words.

Plus, it is likely several of the Synonyms questions will be words that do not appear among the 1200+ words found on Piqosity. Thus, you need a systematic approach to answering every question, whether you recognize the word or not.

five-step-approach-to-isee-synonymsFor example, if you are asked to find the synonym for the word “ANTITHESIS,” follow the approach:


It is important to note that a positive word does not necessarily mean “good”, and a negative word does not necessarily mean “bad”. Think about context. A positive word can be a word where the action is moving towards something, such as “ascend”. A negative word can be a word where the action is moving away from something, such as “descend”. In the same sense, entering a room is positive while exiting a room is negative.

Basically, a word is positive if it moves forward or toward something, adds or increases, is the primary focus of the sentence, or compliments something.

A word is negative if it moves back or away from something, takes away or decreases, is the secondary focus of the sentence, or contrasts something. There are more aspects to positive and negative words, but you will get a better feeling for these aspects after studying more words.

Word Parts

Big words are kind of like math problems. To understand advanced math, you must understand the basics and the many rules and properties that accompany these basics. Words begin with their parts: prefixes, suffixes, and root (or stem) words.

Roots are the basic building blocks of words. All words contain a root, but the root itself is not the word; it must contain a prefix, a suffix, or some mixture of the two.

Prefixes attach to the beginning of the word and alter its meaning or create a new word.

Suffixes attach to the end of the word and alter its meaning, make it grammatically correct, or create a new word.

For example, the word “amorphous” contains the prefix “a-,” the stem “morph,” and the suffix “-ous.” The prefix “a-” means “not,” the stem “morph” means “shape,” and the suffix “-ous” means “possessing” or “full of.” Thus, the word parts for “amorphous” state it means “possessing no shape.”

Be careful not to mix up the stem “morph” with the actual word “morph.” Morph means “to change or transform.” You then might confuse the definition of “amorphous” to be “no change,” which is very different from the true definition of “amorphous.” It is always changing shape, much like an amoeba.

Table of Popular Prefixes

Prefixes (beginning) Meaning Examples
a, in, im, ir, il, un, non not amoral; imperfect; illegitimate
ab, dis, di, se away, apart abnormal; distant; segregate
ad, ac, ag, at to, against aggressive; attract
anti, ant, contra, ob, against antithesis; contrast; obstruct
an without anarchy
ante, pre before antecedent; preface
bene well beneficial; benefactor
bi two bifocal; biannual; binary
circum, peri around, about circumvent; perimeter
com, con, col, syn, sym together, with compact; collide; symmetry
de from, down descend; deformed
dom home, rule dominate; domain; domicile
ex, e out, from exit; emit
extra beyond, outside extraterrestrial
in, im in, into inside; imbibe; imbed
inter between interface; international
intra, intro within introduction; intramural
mal bad malcontent; malformed
mis wrong mistake; misinformation
omni all omnipotent; omnipresent
per through pervasive; permeate
post after posthumous; postulate
poly many polygon; polygamy
pro forward, for proposal; proactive
re again, back reinforce; redemption
semi half semiannual; semicircle
sub under subversive; submerge
super above superficial; superimpose
sur on, upon surmount; surpass
trans across, beyond transition; transparent

Table of Popular Stems/ Roots

Stems/Roots (body) Meaning Examples
ag, ac do agenda; action
agri farm agriculture
aqua, aque, hydr water aquatic; aqueous; hydrate
auto self autonomous
biblio book bibliography
bio life biography; biology
cad, cas fall cadence; cascade
cap, cep, cept take captive; accept
capit head capital; capitulate
ced, cede, ceed, cess go access; succeed; secede
celer speed accelerate
chrom color polychromatic
chron time chronology; chronic
cide, cis, sec, sect cut suicide; dissect; incision
clude, clud, clus close, close inconclusive; preclude
cog, cogn knowledge of cognitive; recognize
ded give dedicate
duce, duct lead deduction; reduce
flect, flex bend, turn reflect; reflex; deflect
graph, gram picture, writing demographic; diagram
greg group, gather aggregate; gregarious
gress, grad move graduate; progress
junct join conjunction; injunction
lect, leg read, choose lecture; legible
logue speech, speaking monologue; dialogue
logy study of necrology; theology
mis, miss, mit send missive; emit
plac please placate
sequ, secu to follow sequence; consecutive
tain hold obtain; detain; retain
vene, vent come intervene; invention
volve, volu roll, turn evolve; evolution

Table of Popular Suffixes

Suffixes (end) Meaning Examples
able, ible capable of liable; applicable; reversible
age place, thing, idea adage; storage; blockage
al, ic pertaining to coincidental; medic
ance, ary, ence relating to significance; functionary
ate an action of placate; medicate; obligate
cy the quality of candidacy, theocracy
er, or one who professor; teacher; maker
ion the act or state of complication
ious full of pious; zealous; egregious
ive having the quality of festive; plaintive
ly to do with the quality of comically; quietly
ment the result of fulfillment; compliment
ness the quality of being calmness; emptiness
ty condition of being quantity; quality

Let’s Practice

Piqosity allows you to take free practice quizzes and receive analysis of your performance including details on question difficulty level and a comparison to how your peers did on the same question. You can use questions already on Piqosity or upload your own.

The sample quiz below includes 20 synonym questions, 2 of which are easy, 2 of which are hard, and 16 of which are of medium difficulty. If you want to simulate actual timing, you should limit yourself to 20 minutes.

Start Practicing


This How-To Guide is excerpted from “Upper Level ISEE Prep Guide with 6 Full-Length Practice Tests, 3rd Edition” by Stephen Hayes and the Staff of General Academic. You can buy it on Amazon for about $50.