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Last Updated On: August 26th, 2021

As we approach a new age of the pandemic, the school system faces more challenges and tries to navigate accordingly. Private middle and high schools in Los Angeles are flooded with parents seeking a better education for their child, but they’re continually met with “test optional”, “test blind”, and “school specific.” It’s understandably confusing and hard to know what these statements mean in the grand scheme of things. The best way to understand the new system is to break down each school, specifically their goals for students, and brainstorm accordingly.

For example, Harvard Westlake School is adhering to a “test optional” policy.

Harvard Westlake School policy states: Harvard-Westlake has always been committed to a holistic admission process, with the Admission Committee considering all aspects of an application file. With that in mind, Harvard-Westlake is continuing our test-optional policy for students applying in the 2021-2022 admission cycle. This means that ISEE test scores are not required to apply, though applicants may still choose to submit them. Test results have always been just one of the factors we consider in gaining a clearer academic picture of each applicant. They provide an opportunity to present a student’s academic potential and preparedness, but this potential can also be represented in other parts of the application. We will not make any assumptions as to why some students may choose to submit a test score and some don’t. There will be no penalty for choosing not to submit scores, and applicants who do not submit scores will not be disadvantaged in any way in our admission process.

However, this school is WELL known for being academically rigorous. For their application, students need a pristine report card, high GPA, and excellent transcripts. If you have all of these things, but tend not to test well on standardized tests, maybe it’s best not to test.

My take: If you’re applying to one of the toughest academic schools in Los Angeles, it can only help to show them you are a great test taker by taking the ISEE and crushing it. They say “test optional”, but academic students that are eager for a challenge and unfazed by standardized testing will stand out when compared with their peers.

Another example is Windward School in Los Angeles. They have chosen to take a different approach and invited students to take either their school specific exam or the ISEE.

The Windward School policy states: “Students who are applying for the 2022-2023 school year will be required to take either the ISEE or our virtual in-house exam. Our online in-house exam (via Zoom) will cover reading comprehension and writing skills and will be approximately an hour long (or more if accommodation is needed). Students have the option of taking either exam.”

Windward School is typically very holistic, and it seems like this new “school specific test” idea is their way of taking the ISEE stress off the students. However, there is no more information on what topics will be covered on this test, so it’s a bit of a blind entry.

My take: You have to be comfortable with the unexpected when you walk into a school specific test. If you are a great reader and you feel confident with a timed essay, the school specific test seems like a great option. It’s only an hour long compared to the lengthy ISEE that requires almost 3 hours of testing.

However, if you’re more of a math whiz, the ISEE could be worth sitting for. It’s covers a lot of difficult math, and you’d have a better opportunity to show your strengths.

Now that you’ve heard about a few specific Los Angeles private schools, let’s take a step back. You may be located in various parts of the country with different school systems and still need a helping hand in making the final decision.

You should take the ISEE if
-You’re applying to a very academically rigorous school
-You’re an excellent test taker and your grades aren’t the strongest thing you offer
-Your strongest subject is math and you’re at least one grade level ahead or a quick learner

You shouldn’t take the ISEE if
-You don’t have time to test prep for at least 10-15 sessions
-You are very intimidated by tests and typically score far below your natural abilities
-The school you’re applying to is more holistic and less grade centric

If you’re still feeling at a loss when making this decision for your child, consider talking to our independent educational consultant. We have many resources available to help parents and students make the best choice for their child. Also consider having your child take a free ISEE diagnostic test with us before you make the decision. Initial scores are helpful in knowing how far your child has to grow to be competitive in their age range.

Hear from one of our successful ISEE students on How She Rocked Her ISEE or learn more about the changes to standardized tests for college applicants in our latest blog on SAT and ACT Prep for Fall: Test Optional is the New Normal.

Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels.

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