Last Updated On: July 21st, 2020

For those of you who are contemplating applications to private schools, you are well aware that under normal circumstances there is a testing requirement. And that requirement often strikes terror in the hearts of students and parents alike.

The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is one of the tests that private schools may require. Parochial schools may require a different exam – the HSPT. East coast and boarding schools regularly require the SSAT, while still accepting the ISEE. But for most families applying to grades 4 through 12 in the Los Angeles area, the test of choice is the ISEE.

The ISEE is considered a particularly challenging exam, with sections on quantitative analysis, reading comprehension,, verbal analysis, and math that is far removed from what your child has actually learned in school. And while schools continue to say that they prefer that students don’t prep for this exam, of course students do. This is a hard exam, after all, and you want to give your child every advantage in getting into the school of their dreams. For many of you, test prep started last spring, and you were planning on getting up bright and early on August 1st to secure a preferred test date and location.

With the advent of the pandemic, however, the realities of testing have changed. While schools are still deciding whether to open in person or virtually, they are not hosting open houses, and they are definitely not inviting hordes of students into their schools to take a test. This has left the Prometric sites to shoulder the burden of testing – but even here, the reality of city-wide and state-wide stay at home orders makes it clear that some test sites may not be able to open at all, based on state and local public health regulations and guidelines. If they do open, you may not want to send your child there.

Prometric has offered a “test at home” option for U.S. applicants interested in taking the ISEE – less than ideal. There is similar news from the SSAT. While they are offering a “flex” option so that individual students can test with a proctor, one on one, they face the same issues as the ISEE.

With the challenges in figuring out where to take a test, there is some good news on the horizon. For the first time, many, if not most of the private schools in the L.A. area have announced that they are going test-free for this year. Some are going test-optional, meaning that you can decide whether or not to submit your child’s ISEE scores, if they can eventually take the exam. But for those schools that are test-free – the majority of schools – they have announced that they will not consider ISEE or SSAT scores, even if submitted. We are also seeing this for many of the boarding schools as well.

I repeat – the ISEE and the SSAT may be largely irrelevant during this application season. Since this is a new policy for most schools, you should absolutely check first with each of the schools you may be applying to, to be on the safe side. For international applicants, some schools are still requiring the ISEE, even when they aren’t requiring test scores for U.S applicants.

While many of you are breathing a huge sigh of relief, as well you should be, I would argue that you should still consider prepping for this exam, or using those tutoring hours to bolster your child’s knowledge and abilities in an area that is challenging for them. Given the rigor of the ISEE, it is still a good measure of where your student stands vis a vis other candidates, and may help you choose a realistic list of schools. And once you are looking at schools, even if only virtually, you may want to add new options to your list of schools, and one of those options may still require the ISEE. Always better to be prepared.

This blog is contributed by Sandy Eiges: She is a school admissions consultant for families seeking school options for Kindergarten through 12th grade, including boarding schools. Her company, L.A. School Scout ™, serves families in the greater Los Angeles area. You can find her free tour calendar and newsletter at www.LAschoolscout.com. You can also contact her directly at [email protected] or 310-926-0050.

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