How to handle a low ISEE score

May 28, 2015 at 7:04 p.m. ET
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The ISEE, or Independent School Entrance Exam, is a requirement for admissions consideration at many independent and private schools. It is also a very difficult test. Sometimes, students who take the ISEE are shocked and dismayed by their scores. If this scenario describes your child's experience with the ISEE, know you are not alone. Then, follow the four-step guide below, which can help you handle and move on from a low ISEE score.

1. Assess your student's entire portfolio

The ISEE plays an admittedly central role in independent school admissions, but it is not the only factor that determines whether or not your child receives an acceptance letter. If your student performs poorly on the ISEE, assess the strength of her entire application portfolio; for instance, do her grades better reflect her academic potential? A low ISEE score may have less bearing on an admissions decision if your child can demonstrate that she has consistently done well in her classes. Other aspects of the application process, such as the interview or recommendation letters, can also soften the blow of a low ISEE score.

2. Reconsider your short list of schools

If your student is applying to highly competitive programs, take the time to determine whether her grades and ISEE results fall within or close to the range of accepted scores. If they don't, it may be wise to apply to a school or two that is slightly less competitive, but still well regarded. Think of this as selecting safety schools; while this practice is generally associated with the college application process, it's also very useful in the independent/private school realm. What's more, your child may ultimately love (and benefit from) a safety school more than a program that is impossibly challenging for her.

3. Schedule a second test date

Students can sit for the ISEE once in a six-month period. However, unlike standardized exams like the ACT and SAT, the ISEE cannot be completed multiple times within a single admissions season. This unfortunately means that the only way to retake the ISEE is to delay your child's application to private school. This option should thus be seen as a last resort, but it is a viable possibility if your student's scores aren't supported by an otherwise strong application, if she is well below her target schools' expectations or if you cannot adjust your short list of programs.

4. Keep calm

A disappointing score report can be frustrating, stressful and upsetting for both parent and child. It can also feel like a terribly final end to your student's dreams of attending an independent or private school, but as the above suggestions demonstrate, that isn't necessarily true. Instead of panicking, use this complication as an opportunity to teach your child about determination. Setbacks frequently happen in all areas of life, but you can persevere and overcome them. Stay calm and positive, and help your student do the same. After all, determination will be one of the keys to independent school success!

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