The pandemic has dramatically changed the private school admissions landscape. Most schools have adopted the test-optional or test-free policy where standardized tests like the SSAT or ISEE are no longer required or considered for admission. These schools have, instead, developed their own ways of screening students through assessment tests and writing samples to determine academic proficiency and readiness. 

In lieu of test scores, several Peninsula schools—Castilleja, Crystal Springs Uplands, Episcopal Day, The Girls’ Middle School, Keys School, Menlo, Sacred Heart, Silicon Valley International School, The Nueva School, Woodland School, and Woodside Priory—are requiring Proctored Writing Samples as part of their application requirements. This is an online writing session, done through Zoom, where students are asked to write an essay on a specific topic or prompt. The activity is proctored by one of the admissions officers and applicants are given only 30 minutes to complete the writing sample. This gives admissions officers a chance to know more about the student beyond grades, GPA, and academic standing in their current school through their essays. 

Many families welcome this new development and feel that it is better and easier than taking the SSAT and ISEE without realizing that their children are put at a disadvantage because they lack practice. A year of online schooling has greatly diminished students’ skills in writing because they were not given as many writing exercises as before. As a result, they are not able to come up with well-written and compelling essays that could differentiate them from other applicants. Since the proctored writing sample is a timed essay writing session, it requires more thought organization and writing ability, skills that would be greatly enhanced through practice.