For families hoping for places in selective schools, the period of entrance assessments is fast approaching. It can be a stressful time for parents and children alike, but there are certain things you can do to make the assessment as straightforward as possible.
Preparing for entrance tests
Listen to what the school tells you. If no preparation is required, then don’t try to guess the contents of the test and prepare anyway: you might find your child has practised the wrong sort of questions, which will only worry and confuse them on the day of the test. Even worse, your child might spend hours preparing, only to win a place at a school that isn’t a good match for them academically, and where they will struggle to keep up. The point of the assessments is to select children who will thrive – you may have your heart set on a particular school, but if it isn’t a good fit for your child, they will be far happier, and better off in the long run, somewhere else.
Some schools provide past test papers – use these to familiarise your child with the type of question they are likely to face; don’t spend three months practising endless similar questions. As before, your child may win a place at a school that isn’t appropriate for them, be placed in the wrong sets or classes, and at the very least become jaded and less enthusiastic about their prospective school.
Remember – if your child needs to put in an excessive amount of work to pass the entrance exam, the school is wrong for them!
Preparing for interviews
Don’t drill your child (it will show!) but it’s useful for them to have a trial run with another adult simply to help them focus their thoughts. Check they can talk about their interests and favourite subjects – with reasons why – and encourage thought and discussion on things that are happening in the world. The best interviews don’t come from forced practise in a short period of time, but from children who are genuinely curious about the world – this isn’t just useful for interviews, so try to encourage this enquiring, articulate approach generally.
Before the day
Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep for a few nights in advance. They may be nervous and not sleep well the night before, so aim for two or three relaxing evenings and early nights before the test day.
Ensure they are properly hydrated. Dehydration can have a negative effect on performance, so make sure they drink plenty of juice or water in the days before the test, and carry a bottle of water with them on the day.
Check in advance what they need to bring with them – writing materials? A calculator? School reports? Current work? Leave enough time to find anything you need.
Make sure you know where to go, how to get there, where to park, and how long to allow for road works, walking from a car park and so on. A child who arrives flustered and late – and it does happen – will feel very uncomfortable and is unlikely to do their best. Don’t leave this until the morning of the test – do a dry run if necessary and, even if you know the area well, leave plenty of time.
Think through the arrangements a few days in advance – schools are always happy to answer any questions, but you won’t get hold of anyone on a Sunday, or late the evening before, so leave enough time to contact them if you need to.
On the day
Make sure your child eats a proper breakfast, ideally something that will keep them going for a while in case they are still too nervous to eat at the first break. Foods like porridge release energy slowly, while protein rich food like eggs will keep them feeling full.
A good school will give you instructions about what your child should wear. Usually, this will be school uniform or smart casual clothes. Don’t try to go one better by dressing your young child in a suit, if that isn’t expected by the school – your child will feel out of place next to everyone else, and won’t perform well.
Make sure your child takes everything they need with them. Your careful preparations go to waste if a vital bag or folder is left at home or in the car!
Finally, stay calm, and don’t put your child under too much pressure – it will damage their performance on the day, and make it much more difficult to deal with if they aren’t successful. Schools will try to make the experience as welcoming as possible, and whatever the outcome, it is another learning experience for your child.