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Marlborough House School

Passing the Test of Time

Head of Year 5 and 6, Jessica Andrews, believes that when children are happy, they are capable of so much more in the classroom ...

Preparation for formal examinations and tests is at some stage, an essential part of every child’s educational journey. Unfair as it may sometimes seem, we all know that exam success can secure a first choice of school, point to a specialist area of study, define a career path and even save you money on school fees! All parents want the very best for their children, so as a mother and teacher, I understand that test preparation is regarded as a VERY big deal!

Government figures report that 10% of children aged 5-16 have been diagnosed with a mental health problem* and no doubt the pressure of formal examinations has played its part in that statistic. Pre-testing in Year 6 for senior school entry at 13 is becoming more and more common and this can further add to the pressure pupils are already under, and to parents’ anxieties, which in turn, they can pass on to their children. Happily for some children, being formally assessed at school can be walk in the park, but for others, the fear of failure can prompt regular tears at bedtime, poor sleep and eating patterns and high levels of anxiety as they carry the weight of their and their family’s hopes and aspirations on their shoulders.

Parents have a large part to play in helping to alleviate children’s anxieties in the lead up to exams by firstly having a realistic view of their child’s ability.  A strong teacher/parent relationship is central to developing an understanding of how a child learns best, so that tailored revision plans can play to their strengths. Teachers also know how certain tests are designed and can advise parents on where extra effort needs to be directed.  For example, gaining experience of using computer based testing is ideal preparation for pre-tests at Year 6, and as the English paper for the 11+ examination is so reliant on a child’s vocabulary, encouraging children to read as much as possible and learn just a few new words each week can pay dividends on examination day. In the lead up to 13+, common questions parents ask are “What else are you doing to prepare my child?” and “Should we get a tutor?” Yet experience has taught us that many senior schools find this level of preparation to be unhelpful, as what they really need is to be able to make an honest assessment of a child’s ability – the real ‘them’ on paper, so they can identify natural potential and accurately judge whether their school will be the right fit for that child. 

For any test, ‘little and often’ is the best approach to revision. Support is at hand with some amazing interactive apps, which often prove a more engaging way of learning than studying from textbooks alone. There are also programs parents can subscribe to which offer online practice for both the pre-tests, SATS and 11+.   But time away from the books, is also time well spent. Getting enough sleep, eating well and taking time out to play, all help in the development of a healthy, active mind. As a teacher, I see first hand that when children are happy, they are capable of so much more in the classroom and in my experience, those that have a solid work hard, play hard ethic, tend to be the pupils who perform best under test conditions.  Add food, water, a good night’s sleep and applying the ‘little and often’ revision rule and I believe you have a tried and tested formula for successful exam preparation - and not a private tutor and eye-watering invoice in sight!  

As a final thought, it’s also worth keeping things in perspective and trying to remember that it’s not the end of the world if a child fails to make the grade, for as important as exams are, they are poor indicators of the so-called ‘soft skills’ every child will ultimately need in life as an adult. Curriculums and teaching approaches that consider Diplomacy, Resilience, Creativity and Pragmatism to have equal ‘learning goal status’ to simply ‘knowing the right answer’ are, I believe, preparing children for more than a set of impressive exam results……….they are also preparing children to pass the test of time.

This article is published in Little London Education Guide,  Spring 2018
* Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012, Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays