How should children prepare for entrance exams in January?

Thursday, 24th November 2016

Children will naturally be nervous and all of my school’s pre-test correspondence with them and their parents aims to reassure and to remove as many unknowns as possible.

Whether at 11+, 13+ or 16+ an entrance test for a new school will usually be a daunting experience which most children would rate on a par with a visit to the dentist. Children will naturally be nervous and all of my school’s pre-test correspondence with them and their parents aims to reassure and to remove as many unknowns as possible.

Having experienced this from both sides, as a parent and someone who used to set and mark entrance tests, I now also feel a complete and pitying sense of empathy for parents who are powerless to do anything once the die is cast and they are ushered out of the school for a few hours after dropping off their precious children.

So how can parents help? Firstly, try not to add to whatever pressure your son or daughter is feeling. Children often don’t show their fears, but the fact is that most modern entrance tests are so clever and generic in nature that intensive practice and expensive tutoring makes negligible difference.

Good and well-organised schools will offer exemplars of their test papers, not so much for practice, but critically so that children know roughly what to expect in terms of the lay-out and rigour of questions.

Many tests are also now completed online and are computer adaptive, with the level of questions becoming more refined with each correct or incorrect answer. Most test companies also provide online exemplars.

Finally, give thought to how schools will use the data from the tests. All will have vacancies to fill, but is the test everything? Is the school looking for A grade academics or all-rounders? Will a poor test slam the gates shut or will it be used as a diagnostic tool? Will references and other achievements be taken into account?

In essence, child development takes years, not a few weeks in advance of tests. Don’t force it and don’t spoil the experience.

Alan Stevens

Headmaster

Barnard Castle School