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Archive for September, 2010

Independent School Entrance Tests

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Passing the entrance test to get into an independent school is sometimes a slightly different business from passing the 11+ tests set by state grammar schools. Every independent school is free to set its own tests, and, although many use systems very similar to the 11+, some vary considerably.

As such, if your child is attempting to gain a place at an independent school near you, it’s crucially important that you understand the way the selection process works. Many independent schools offer past papers to help your prepare, which you should definitely accept if they are on offer.

Typical test components often include:

  • Maths – essential skills based on the topics your child should have covered in the upper years of primary or prep school.
  • English – often in the form of an extended essay question to assess your child’s written fluency and skill with spelling and punctuation. However, comprehension tests are sometimes involved, too.
  • Verbal reasoning – logic and problem solving puzzles similar to the ones sat in the traditional 11+ test. An ability to ‘frame’ the problem rapidly (i.e., understand and conceptualise it) is very important.
  • Non-verbal reasoning – logic problems based on shapes, sequences or patterns. They often take the form of ‘odd one out’ or ‘what comes next’ questions. These are perhaps slightly less common in independent school entrance tests, but it’s not at all unusual to come across them.
  • An assessment day, during which potential entrants will come in and experience a day at the school and monitored to see how they get on. This has recently been introduced, for example, at Manchester Grammar School.

In addition, the school may ask to see a portfolio of work from your child’s primary school. There will usually also be an interview, but interviewing well won’t make up for poor results in the academic tests. Getting a high score really is essential.

So, as a parent, what can you do to ensure the maximum chance of success? Once you’ve established the structure of the entrance tests you’ll need to come up with a preparation strategy: don’t expect your child’s current school to help much, especially if it’s a state primary.

You probably have a good idea of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, so the key to a successful strategy lies in working out where the potential problems will fall in the tests and working to address them. There are plenty of good revision guides on the market to boost English and Maths skills.

If the entrance test involves an 11+ style verbal reasoning component, you might also consider some practice tests – the Bond Assessment Papers are probably the best available.

Aside from that, there are various other general things you can bear in mind:

  • Vocabulary can make a big difference. This isn’t just a question of succeeding in English tests; good wordpower will help your child make sense of verbal reasoning questions quickly, ensuring an accurate understanding of the problem and saving valuable time in the test. Encourage reading over the summer, along with use of the dictionary to find out unfamiliar words.
  • Even if there isn’t a specific English test, spelling and punctuation matter. If your child is a borderline case, the school may look at the quality of his or her writing in written answers to verbal reasoning questions. Look at your child’s previous work, make lists of ‘problem’ words and encourage him or her to learn them. Revise punctuation, especially apostrophes to indicate possession and plurality.
  • Good mental arithmetic skills are important. Again, quick, reliable arithmetic can make all the difference in reasoning tests.
  • Finally, puzzles, word games and logic problems are always beneficial for sharpening the brain before entrance tests, and bright children can find them very enjoyable. Even simple crosswords and Sudokos can make a big difference and help your child develop fast, accurate logical thinking skills.

Finally, one of the best ways to give your child a head start is to hire a tutor. If you’re based in the Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, Wilmslow or Cheshire areas, contact us to discuss your situation – we have a number of tutors who are very experienced when it comes to coaching children for independent school entrance examinations.

Settling into a new secondary school

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In our last post we looked at helping your child settle into a new primary school. But what if your children are older, and have just started, or changed, high school/ secondary school?

Starting a new school can be fun, exciting, scary – but it’s rarely easy, and any new pupil will be on a steep learning curve. This is especially true for those moving up to a secondary school from their primary school or a child who is moving to a new high school as a result of moving home.

Kids in that second group, in particular, can have a pretty difficult time. They are not moving with a group of their friends, and they are probably having to adjust to a new home and a new town as well as a new school. Although some settle in very quickly, others can find it an intense and difficult experience. For the children their priority is finding and fitting in with new friends, with their academic needs sometimes taking a back seat.

Even if your kids get off to a good start at their new schools, you have to bear in mind that so many new experiences all at once can have an adverse effect on their learning. It can be difficult to stay on top of academic subjects when they are adjusting themselves to new faces, new subjects and different ways of doing things.

As a parent, what can you do to help in this situation?

  • Be encouraging at all times and be aware that your children need particularly intensive support at this stage of their schooling.
  • Talk about your child’s new friends but don’t forget about schoolwork when you’re talking about the new school. Yes, it’s great that your kids have new friends and new teachers, but it’s important that this is balanced with their schoolwork. If friendships don’t happen and your child is really struggling then you can consider home schooling with the help of tutors.
  • For this first few weeks at least, keep a close eye on schoolbooks and levels of achievement. Are they generally consistent with performance at the previous school? This can be an issue because different schools and regions may cover topics in a different order or follow an entirely different syllabus. It’s worth chatting to their teacher to identify any gaps in their knowledge.
  • Liaise with teachers. This is less easy if your child has moved up to the first year of a new school, when form tutors and heads of year will be beseiged by anxious mums and dads. If your child has gone into a new school in a higher year, you should get a bit more attention. In this situation, it can be a good idea to get your child’s new form tutor or head of year to call his or her opposite number at your child’s old school and get a sense of needs and priorities.
  • If your kids are starting a new school in the first year, make sure their teachers know that they are new to the area and aren’t part of the cohort of friends that has moved up from primary school.
  • You probably know your child’s strengths and weaknesses reasonably well – so make sure the new school does too!

By and large, most children are very adaptable and resilient, and settle into new schools easily within a week or two. If you’re worried that your child is falling behind academically with their schoolwork because of the upheaval of starting a new school, he or she could perhaps benefit from some extra tuition. If you’re based in the Manchester, Stockport, Wilmslow, Cheshire areas and would like to discuss tuition options, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at 121 Home Tutors and we’ll do our best to help!

Settling in at a new primary school

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Settling into a new primary school can be an unsettling experience for your child, there are often tears on both sides. There are lots of things you can do as a parent to help your child feel more comfortable.

Here are a few tips to manage the transition:

  • New school visit. If your child is already in nursery or preschool then they may do this with their current carers. If, on the other hand, they are a little older and changing schools rather than starting for the first time, you may have to organise it yourself. Don’t hesitate to contact the school and ask if you can visit. This takes away the fear of the unknown and these visits often deal with big issues for younger kids, such as knowing where the toilet is and where they will hang their coat. If you live locally then it’s a good idea to make a walk past their new primary school part of your routine.
  • Find out if friends or neighbours children are attending the same school. Obviously if your child is moving school as a result of your family moving to a new town these might be “new” friends in any case, but it will still really help your child if they see a friendly face. Some schools have a system where older children shadow the younger children in the first few weeks so they have someone to guide them and lessen the chances of them feeling lonely.
  • Focus on their interests. If your child mentions they fancy trying karate or a friend is part of the ballet club then encourage them to get involved. It’s a good way to help them foster friendships and become more confident.
  • This might be a time for them to be a little bit more grown up but, for very young children, a comforter won’t hurt. Maybe they have a special blanket or toy which can be stashed in their rucksack or bag to combat any wobbles.
  • Get to know their teacher. They’ll be looking after your child for the next year and it’s important that you feel able to go them with both academic and pastoral concerns. If your child isn’t settling or seems to be struggling academically then do go in and speak to their teacher. Teachers at this level are well versed in helping children settle into the primary school system and encourage them in areas where they may be struggling.

If you’re worried that your child is falling behind academically with school work or lacking confidence after starting primary school, he or she could benefit from one to one tuition. If you’re based in the Manchester, Stockport, Wilmslow and Cheshire areas and would like to discuss tuition options, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at 121 Home Tutors. We’ll do our best to help.