Tuesday, 12 January 2021

2020 OC preparation

This blog will take the load off the Mathemafix message board by hosting important information about 2020 OC preparation.

17 Jan
Finally the OC result is out! After so much delay. There is no school marks so the raw test scores shows how the OC profile is related to the test scores. The average of the test scores influences the profile almost directly. English is scaled better than maths and GA. However, it shows a strange thing where the higher the scores are, the less increase in the profile is. 

There are some interesting observations. The averages for Eng, Maths and GA are Eng 69.5, Maths 76.8, GA 80.7. While it is not possible to use the figures for our students to talk about scaling of the marks across the entire NSW, however English does look quite lower and should be scaled better. Our high GA average might be because the impact of the extra GA stuff added to the website this year. The English scores for top kids also look good. It could be due to more effort we put in this year for English and the emotion type of English. The highest score in the state is 271 and that is lower than scores over 280 for the past years. Looking at the top raw scores, we can see that there is scaling down on test marks. The slightly lower profiles could be the effect of not having school marks.

OC profile versus Raw mark


05 Jan
The OC test results will soon come out. It's expected that the results would be out by the middle of Jan so that's only just over one week away. As this OC test was still from ACER, the results should be similar to the previous 3 years. There should not be any surprise. The only surprise will be English reading scores as it was extremely unpredictable due to ACER's game to beat tutoring shops. 

When the results are out, parents can log on Mathemafix and update the scores so we can all have a picture of what the 2020 OC test performance for our students looks like.

A look back at the 2019 OC results

12 Nov
This is the result of the last 3 OC trials when compared with past students in 2019. The last 3 tests were harder and probably more accurate to predict results. However, it also show that some kids with low scores managed a high OC profile (they were probably doing tutoring soomewhere and not too interested in doing OC trials here). We also see some kids get low profiles as they unexpectedly crashed on the day (especially in English).

Rankingby OC trials 6-8


Ranking by OC trials 1-8

 16 Sep

After two delays, we are still no sure if the OC test will actually happen to plan or it will go online in Nov. If it goes online in Nov, it will surely be done at each school rather than in a hall at a high school as there won't be enough equipment.

This 2020 OC test will still be from ACER. It is expected taht the format will be the same as before and the English will be like the last 2 years. They will put a lot of questions about feelings to blunt the advantage of the students attending tutoring. It will favour older/mature students and the students who have strong empathy for others. It has been observed that a student who only read at year 4 level can beat those who read at year 6 level. The ones who read a lot of fiction with deep themes will be able to score well.

The other issue is that those who work hard right through Sep-Oct is likely to risk getting burnt out. For parents, having a courage to let kids rest and recharge is the quality that can help the kids to be at their best on the OC test day.

This OC test is like no others. It gives the slower kids a chance to catch up. It frustrates the strong perfomers who are ahead and ready for it since July. Many kids will face the risk of being burnt out. It gives kids a chance to avoid school marks which can be very unfair. If the 2020 selective test is any guide, teh OC test will have the same hard English and the maths will not be as easy as it was before.

- Students are advised to use the "resting time" now to read a lot of sad novels.
- Students should work matsh problem solving to get to the top level as maths will have more weight than before (even though the weight is less than English).

12 Mar

Some schools will offer students at year 3-4 a chance to do Maths Olympiad competition. This is a hard maths competition where students get 30 minutes to do just 5 questions.

The maths series Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5 is designed for this purpose. For year 3 students, it is just too difficult to participate in this competition. Year 4 students are advised to do this maths series and try to score around 80%. This means they actually have to spend about 25 minutes. They may be able to solve 4 problems in 10 minutes but one hard problem can take 15 minutes! This is why students must learn to be patient and parents must set them time between 20-30 minutes to do each test. There is no point to work on these tests the normal way spending only 10 minutes and guess what the answers.

The series Mini Math Challenge Grade Short Response 4-5 is teh harder version of Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5. This is for really keen maths students.

10 Mar
It looks like school disruption by coronavirus will happen frequently in the near future. It's a good idea for parents to plan for kids to do stay home and do work online rather than playing games at home. It's important to have a plan of work for days that they stay home doing a mix of reading, doing tests, review failed questions, learning vocab, writing, learning basic school maths, ... All of this is provided on Mathemafix website. Please read the OC G&T program guide for more information.

09 Mar
The emphasis on English now is making OC placement a lot harder for kids who don't do well in English comprehension (and get good English marks at school).

There is a feature called Personal Wordlist. An English dictionary has been added to the system as well. Students can now collect the words they don't know well into a personal Wordlist to study. 

There is a guide called Enriching English Vocabulary on the page QUICK LINKS about this. This new feature will really help students get more out of the texts they do in English comprehension. They can go back to study the questions that have new words they need to learn.

03 Mar
It's useful for parents to read the 2019 OC preparation blog where a lot of information and OC results are avialable.


Friday, 8 January 2021

2021 Selective School and Private School Scholarship Test Preparation

This blog entry will inform members of the Selective Support group on important issues related to the 2021 Selective Test and scholarship tests to take the heavy load away of the internal message board.

08 Jan
As I am preparing a set of questions to help students with the verbal thinking skills part of the TS test, I become aware that students will need strong English reading skills for main idea, conclusion and argument as the minimum basics to cope with the critical thinking skills level of the Cambridge TS test. So, I have collected questions to set up many tests for these reading skills. I have added them into the series
Mini Verbal Thinking Skills Boosters. I also identify that students need much more accurate ability to analyse English sentence structure. They need to be quick in spotting main clause, dependent clause and deal with complex sentences with 3 or more clauses. This helps them to clearly understand and pick out the main idea in a long complex sentence. It also helps them mentally code the logic for those questions that require logical deduction. I have created a test for English sentence structure. I find that some students are so bad with English sentences structure. Therefore all students should visit the module Writing Workshop (in More ...) and watch all the video lessons related to sentence structure.

Students should start doing these tests to get warmed up. Later I will complete this series with new tests on Cambridge-style verbal thinking skills. So, now is the time to get slowly started on the basic reading skills that are required for Cambridge TS.

As 50% of the Cambridge TS test is about mathematical reasoning, students should be familiar with the maths problem-solving strategies in the document Maths Problem Solving Strategies Year 4-5. There is no way to avoid the hard maths now. I have also added a series specific for training on these strategies: Maths Strategies. Students must work on the strategies and apply them to the tests in the series: Mini Math Challenge Grade 6-7 and Mini Math Problem Solving Grade 6-7. 

24 Dec
The SSU has released a sample for new selective school test from
Cambridge. After analysing the test, I came up with the following observations.

- The maths paper is difficult with a lot of heavy problem solving. The number of questions has come down to 35 from 40. However, there is no sign of light questions where students can do within 20 seconds. This means students will struggle to finish within the 40 minutes allowed for this test. the questions are at the hard level of the series Mini Maths Challenge and Mini Maths Problem Solving Grade 6-7 on Mathemafix website.
- The thinking skills paper is different from the old selective GA tests. There are only 40 questions (down from 60) but the questions are very big and time consuming. The maths thinking skills questions (about 50%of the paper) are not really different from the maths questions in the maths test paper. They can be a weird but should be well-covered by the hard maths series on Mathemafix website. There are very few non-verbal questions. There rest are verbal reasoning questions with complex English. It is surprising that there are so few different question types. Only 3 types of verbal reasoning are seen: main ideas/supporting details, logical inference and general comprehension (very few). This test is very challenging because it takes so much time to do it. Some questions can take a very long time to do. If students let themselves stuck on these, they will run out of time.
- The English paper is difficult as the questions require very careful reading. Many questions require students to hold a very large amount of information in the mind to answer. Some questions ask students to use information from many texts on the same subject but from different writers and from different time periods. So, it's a deep comprehension style. However, I think that it does not have a big variety of English reading tests by ACER. I think it's difficult but it's not crazy like ACER's English reading tests in the last 3 years (across selective tests and scholarship tests).
- The writing sample is a variation of persuasive writing but it does look very random when one first looks at it. I think that Cambridge is not going to stick to narrative as the only genre for selective writing task. They probably will not stick to the most common form in narrative and persuasive. They will randomly pick a variation within the two genre. For example, a letter is a form within the persuasive genre. A character description is a form within the narrative form. And a book review of an imaginary fiction book is a cross between narrative and persuasive genres. What this means is that kids must be aware of various subtle variations across persuasive and narrative genres.

What we need to do.

- I will provide videos showing the working-out for the maths sample and the thinking skills sample tests. It will also have a crash lesson on propositional logic to help students deal with logical-inference questions.
- The English sample paper is well-covered by the Deep Comprehension Series on Mathemafix website.
- Many students would sit the ACER scholarship tests which will have Emotional Intelligence content and the terrible randomness in student performance. To cater for this, I have extracted English questions addressing emotion into 2 series called
English Comprehension of Emotion Year 6-8 and Advanced English Comprehension of Emotion Year 6-8. I also slowly build up a new series called Challenge English Comprehension of Emotion Year 6-8.
- I will provide more tasks in the Selective Writing module to cover variation in form of narrative and persuasive writing. We are offering marking-on-demand service to students so parents can request marking. I believe that the marking students get from tutoring shops are generally poor as tutors do not spend enough time on marking. We had Danebank scholarship results coming back and as expected, our slightly-above-average writers in our yearly writing workshop scored within top 10%.

Students are encouraged to try the sample test from Cambridge now.

We are approaching the last 10 weeks of selective test preparation. Students should refer to the
Selective Minimum Workplan 2021 to make sure that the most important work is done before the selective test. By doing the important work, students will score better in the 8 big trials, and the average score from these trials will help predict the selective school profile.

The school holiday gives all students a chance to catch up and get the most important work done. There are students who do not attend classes and intensive trials at the tutoring shops. There are students who are behind. The main problem is that every student has different weaknesses and there is no one strategy that will fit all students. So, I have organised a special Open Learning workshop where there are only 4 students in each group. This allows students to get very individualised support to keep them on track and deal with their weaknesses. 

There are three workshops currently available for students to participate in:

Parents must log on Mathemafix website first then register interest for one or more of these workshops online.

Parents can also ask students to use the writing resources on Mathemafix according to this summary of writing resources to improve writing. And if parents are not confident in doing the marking for their kids, on-demand professional marking could be requested (a fee is payable per request).

02 Dec
We are entering the last 3 months before the selective school test. It's time to look at the latest information.

From the NSW DE, we know that the selective test will change.

This means the following things:

1- They have delayed the plan for online computer-based tests until 2022.
2- The test will be new (and probably not from ACER. Even though they mentioned Cambridge before but no one knows for sure).
3- The emphasis will be on higher order thinking and problem solving. For maths, it is probably less in calculation and more in mathematical thinking. For GA, it will be more in logical thinking. However, it's hard to see that they will abandon the hard vocab.
4- They will probably not have more marks for harder questions as the test is not computer-based.
5- The new test format has not been disclosed, and the SSU probably will release a sample very close to the test date.

Don't worry about the phrase "thinking skills". It's not a real change. It's just another phrase for general ability. This is what scholarship tests have been referring to. Some people also call it a mix of verbal and non-verbal ability.

The new test is probably very close to the old test in format. And we can only hope that it will not have the fault of the ACER English test where the scores become random and mostly between 25%-65%. ACER doctored the test to fight tutoring shops and made it an invalid test. It unreasonably favoured girls, older students and the ones with higher emotional development at the expense of students with high levels of comprehension but lacking emotional maturity. It creates a situation where a student with only participation in ICAS English can beat a student with a distinction.

22 Sep
Reading crisis in primary schools. This is why NSW literacy has gone lower in NAPLAN tests.


19 Sep
Writing crisis in schools



These are the teachers who teach your kids how to write.


A success story on how a school principal changed a school


23 Apr
Coming up is some competitions like Maths Olympiad and AMC maths. Often, a school only does AMC maths or Olympiad but not both. I am not sure how Maths Olympiad would turn out this year as the 1st session has been completed by students sitting at home so they could cheat.

The ICAS last year was a mess. This year it is probably a mess too unless schools return to normal by Aug. It is expected that a lot of schools still would not offer all ICAS tests or any at all. UNSW Global's partner, North Shore Coaching, will offer ICAS this year. According to their website and their ICAS T&C, students can now sit their ICAS directly. Also, this year, students are allowed to connect to their WIFI network so there is no need for buying an Internet access dongle or use a mobile phone as a hot spot.

The big question is the value of ICAS. Schools generally do not use ICAS results as part of the school marks for selective applications. ICAS has been cancelled too. So, perhaps, the only value of ICAS is to show private schools to apply for full-fee enrolment. The ICAS results are not even useful for private school scholarship applications. This is because they don't want to know anything until the students score high enough in scholarship tests to get an interview. And according to experience in Feb-Apr of 2020, they have cut back drastically on scholarship offers as they now have financial troubles with this coronavirus crisis.

If parents still want their kids to do ICAS, they need to ask their schools on what ICAS subjects would be offered. And perhaps enrol to do the missing ones with North Shore Coaching.
12 Mar
Teachers in year 5 OC classes typically start taking school marks for the selective application from second semester starting with term 3. The earliest time they would start taking some marks would be middle of term 2. This means school kids have term 1 to warm up to the heavy load of work. All schools would send out a note to parents asking them to say if their kids will do the selective test so that the school can collect the marks (and give them the tests they need to gather the marks).

The majority of the English marks will come from writing and short answers for comprehension tests. This is why kids should focus on doing writing. The Writing Workshop and Punctuation modules will help those who are serious about writing.

Now is the time to warm up for Maths Olympiad. The following maths series are for this purpose.

For year 5
Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5
Mini Math Challenge Short Response Grade 4-5 (harder version of the Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5)

For year 6
Mini Math Challenge Grade 6-7
Mini Math Challenge Grade Short Response 6-7 (harder version of the Mini Math Challenge Grade 6-7)
Mini Math Problem Solving Grade 6-7

Each test only has 5 questions but students are allowed 30 minutes to work on them. This is exactly like Maths Olympiad where students are allowed 30 minutes to solve 5 hard questions. Past experience shows that students who do well in the above series. As year 5 students will do the competition together with year 6's, it's very hard for year 5 students to win awards. They need to get to top 10% to hope for anything.

The year 5 students who are really serious about Maths Olympiad should work rapidly over Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5 (ore revise all failed questions for this series if already done) and move on to slowly do the year 6-7 series. There is no way get high scores by rushing as these are very difficult problems. 

It is highly recommended that students learn the strategies in the document Maths Problem Solving Strategies Year 5-6 (and then 6-7) to improve problem solving skills.

09 Mar 
The emphasis on English now is making selective school placement a lot harder for kids who don't do well in English comprehension (and get good English marks at school).

There is a feature called Personal Wordlist. An English dictionary has been added to the system as well. Students can now collect the words they don't know well into a personal Wordlist to study. 

There is a guide called Enriching English Vocabulary on the page QUICK LINKS about this. This new feature will really help students get more out of the texts they do in English comprehension. They can go back to study the questions that have new words they need to learn.

15 Oct
We now have the 2019 OC test results out. Much like last year, most students have done well. The truth is that OC profile above 200 is decent even though students may not get a placement in an OC class. At 200, one can work hard and still have a chance to make it into one of the top 10 selective schools.

However, it is now increasingly hard for students who are not excellent in English to get a place in one of the top 10 selective schools. The SSU has campaigned both on harder English test and harder English at school and we see evidence of harder English in the NAPLAN as well in 2019 NAPLAN where kids who got to band 7 (out of 8) failed nearly 1/2 of the English questions! Even kids at early band 8 still failed 1/3 of the questions. And the kids who got to the triangle level of reading failed up to 1/4 of all questions.

The question is how students should prepare so that they will do well in English (and also other areas)?

Friday, 1 January 2021

2022 Selective and Scholarship Test Preparation

This blog will take the load off the Mathemafix message board by hosting important information about 2022 Selective and Scholarship test preparation.

18 Nov
The OC test in 2020 has been delayed so much that it happens in Nov. Students are tired and they don't get a lot of break time to rest before year 5 starts. What this means is that students should be allowed to rest very well from Nov to Jan 2021. Often parents are in a hurry to get students back to studying again for the selective test. This is not a good idea.

However, for those who really rest, it's a great time to improve English by simply reading a big variety of books and big fiction series. English is always the most important area of learning as it supports GA and word problems in maths. It's very important to enrich English vocab to cope with the hard verbal tests in GA.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Devices for ZOOM and online tutoring

ZOOM and online tutoring is becoming popular. However, the main two issues are slow Internet access and poor-quality laptop without an active pen.

Problem 1

Slow Internet access is often the result of 2 problems: poor wireless signal at home and poor Internet service speed. These two are separate problems. 


See this article: wireless Speed inside the house

Problem 2

Poor quality laptops

Most parents would buy laptops in the range $500-$700 for the kids to use at school. The screen is awful with low resolution like standard HD at 1280 x 720 and very low brightness around 180 nits (versus good brightness level of 300 nits or better). You are lucky to get full HD at 1920x1080 which is still poor today. These screens tend to produce poor colours and faded texts unlike the crisp and vibrant looking quality of high-end devices. These laptops are also generally of poor quality and slow. After loading a whole bunch of bloat wares that manufacturers load on at the factory, the devices are so slow that they are unbearable to work with. Further more, there is a need for a touchscreen with an active pen for students to write on the screen to easily communicate their ideas duriing an online lesson. All of these cheap laptops do not have touch screen and active pen.

Solution 1 (best option, cheap and effective)

Look for a used Surface Pro 4 or higher on eBay. It has a bright and high resolution screen at 2736 x 1824. Even an old Surface Pro 4 with i5 CPU and 4GB memory would beat most of the cheap new student laptops by far. ZOOM software only use between 25%-40% of the power of this device. It can run a full Windows 10 OS and each device has a Windows 10 license built into its firmware. There is no need to worry about getting a Windows license. A used unit with keyboard and active pen would cost around $350-$400 on eBay auction. 

Solution 2

Get a used iPad Pro with Apple pen. The screen is nice and bright with a high resolution of 2732 x 2048. This is a pretty expensive option. Even used a good iPad Pro with Apple pen on eBay would cost around $650. A new unit would cost around $1500. The other problem is that this option does not offer a full desktop operating system for work like Windows or MacOS. The ZOOM software for iPad is decent but not as good as the one for Windows.

Solution 3

Get a new Microsoft Surface Pro. This is also expensive at around $1500 - $1800 depending on options. IT allows users to use Windows 10 and an active pen on a very nice and bright screen (Display Resolution: 2736 x 1824). It still looks the same like older models from 4-6.


Solution 4

Get a chrome book with a pen like the Samsung Chromebook Plus with bright and high resolution screen of 2400 x 1600. The price is quite reasonable even when new. It's hard to get a used chromebook on eBay. There are some chrome books with a pen and the prices are between $350 - $800. The most expensive ones offer much better screen at high resolution and brightess and more colours. You would need a chrome book at the price close to $800 to get touch screen and active pen. The hardware quality will be similar to those Windows laptops around $1500.

The only problem with this option is that ZOOM software on the device is of poor quality. ZOOM has different versions of its software on each platform. ZOOM is probably best on Windows. Then it is not too bad on iPad. But on chromebook and Android, it is quite poor. The support for pen and annotation is very poor at the moment. So, one should avoid these devices for now.

Of course, there are very expensive laptops supporting active pen as well. These are from Microsoft, HP, DELL, Lenovo, ... They costs between $2000 - $4000 and parents would not want to buy these for their kids. And they often do not provide the ability to lay them at the right angle for comfortable writing on the screen like the iPad and the Surface Pro. These laptops are more powerful and often have larger screens.

A final note is about Apple laptops just in case you wonder why they are not mentioned. They are not recommended because they do not offer touchscreen and pen. Perhaps, Apple wants to sell more iPad instead of Apple laptops which are already very expensive.

How to make sure you get the best possible wireless speed inside the house

The popularity of wireless communication in the house due to its simplicity has led to very poor performance. The house environment is now too noisy with electronic noise. When several devices are active in a house, the speed and reliability of connections just drop. People who live in apartments have interference from their neighbouring apartments too.

To improve the performance, people should look at the following options. The trouble is that many people are not confident with technology and won't learn how to buy and configure them. In this case, they should get a computer shop or their Internet provider to send a technician to help out.

Dual-band routers 

Make sure you use both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. 2.4Ghz band has the ability to communicate over longer distance and can go through walls and doors better than the high speed 5Ghz band. It's simple to create 2 wireless connections on your router. The devices far away from the router would need to use the 2.4Ghz connection. The ones close to the router will need the 5Ghz connection. If you do not have a dual band router, it's time to get one. Also make sure you have the password for the router. If you don't have it, get your ISP provider to help.


 WiFi Boosters, Repeaters and Extenders

A WiFi repeater or extender is used to extend the coverage area of your WiFi network. It works by receiving your existing WiFi signal, amplifying it and then transmitting the boosted signal. With a WiFi repeater you can effectively double the coverage area of your WiFi network - reaching far corners of your home or office, different floors, or even extend coverage to your yard.

However, it gives the house a lot more electronic noise in the air and there will be some speed loss in the whole environment.



Boosters, Repeaters and Extenders are slightly different in how they work but the goal is exactly the same. So, manufacturers often use the terms carelessly without saying how the device really work. As the effectiveness is pretty much similar, people don't quite care about the technical details. A notable difference is the wifi repeater which has 2 routers inside it. It creates a new wireless network and piggyback on the existing one. This means a lot of electronic noise. It's better to get a dual-band unit that receives signal in 2.4Ghz and broadcast in 5Ghz.

Add access points

For people living in a big house with 2 floors. It's impossible for the signal to travel well across floors and then further walls and doors.

An access point is a device (could be just another router or even old router). You need to run a network cable(s) from the router to another far away location(s). Then plug another router to this cable and set it up as an access point.  This option gives really good signal strength to all parts of the house with less electronic noise.

Most modern houses tend to have network cables laid to all rooms when they are built. All the cables tend to come from one place like the garage to all the rooms. This means one just need to buy a network switch and plug all these cables in the gararage to create a local area network. If you don't mind hooking your laptop to the network socket on the wall, you would already have the best speed. If you want the freedom of wireless access, you will need to set up wireless access points. 

Often just one extra wireless access point is enough to cover a typical house. You would need another one to cover the outdoor alfresco. It's cheap to get used routers on eBay to set up access points. 

This appproach also creates a local wired area network (LAN) for devices that don't get moved around. These devices can enjoy high speeds from 1Gbits/s to 10 Gbits/s making it possible to do backup via the LAN. People often install a central storage device call NAS (Network Attached Storage) to allow alldevices to store and access data from one central file server. This effectly convert the house into an office workplace.

The main trouble is that you have to run network cables for an old house and that is not easy and you often have to pay a processional electrician to install the cables. It might not be too bad if you run just one cable and try to hide it from view.

Power-line network adapters 

For older houses, it's hard to run network cables. You should if you can. However, if you cannot, you can only use signal boosters (not good) or try power-line network adapter which makes use of the copper electricity wires as "network cables".


The speed tends to be low and the noise from electronical devices would make the network performance unreliable. And then you have to install an access point as well. This option requires a pair of power-line network adapters and one extra router/access-point device.

For old houses, the best option is still to try to run a network cable (cat 6) and try to hide it as best as possible inside the ceiling or use the cable colour that can be blended into the colour of carpet or wall. Then install an access point. A lot of used routers could be found on eBay at cheap prices. Just make sure these routers support access point mode and both bands 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz (dual bands)

Upgrade to NBN

Finally, people should upgrade to NBN service to get faster speed and more reliable connection to Internet. If one has 4G or 5G mobile phone, this can be used as a hotspot for imergency when the fixed line is down.