Wednesday, 19 February 2020

2020 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 2020 Selective Test and scholarship tests to take the heavy load away of the internal message board.

18 Feb
Many students have done 7 trials. We seem to have strong students this year. So we can expect good results in both scholarship and selective tests.

11 Feb
Several students have gone to scholarship tests. The next few schools for this week will be Queenwood School for Girls, St Luke’s Grammar School, Meriden School and The King’s School.

Feedback from students generally tell that Syd Grammar scholarship test is a high school test with almost all questions require  a short response. The test has only 3-5 multiple choice questions. They also give kids several different versions of the test on the day so it's just not possible to compare. Students just have to be really good in English writing (2 hours vs. 1 hour for maths) and English comprehension and expression of ideas.

The AAS tests are easier. All students feel that maths and GA are a lot easier than what they have to do here. The English test is hard (multiple choice type). The writing task is hard too as they always ask for a narrative and also put in a sentence to start the story. This means students who have written something at home and try to link into the topic will find it very difficult. Most of the time, kids will have to write a brand new story.

The ACER test does not have GA. They have 2 writing tasks. They also give flexible prompts allowing students to be creative. They often give one prompt for persuasive but they do not say what type of writing. Therefore students are free to write anything such as narratives, poems, ... Those who find the persuasive prompt not what they like to do on the day can just come up with a narrative topic related to the persuasive prompt and write a story instead.

It's very difficult for kids to write a brand new story in 20-23 minutes. They often come up with poor ideas, fail to create the narrative structure, fail on sentence structure and grammar. This is why students need to know the narrative structure perfectly and aim to complete the story 2 minutes before the end of time limit so they can fix the punctuation and cross out sentences that do not make any sense. It's also important to note that they give about 1 and 2/3 of a page for writing. Depending on the size of the letters and space between the words, students generally can only fit 300 - 350 in the given space. The correct advice is to focus on quality but the quantity also matters a lot. Try to nearly fill up all the given space (about 320 words) to give the story enough details, complications and evidence of competence in English grammar and punctuation.

05 Feb
The main scholarship season is coming. This weekend will see Santa Sabina, Syd Grammar and then Newington scholarship tests. It's useful for parents to look at the performance in 2019 where a total of 24 scholarships were offered to students on Mathemafix.

We have very strong students this year. So, we can expect a decent number of scholarships. The fear of coronavirus can be a small factor with hundreds of kids going to each scholarship and a lot would have taken trip to China. The use of face mask would probably be normal at these venues. 

28 Dec
Congrats to Pixie with full scholarship offers at Danebank and Barker. This will count to the 2020 scholarship season. In 2019 scholarship season, we got 24 offers and about 1/2 of them were full scholarships. This is a very hard record to beat. We need to put a lot of effort into this during Feb-Mar 2020. The list of scholarships is on page QUICK LINKS. Parents should pick the tests that are a little apart to avoid putting too much stress on the kids. 

Now is the time for kids to have a quick break and get back to serious learning. It's time to work hard on the tests to consolidate all what they have learned in year 5. It's also a good time for parents to take a break from work to spend time to help kids at home to put everything together. This is the time class tutoring is no longer effective. Only 1-on-1 tutoring and self-learning through doing tests, reviewing and researching on failed questions would help.

13 Dec
Year 4 students will soon be in year 5 to start OC classes or stay at their normal schools. Whatever the choice, they will face a lot more pressure if they are in a class with many strong performers. Those in a normal class would probably not feel much change. The ones in OC classes will feel a lot of change. The first experience that the work is a lot harder, and English is definitely the area that creates the most problems. It is also expected that they get to do a lot more home work, difficult vocab and spelling, reading ... They are less likely to do a lot of maths as the OC teachers generally see that their maths are well beyond what required at year 6 level (already one year ahead).

For those wishing to do scholarship tests, parents must start preparing a plan for activities to gain a good portfolio of activities. This portfolio should indicate activities such as academic competitions and at least two areas from music, games, science/tech, arts, sports, community service, debating/public speaking, leadership ... They must plan and enrol into activities early from beginning of term 1 to have time to get the certificates (from competitions or participation).

On Mathemafix, they should achieve the following milestones:

- Complete all year 6 school maths using Maths Lessons document by Mar 2020.
- Prepare for NAPLAN at year 5 by April. NAPLAN is no longer easy! Even one may get to the triangle but the detail report still show a lot of failed areas. The trouble will be mainly in English reading and writing.

- Complete OC revision work at the latest by June to move on to year 6-7 work.
- Reach at least grade 8 of Read Theory and stay there by May 2020 and then progress to grade 9 average near end of 2020.
- Check to make sure (by April) that the school offer ICAS competition on at least Maths, English, Science and Writing. If not, find ways to do them (such as asking the old school to allow them to do the missing subjects or enrol at Northshore (by April) to do REACH and then try to get to top 10% to be allowed to do ICAS with Northshore).
- Master the skills in Maths Problem Solving Strategies Guide Year 4-5 by May 2020 and go on to learn year 6-7 strategies.

14 Oct
Now that English is so hard in both OC and Selective test, it is important to look at what it takes to score well. I had a look at past performance and realised that very few students reach over 80% in English reading part of the selective test across the last few years. Students have to be excellent readers and score high distinction in ICAS English year 5 to have chances to get over 80% in selective English. 

So, I have extracted the top readers and their average scores on several  English test series at year 7+ for selective test preparation.

This table shows the test series, the average score and the number of tests done (inside the bracket next to the average score). This reveals that kids must score close to 90% or better across all of these series and also achieve close to 90% in English trials to be at the level to score over 80% in the selective English component. And now that they have made English even harder, getting to 90% or better on the English test series become a must for to readers.  

07 Oct
There are some early scholarship tests during Oct where the girls can do these and get a report on their performance. Pymble LC is on 19th Oct and Danebank is on 23rd Oct. Unfortunately for the boys, Barker is the only place but it does not provide a test report.

Hurlstone Agriculture HS at Glenfield (will be renamed as Roy Watts after 2022) has received a massive infrastructure upgrade. The name "Hurlstone" will be moved to a brand new selective school in Richmond.

This upgrade gives the future new selective school called Roy Watts the best facility (probably only second to the new Hurlstone Agricultural School scheduled to open after 2022 in Richmond) when compared to other public selective schools. The HSC ranking of Hurlstone has recovered a lot and heading back to the 20s. So, it is now probably a good full selective school with relatively low cutoff selective profile around 205-207.

18 Sep

The effect of harder English in OC/SS programs.

After the review of OC/Selective programs in 2017, English is now a lot harder than before. They have tried to influence the outcome of OC and Selective placement by making English harder in 3 ways: school English mark, English test component mark and English in GA test component. Teachers are advised to set harder English and give lower marks as the result. The English test component is now way too hard touching 2 years ahead of normal classroom grade. Harder English vocab is put into GA component. I also notice that the NAPLAN Reading component for ear 5 is now a lot harder than before as it is approaching the level of ICAS Reading competition.

It's now important that kids read more, do more vocab & spelling, listen to stories and write more. This needs to start from year 3. Year 4 students who will be in year 5 next year will face a much higher level of English work. As the DE targets OC class teachers more with their professional training for gifted and talented program, OC teachers suddenly become very fussy about English and they give low English marks. OC teachers give year 5 students English work at year 6-7 level and mark them at this level. Normal students get their work at year 5 level and marked at year 5 level. This creates a huge problem at schools hosting the OC class if the principal does not make sure all kids sitting the selective test are given fair marks (by doing the same tests). This is why some students in OC classes are getting lower school marks than those in non-OC classes.

Does this mean OC classes are not worth it? Not really. The scaling of school marks definitely favours OC classes. The school mark ranking penalty will always favour the top kids in schools without OC classes. But overall, the two factors will even out when they are combined to produce the final scaled school marks. The only negative effect for OC classes is that OC students will not automatically fill most places in top 7 selective schools. And it's clear that, OC students without strong English will not get into the top 3 selective schools (especially James Ruse).

For students not having any school marks (Catholic schools), the need to score ok in the English component of the OC and Selective test will be so important from now on. As most students will score under 50% in English, it is now a huge worry for those without school marks. For those who can score over 60% in English, it's great not to have school marks.

This is all part of the fight against tutoring colleges. It is clear that by asking teachers to lift English level at schools, lowering English school marks and making the English part extra hard, students who read a lot, do English spelling and vocab and write a lot will do well. This is something tutoring colleges cannot handle well. The effect is that, in 2019, a lot of students with intensive tutoring at coaching colleges fail to get to top 10 selective schools. The kids who do well in English (especially writing) at schools and read a lot more beat their way into top schools.

So, the advice is simple, make sure your kids READ, LOOK UP WORDS, SPELL and WRITE more. Mathemafix has all the modules to support these activities. Doing activities is just as important as doing the tests. This is something most kids and parents have overlooked so far.

11 Aug
By now, most students have moved on to year 6-7 work and the top performers are preparing for early scholarship tests. However, there are weaker students who are still struggling with OC revision and year 5 work. A question in the mind of parents is whether to drop the year 5 work and move on to year 6-7 work even though the scores look very poor. The answer is that students should continue to work on year 5 work and spend plenty of time to build the foundation by doing a lot of reading, complete year 6 school maths lessons and do spelling/vocab ... The year 6-7 work can wait until 3 months before the selective test. There is no point doing what they are not ready for to get more frustration and no benefit. Students who are still doing year 5 and OC revision around Aug would only achieve between 195-210 in the selective test.

08 July
We are now getting ready to start an early scholarship test campaign. Between Aug - Nov, a few private schools in Sydney offer scholarship tests for year-7 entry in 2021.  These early scholarship tests are much better than mock selective tests offered by big tutoring colleges. They accurately tell the performance of students so parents know the weaknesses that the students should focus on. These tests are good warm up tests for students to get ready for the main scholarship season in Feb-Mar 2020.

On page QUICK LINKS, parents find a document called 2019 Early Scholarship tests in Sydney with all the details about the schools and test dates. The document Early Scholarship Prep Tracking for year 5 shows the work that should be done to prepare for early scholarship tests. And the document Creative Writing Workshop flyer July 2019 is about the creative writing workshop. We will take only 6 students for the workshop. And we will only run it if there are 6 students interested.

We are very proud of the year 6 who managed to win 24 private school scholarships this year (14 in 2017 and 18 in 2018). Hopefully, year 5 students will rise to the challenge and win as many next year.

Another issue is ICAS for 2019. UNSW Global as replaced their old ICAS program by their new REACH program. Their new ICAS program is supposed to be harder and only available as online test in September. Many schools have dropped ICAS or cut down to fewer subjects. Many students will miss out. ICAS results are useful for scholarship applications. If your school does not offer ICAS, Northshore Coaching is the only alternative to do REACH first and hope to reach top 10% to do ICAS with them. The closing dates are fast approaching.

12 May
I had a look at the UNSW Global's REACH year 5 paper for Digital Technologies today. It is not easier than the 2018 ICAS year 5 paper for Digital Technologies. It's early to say anything until I see more REACH papers. However, the logical idea which also implied in UNSW Global's description of the new ICAS and REACH programs is that ICAS will be mainly for high performers. As it is done only online, it is not marketed by UNSW Global as their main product. Northshore also refuses to provide ICAS test to those who do not achieve top 10% in REACH. This might mean that ICAS tests will be much harder and more inline with the level of selective school and scholarship tests.

What this might lead to is that the ICAS distinctions and high distinctions will be more valuable than before. Before, one can fail 4-5 questions in some hard  papers like science and DT but still get HD. If they all get harder, one can fail more questions and still get HD.
11 Apr
I checked with UNSW Global and they say that if schools don't offer ICAS, the  only way is to go to North Shore. As North Shore offers REACH first and only top 10% will be invited to do ICAS, it's bad but it's the only choice. Many schools don't want to offer ICAS as they do not have decent computers and network to handle online ICAS. So, a lot of students will miss out of ICAS test. ICAS is only of good value to those wishing to apply for scholarships at private schools. Otherwise just buy the past papers and do them at home to get some idea of performance.

ICAS will be a problem this year. Schools don't know what to do as UNSW Global's old ICAS has been replaced by their new program called REACH which is more or less a NAPLAN level test for various subjects. Their new ICAS is now for high performers. ICAS also goes online and cramped into 1 week. Many schools don't know what to do and may not offer ICAS at all. Some cut the participation down to only English and Maths.

This is a problem for our students because the high performers would want to do scholarship tests. They want ICAS results to be in the portfolio to support the scholarship application. In this case, parents may need to use North Shore  Coaching who is a partner of EAA to participate in REACH. North Shore wants kids to do REACH first then top 10% will be invited to do ICAS. Parents should check if they will allow kids to do ICAS without doing REACH and getting into the top 10% first.
07 Apr
The attention is now being turned to 2020 selective test. A glimpse of the success of 2019 selective group has so far been seen by the number of scholarship offers from private schools. It is at 18 and expected to rise a bit more. This means, we will beat last year's record of 18 scholarships.

Year 5 students will follow the same path to Oct 2019 where some will sit a number of early private scholarships on offer. The schools expected to offer early scholarships are: Pymble LC, Abbotsleigh, Danebank and Barker College. Only Barker College is available to boys. All the others are for girls.

Top performers

This means strong performers and those wishing to do scholarship tests should be on the fast pace. By Aug, these students would already do some year 7 work and try 2 selective trials by Sept and early Oct. There is a document to guide students wishing to do early scholarship test. Top students who may not wish to do any of these early scholarship tests would still want to work at this pace. 

Normal performers

A lot of students are not among the top performers. They need more time. So, they might only finish OC revision by Sept and get on year 6 and 7 level late. They will have to work harder during Sep - Dec and work very hard in Jan-Feb 2020 to be ready for scholarship tests and the selective test.

Other events

The NAPLAN test is important even though it is easy. NAPLAN 2019 will be in May. Even though, NAPLAN is known to be easy, we have a few issues to consider. It is an online test. And writing online is not easy if students are slow in typing. The other issue is that students often score poorly in writing. This can affect the school report and also affect the English marks going into the selective school application. Students must prepare for NAPLAN writing by working on both narrative and persuasive writing even though only one type will be tested in the NAPLAN. No one knows which type it will be for the year!

ICAS can be important. It is certainly important for scholarship applications. This year, EEA has changed ICAS. They offer two programs called REACH and ICAS. ICAS is now for high performers while REACH is for all students. Perhaps, they hope to get more low performers doing their tests. The trouble is that ICAS is now cramped into 1 week in Sept. It is also changed into online test including writing (only year 3-4 are exempted from online writing). Students will need to type fast enough. The preparation will be very cramped in a critical time where a lot of school work will be going on to collect marks for the selective school application.

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