Tuesday 30 July 2019

Preparing for online ICAS competitions

Year 5-6 students

To target ICAS science top 2% students should complete Mini Science and General Problem Solving series with average over 85%

To target ICAS mathematics top 2% students should work on

OC Mathematics Booster
< target average 85% plus
Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5
< target average 80% plus
Mathematics Grade 5
< last 3 tests at 90% plus
Mathematics Grade 6
< first 6 tests at 90% plus
Mini Math Challenge Grade 6-7
< 1/4 of the test with average 75% plus
Mini Math Problem Solving Grade 6-7
< 1/4 of the test with average 75% plus

To target ICAS English top 2% students should work on

English Reading Skills Grade 6   
< target average 90% plus   
English Comprehension Grade 6
< target average 90% plus           
English Reading Skills Grade 7
< target average 90% plus
English Comprehension Grade 7
< target average 90% plus

To target ICAS Digital Technology top 2% students should work on

Computer Skills Grade 3-4
< target average 80% plus
Computer Skills Grade 5-6
< target average 75% plus

The failed questions for Computer Skills series should be reviewed by actually running application and practising the skills. Just look at the right answer will be of very little help. This is why DT is difficult to get high scores.

To prepare for ICAS writing, students must prepare for persuasive writing this year. They need to get the structure right (see the writing guide on page QUICK LINKS). They must learn to write good arguments. They must practise online and type 350-400 words over 30 minutes. Use the module read-summarise-write for practice.

Year 3-4 students

To target ICAS science top 2% students should complete Mini Science and General Problem Solving Grade 3-4 series with average over 85%

To target ICAS mathematics top 2% students should work on

OC Mathematics Booster
< target average 85% plus
Mini Math Challenge Grade 4-5
< target average 80% plus

To target ICAS English top 2% students should work on

English Comprehension Grade 5
< target average 90% plus            

And revise all failed questions from OC English Boosters and OC English Trials 

To target ICAS Digital Technology top 2% students should work on

Mini Computer Skills Grade 3-4
< target average 80% plus

The failed questions for Computer Skills series should be reviewed by actually running application and practising the skills. Just look at the right answer will be of very little help. This is why DT is difficult to get high scores.

To prepare for ICAS writing, students must prepare for persuasive writing this year. They need to get the structure right (see the writing guide on page QUICK LINKS). They must learn to write good arguments. They must practise online and type 300-350 words over 30 minutes. Use the module read-summarise-write for practice.

Monday 1 July 2019

2019 OC preparation

This blog will take the load off the Mathemafix message board by hosting important information about 2019 OC preparation. 

11 Oct
2019 OC results are out.  The results are rolling in and pretty much as expected. The raw marks seem to suggest that it was about the same level of difficulty as the test in 2018. But the profiles seem to be higher for the same raw marks. This has something to do with scaling. English  was hard and had big impact on the profile.

About 3 students made a simple fatal mistake of not skipping hard questions! One has to skip all hard questions (maths and GA) and do the easier questions to avoid running out of time. As English was really hard, those who wasted time on some hard maths questions tended to panic and guess English questions (without time to read properly) so they ended getting 25% for English (like doing random guessing). 
07 Oct
The OC result will be out in just over 1 week. It's time to have a look at the results for 2018 and 2017. The 2018 OC test was much harder than the 2017 OC test. This impacted the profiles and cutoffs at OC classes. In 2018, not many parents reported the results even though we had more students than 2017. This was probably because they were disappointed with the results due to more competition for OC classes. We are in the period where the kids from the Howard baby boom years have grown old enough to do OC and selective test. Also, the population has increased a lot but the number of OC places have not increased.

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). Often schools with OC classes (and many others) now send a note to all parents early to ask if they want to apply for selective school test, and then get the kids who expressed interest to do some tests at the school to gather marks for the selective application. The problem is not all schools will do this. Parents need to check with their schools.

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 (as school marks will be scaled down badly anyway for the average of school marks to match the average of real test 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 Sep
The OC result is expected to come out at the middle of Oct. That's about 5 weeks away. The English score will be the most watched. It is expected to be like OC test in 2018 where English was extremely hard.

After the OC result is out, parents should think about sending the kids back to Mathemafix for OC revision to prepare for selective preparation in year 5. While all students need to revise OC, the top performers can delay OC revision until Jan 2020. From past experience, a lot of the low and average performers take 6-8 months to revise OC program! This means they end up finishing the revision at the same time of next year's OC test. This helps lift their second attempt on OC trials from 55%-70% to 80%-85%. At this level they are ready to proceed to year 6 and 7 work to prepare for the selective test.

This is why in the selective group, kids have access to the harder part of the OC program to redo advanced year 4 and year 5 work again. Then they do OC boosters and OC trials again.

4 Aug
The deadline for changing OC choices is 9 August 2019, on page QUICK LINKS you have the latest entry scores into OC classes for 2019 school year start. School marks tend to be unreliable. OC English test marks tend to be very low. In 2018 OC test, the English test marks for good readers tend to be around 35%-65% with most stay under 65%. I expect the same problem for 2019 OC test. This creates two issues.

- School English marks for English under 80% will affect the profile pretty badly.
- A crash in the OC English part with a score under 50% will cause a huge problem.

OC English test < 50% without school marks = disaster!
OC English test < 50% plus school English marks < 80 = disaster!
OC English test > 65% but < 80% plus school English marks < 80 = ok
OC English test > 50% but < 65% plus school English marks > 90 = good
OC English test > 80% without school marks = great
OC English test > 80% plus school English marks > 90 = great

Students from Catholic schools without school marks who is facing the risk of crashing in English can have a bad OC profile unless GA score is over 85%. Maths won't rescue the situation. Only GA can.

Parents should be very careful with 2nd OC choice. Getting a low OC placement does not mean you would accept it however it helps when you ask the current school to put the kids into enrichment classes.

29 Jul
Looking beyond the OC test, there are several important questions. Should a kid continue to work on academic extension or take a break? How long is the break? Is the performance in the OC test help predict the performance in the selective test 19 months down the track?

- Every kid deserves a break after OC preparation. This is true unless the kid did not do any OC preparation and just sat the test.
- How long the break should be depends on many factors such as how hard a kid has worked before the OC test,  how well the kid scored on OC trials and other tests, what level of performance is required for entering a target selective school, what other priority such as sports and music ...  It's generally safe for the kids to have a break until they starts year 5. However, those who scored under 70% in OC trials and generally scored around 75% or less in year 5 work are considered 1 full year behind those who scored around 80% plus in OC trials and 85% in other works. And this means the ones who scored under 70% in OC trials won't make it to top 10 selective schools unless they took shorter breaks and re-do or revise the OC preparation program extensively. Those who did not even prepare for OC should do the OC preparation program from scratch (at a faster pace).
- The performance in OC test "unfortunately" predicts the performance in the selective test 19 months down the track rather well. Most students will get similar selective test result to their OC result. The ones who do better or worse are in the small minority who either work work very hard do don't do much at all. Maturity is also a big factor. 

Mathemafix's selective program is designed to be the continuation of the OC program. About 1/2 of the hardest work in the OC program is part of the beginning of the Selective program. This allows students who did not prepare for OC (or those who score around 70% or under in the OC program) to revise the OC program. These students tend to come back quickly from the OC test date after a short break. This allows them time to narrow the gap between themselves and the top students. Even the top students, who often come back at the start of year 5 in late Jan of year 5, would also do OC revision. Past experience shows that top students finish the revision of the OC program quickly by Mar-Apr while weaker students tend to finish the revision by Aug-Sep of year 5. If the weaker students also finish the revision about Mar-Apr, they would have a chance to compete for a place in one of the top 10 selective schools.

At Mathemafix, we focus on the foundation before the extension. So, the result is very consistent. However, factors such as luck in school marks and on the test day, maturity, over-coaching could produce considerable variations. The overall picture shows that Mathemafix helps a lot more students gain extra points than those who lost points in the selective profile vs the oc profile. The extreme cases of gain all came from students who either had bad luck in OC test then good luck in SS test or simply had massive improvement from 1-on-1 tutoring or help from parents.

27 Jul
We are getting so close to OC test now that students should be resting! It is a mistake to ask students to work right until the day before the OC test. They must rest for the big day. They should not take any risk in sports or bad weather in the days leading to the OC test.

This year we have so many strong students in OC group. We are expecting a very good set of OC results. However, as they make English so hard, the school English marks will become more important because the English test marks will be low. Also the scaling for English test marks will be high and this is why English worths a lot more than maths.

As students are likely to do poorly in English, it is probably a better idea to select the maths and GA questions to do first and then do the English questions last. This is because students are expected to fail many English questions, so it's best to move them to the end to give more time to get maths and GA done properly.

11 Jul 
The selective result confirms what the SSU says in the review of the OC and Selective program. They put very hard English in to the test. In fact, this was seen in the 2018 OC English part of the OC test. So, it's either the same or even hard for OC English this year. The impact is heavy on students who get poor English school marks and Catholic school students who don't get any school marks. If these students score under 50% for OC English, the profile is likely to be low. It is expected that very few students will get over 65% for OC English.

Students are advised to work hard on OC English Boosters and do the year 5 English comprehension series. Review failed questions carefully with parents. Do a lot of ReadTheory.Org quizzes.

2018 OC test results
09 July
We are now at the stage where the top performers should really be relaxing and finish off trial 8. This is why being among top performers is great. One can relax while others have to work to catch up. Those who are behind a lot now need to take advantage of the school holidays to catch up with OC trials, OC boosters and do a lot of revision of failed questions.

Trial scores for kids who have done at least 6 trials vs last year's students' and their real OC profiles.

01 Jul
We have now reached the most critical of OC preparation. We have a week to go until the school holiday before the OC test. The two weeks of holiday gives students much needed space to relax a bit and also do a bit more of what they struggle to find time to do. The aim is to wrap up OC prep 1 week before the OC test date to allow students to relax just before the OC test.

Here are some useful tips

- Students should have a few days of fun when school holidays start then settle into some more hard work. Do not take a long holiday overseas or interstate.
- Plan to relax the week before the OC test to avoid panic, sickness and tiredness.
- Kids should avoid risky activities, eat safe food and stay healthy. A common problem is getting a cold just before the OC test. This is why kids should avoid risk exposure to big change in weather/temperature.
- Many students still need to improve exam techniques.  Use the document Exam Techniques Guide on page QUICK LINKS to improve.
- Become very familiar with the OC test format. Parents should print the sample OC test from the SSU out and get kids to practise this sample paper and fill in the answer sheet. Use a timer to set strict time.


NW Sydney OC classes are very competitive. It is getting so insane that the cutoff scores are now around 245+ for top ones like North Rocks, Beecroft,  Ermington. It's so hard to get into these classes. However, many schools offer enrichment classes. They use OC test performance to offer places to students. So, make sure you put your 2nd choice low enough to guarantee a placement to get a good chance to enter enrichment class (in case OC placement of 1st choice is not possible).

This is the OC trial ranking against past students for those who have done at least 5 OC trials

04 Apr 
The 1st OC trial set is now open. Top students would want to stick to the normal schedule doing 1st trial on week 1 of April and then 1 trial set every 2 weeks until they finish all 8 trials just before the OC test. On the other end, weak students would plan to have trial 8 done 1 week before the OC test, and one trial is done every week. This means top students start 1st trial around the 17th week away from the OC test. Weak students will delay and start the first trial 9 weeks away from the OC test date. Other students would start a bit later than 1st Apr but finish 1 week before the OC test.

To be ready for the 1st OC trial set, one should have done a lot of the English comprehension Grade 4, start a bit on English comprehension grade 5. In maths, they would have done some of the maths challenge grade 4-5 and 1/2 of the Mathematics Grade 5 series. They would have completed all General Ability Year 3-4. At this point they also start to work on OC Booster Series and do the tests between the trials.

As far as learning is concerned, students who starts 1st OC trial set should have completely covered all year 5 school maths (see Maths Lessons guide) and done enough reading at year 5 level (using books or online reading program such as ReadingEggpress). Use ReadTheory.Org now to boost performance. Top year 4 students should read at grade 7 (US level seems easy).

OC trial averages for 2018 can give some idea about student performance

02 Jan
I found a ridiculously generous scholarship test for year 4 girls. Kambala offer some scholarships for year 5-12 (8 years). Girls at year 4 can sit this scholarship test on 2nd Mar for a chance to win 8 years of scholarship!


Even though this one is academic, I do expect that the winner is likely to be a kid with super academic ability plus with music, sport and other qualities and coming from a middle/upper class family. 

Junior scholarships at 50% for 8 years


Various junior scholarships without clear indication of discount percentage & number of years

Academic Scholarships – St Andrew's Cathedral School


Only partial scholarships






In NSW outside Sydney

Nowra Anglican College
Mamre Anglican School 
Bishop Tyrrell Anglican College 
Wollondilly Anglican College

01 Jan
We are now entering a serious phase of OC test preparation for 2019. Students are entering year 4 and will do the OC test on 31st July 2019.

At this stage of starting year 4, it is important to think about getting good marks from the  schools. Here are some tips that parents must keep in mind.

- School marks are quite important. Some kids did well in OC test but the poor school marks caused a lot of problems and they ended up getting poor OC profiles.
- There is NO STANDARD on how teachers give the school marks. This is a weakness for students in public schools. Some schools are even against OC test so teachers may deliberately give poor school marks. Most Catholic schools will not give school marks and this is a good advantage for students going to Catholic schools. If they do well in the actual OC test, they automatically get the equivalent of about 96-99 in school marks.
- Maths is often not a problem except when the  teacher or the school management is against OC test. English school mark is the trouble area. Often bad English marks come from poor spelling and poor writing as many teachers give English marks mainly from writing works.

For students in NW of Sydney, the entry scores into OC classes  are getting ridiculous. Beecroft cutoff for 2019 (2018 test) is 250 at reserve #3. Northrocks was at 245. It is becoming impossible for many to compete for places in this area of Sydney. What this means is the impact of school marks will be extreme. Kids cannot get OC placement without school marks close to 99. What this means is that Catholic school kids are now at a big advantage in this area as they only need to do really well in the OC test.

We had a very successful 2018 OC preparation. The link be low leads to the web blog for what happened during 2018 OC preparation.