Wednesday, 3 February 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.

24 Jan
Now is the time parents should complete private school scholarship applications. As the closing dates for most scholarships are fast approaching, parents need to hurry up. 

Generally, one should look at school closest to home and the test type and the chance of winning. If a student is ranked within the top 15 on Mathemafix website, there will be a chance to win a scholarship. It's often the case that each of the few top students may win several scholarships. Other students tend to use the scholarship tests as "practice" exams to get familiar with high pressure exam conditions so they can cope with the nerves in the exam room and do better in the selective school test.

Parents also can rely on the scholarship results to predict the selective test result and adjust the selective school choices to fit. This is why it's important to apply to schools that will release the scholarship test result. It is also important to pick the test that will be more similar in format to the selective school test. In this aspect, the AAS test is the closest and the EDUtest is the most different. ACER test does not have GA (or thinking skills). It has two writing tasks instead of one like the other tests.

The following schools tend to release results fairly early to allow parents to predict performance in the  selective tests.

Santa Sabina (girls)
Trinity Grammar (boys)
Newington (boys)
PLC Sydney (croydon) (girls)
St Andrew Cathedral (co-ed)
IGS (International Grammar School) (co-ed)
Meriden (girls)

Parents should consult the document: 2021 Private Schools Scholarships

The ACER co-op scholarship test forces parents to pick the preferences and usually only the 1st choice school will consider your application while the others just take your money. So, just apply to one school. The ACER alternative tests are fine as you apply to just one school each time.

Some schools DO NOT release any report of test performance. Parents should avoid these schools unless they think that their children have a chance of winning. Some of them are King's, Sydney Grammar, TARA, Abbotsleigh, Hills Grammar, ...

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)?

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