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.

09 Jul
The 2021 results are coming back. They look good. Thinking Skills scores look great just like maths scores. English looks more stable than the old ACER tests. Writing looks higher too. 

The results have confirmed it. From a few results I have got back so far, it is so clear. The kids have done well and some even get 100% for Thinking Skills. Maths was too easy. English was very predictable. Writing scores look high.
 I have only some results back (mostly from students who use Mathemafix as the main source of selective preparation).
Here are a few take-aways I can see clearly.
- Thinking Skills is a very tamed beast. I thought I over-prepared the kids within a short time. The scores for TS are high and some even got 100%. There nothing to worry about.

- Maths is so easy that getting 99% or 100% for it, it will be scaled down. Maths at 99%-100% offers virtually NO HELP to lift the overall profile!

- One very interesting observation is that excellent scores for one are of either TS or English (Reading and Writing) will lift the profile a lot. Just having an excellent score in one of these two areas would place the kids into one of the top 10 selective schools. I suspect they use the HSC scaling style to reward the students who get high scores in one of the two areas. Basically, if you do not get a very high score, you suffer down-scaling. Or the alternative is to give more marks to the harder questions. They mark all tests out of 50 even though there are less than 50 questions. They might have done both things.
- If compared by percentage, the Cambridge test produces higher scores than the old ACER tests (around 4%). To enter the top 7 selective schools, one needs a minimum of 91/120 and James Ruse requires about 103 to be at the borderline. Any kid who gets 100+/120 will definitely be looking at the top 2 selective schools.
- Most (or all) students who get invited to interviews for scholarships at top private schools get placements into the top 7 selective schools.

27 Jun
The SSU says on its website, "The placement outcome for entry in 2022 will be sent to parents by email in the second week of July." So we have just over 1  more week to know the result.

 22 Jun
Now the selective preparation is over, students deserve a long break to pursue other interests. This blog will be updated with news about the 2021 selective group.

On the private school scholarship front, the news is trickling in. It's now very tough to win a scholarship as the competition is intense and private schools prefer students they believe to be compatible with the school culture. The highest scorers may not get an offer of interviews.

So far we have 19 scholarships and most have gone to the boys.

- Congrats to bill12.5 who got a full scholarship to The Scots College.
- Congrats to Go1 who got a part scholarship at Northholm grammar.
- Congrats to TheUItraXStudier (who is in year 7) on a full scholarship at Redam House.
- Congrats to patsnip11 who got 3 full scholarships and one part scholarship including Syd Grammar, IGS and Cranbrook. This is a massive effort.
- Congrats to coolkid361on a part scholarship at a private school.
- Congrats to HKG555.1 on a part scholarship at MacArthur Anglican.
- Congrats to Karatechop11who achieved a part scholarship at King's School, a part scholarship at Shore and waiting for another interview.
- Congrats to Lego20091who put in a big effort to get a part scholarship at King's School and a full scholarship at Northholm Grammar.
- Congrats to candy842 who got a total of 4 scholarships including part scholarships from Lauriston Girls School, Camberwell Girls Grammar, Ruyton Girls' School and a full scholarship from
MLC in Melbourne.
- Congrats to youtubeolympia1 who got a full scholarship from Meriden and a full scholarship from Santa Sabina.
- We have 3 boys getting into the 2nd round of Syd Grammar (group activities) but only one boy was offered an interview in the final round.
- One boy got an interview at Trinity Grammar and an interview at King's School.

07 Mar
The coming selective test will have roughly the weight of 42% for English, 29% for maths and 29% for Thinking Skills after we add the weight of 20% of school assessment into maths and English. As the Thinking Skills papers have heavy English skills content for the verbal reasoning questions, the total weight of English could be around 50% for the selective school application.In the past, kids who wrote some really bad writing that was not even addressing the prompt properly would still get 40%. 

However it was very hard to get over 65% unless the writing work was good and also addressed the hidden theme of the prompt. Now that they give an extra 50% of time and push the weight of the writing test from around 5.5% of the whole lot (the total of all test scores and school assessments) to 12.5%, students are expected to write better. We should not expect that ridiculously bad writing will be given 40%. 

Here are some final tips

Reading test: One must be careful with the new sentence-cloze question type. To do well one must work out ALL of the answers for the 6-7 questions and re-read the text the final time to make sure that everything makes sense before turning to the answer sheet to shade the answers.

The maths test: One must use strategies to do well. The best strategies are List of Items, Acting It Out, Drawing a Diagram. If there is also a need to write very simple equations, try to define just one unknown and represent other unknowns using this unknown to make sure the equation has just one "root" unknown making it much easier to solve.

The TS test: The maths reasoning questions are very much like the hard maths on Mathemafix website. Use strategies just like doing normal maths problem solving.  

The logical deduction questions play on some common traps

- When A implies B is true, it does not follow that B implies A is also true. (refer to question 3 and 11 in the TS sample paper)
- They give insufficient information in the text so that several choices cannot be verified to be true or false but they expect students to consider these as false. (refer to question 27 in the TS sample paper)
- They make a question that looks like a logical question but it is not by inserting words like 'likely', 'would', 'might', 'perhaps', ... This tricks students into using his/her own experience/knowledge to answer the question. One should look for statements that is clear with words like 'is', 'are', 'will', ... as the sign of the correct information and choices. (refer to question 21 in the TS sample paper)
- They often use Modus Ponens (If A => B is true, and if you can prove A is true then B must also be true) and Modus Tollens (If A => B is true, and if you can prove B is false then A must also be false) . However, they tend to complicate this further by making B into a compound logic statement with "and". So they use A => (B and C). Just one of B or C is wrong will make the right-hand side wrong. They then trick students by making choices that refer to only B or C but not both. (refer to question 3, 11 and 18 in the TS sample paper)
- They give a text  that does not cover statements made by speakers (refer to question 23 and 27 in the TS sample paper)

The verbal reasoning questions always require students to get the main idea from the text. Watch out for words like 'yet', 'but' and 'however' as they signal the main idea. Also watch out for words like 'so', 'therefore', 'have to', 'should' and they signal the conclusion. One must also keep in mind that an argument is actually the whole text or they may be more than one argument in a text but the focus is in the main argument'. After reading carefully and identifying the main idea and the argument, one must start eliminating irrelevant choices first to increase the chance of getting to the right choice.

The writing task: We don't know what format they will give. However, if the prompt is NOT a narrative, one must write in a format similar to a persuasive writing task. The popular persuasive writing format at schools is "persuasive argument". However, the sample prompt from Cambridge is a "general information + persuasion". Students tend to lack skills on other persuasive subtypes as they don't get to do these things at schools. Just stick to the persuasive format. If it is a general information type, it's a good idea to group the information and provide headings and subheadings to guide the readers (to make the information more accessible in an orderly manner). It is also very useful to create a mind map as part of planning if the task is of a general information nature.

06 Mar
We are now only just a few days from the 2021 selective test. Students have worked so hard for this. Now is the time to quickly do a little revision, close off failed questions and get ready to rest. All students should rest 3-4 days before the selective test to make sure they are relaxed and refreshed.

The big change this year is the Cambridge test. We do not know what it is really like until students have done it and provide feedback. However, if we judge by the sample given by the SSU, the test should be about the same as the old ACER selective school test. The only notable changes will be (1) English will be a lot more predictable and the scores will be generally higher than English score from the old ACER test and (2) The new Thinking Skills test will have about 50% different content to the old ACER selective GA test. The mathematical reasoning and spatial reasoning questions will be similar. However, the other GA verbal reasoning questions will be replaced by logical reasoning (about 20%) and Cambridge  thinking skills verbal reasoning (about 30%). 

Mathemafix has provided a new module Sentence Cloze for students to train on the new English question type where they take about 6 sentences out of  a text and ask students to put them back.  Parents tend to misunderstand that TS is something completely new. In fact, it's not completely new. The verbal reasoning is based on the basics skills in English reading (main idea, inference and conclusion). Only the reasoning part is based on Cambridge reasoning style. However, they added a new type of reasoning called logical deductive reasoning which is based on propositional logic.
A lesson on TS verbal reasoning was recorded for students and a TS training module was created. Students who have worked hard on the  TS training at Mathemafix should do well in the TS paper. 

It's disappointing that many parents decided that their kids should not do the GA trials this year. These trials support over 50% of the TS paper and they are vital for sitting scholarship tests. 

Trial results compared against 2020 students

2020 selective rest results

TS trials on Mathemafix are extremely hard. We will provide easier trials for next year as time is needed to prepare the easier questions. However, some easier questions were provided in the Mini Selective Thinking Skills Boosters series. Students have scored a lot better on these small tests.

Ranking on small TS booster tests

Thinking Skills trials are too hard. However, some students are incredibly strong and rose to the challenge. Those who score around 70% are expected to approach 95% plus on the real selective TS paper.

Ranking on TS trials

06 Mar
The new calculated placement score for the selective school test is out of 120 with heavy weight for English. English is now about 42% while maths and thinking skills are equal at about 29%.  The school contribution to English is at 10% and so is its contribution to maths. So, the impact of school maths will be quite small for English and maths. This will reduce the advantage for students from non-public schools who don't get school marks. It also reduce the impact of the inconsistent school English marks which really have no standard at all because teachers can give whatever they want to.





Mathematical reasoning


Thinking skills




Moderated School Assessment










Mathematical reasoning



Thinking skills






 As the thinking skills paper is extremely heavy in English, the weight further skews towards English. The design seems to make it much harder for tutoring shops to influence the performance just by cramming and trials ... They will have to teach properly and make sure students learn English and reasoning. Maths is now a small part of the entire test.

 While it's not possible to know until the result of this first Cambridge test is out, a linear scaling of the the old cut-off scores for 2020 will be as follows.

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)?