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Geoff Ashton

Blogs by Geoff Ashton
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 How to help your child do better in tests!

How To Help Your Primary Child Do Better in Tests!



Is your child tested at Primary School?
 Of course they are! 

Want to help them get better results?

Of course you do!
 Then read on...


Help you child do better in tests:


English and Maths Exam Tips!


In this post I'm going to give you some actionable nuggets and tips to help your child improve their scores. It's mostly aimed at children from Year 2 up to Year 6, but may have some impact higher up too.


You'll find out:

  • how your child can put more focus into the content of their writing
  • how they can increase their marks by several percent simply by getting into 2 easy habits
  • how they can save themselves time in the maths tests
  • how parents can gently guide their child towards beneficial practices

and loads more!



But the tests are only once a year aren't they?


Afraid not.


All UK children face tests (mostly in maths and English) at various points throughout the year.


There are the BIG IMPORTANT ANNUAL TESTS which usually come around May time, but there are many smaller tests, dotted throughout every week of the academic year.



How the 2016 SATS changes will affect your child!

Free Report: ACCESS HERE!



But think about it:


Which tests are more important?


Most people (including kids themselves) would probably opt for the annual tests.


But they'd be wrong!


In many ways, the smaller tests are significantly more important than the annual ones, because they provide instant feedback to the child and take them to the next stage in their learning.


How come?


If I tested you on your spellings, then gave you the marked sheet back, you would be highly likely to learn something about the words you spelled incorrectly (especially if I gave you really tough ones, because you're a fabulous speller!).


But if I gave you the same test, told you your score then walked off into the sunset, you'd have learned absolutely nothing, other than a random number!


My daughter has had this conversation with me.



Daughter: "Dad! I got 42 in the test today!"


Me: "Erm, OK."


Daughter: "Aren't you pleased?"


Me: "I don't know!"



What do I really want to say?


I want to ask how many was it out of. I want to know what the other kids in her group got. I want to know what the teacher was EXPECTING someone of her ability to get. Most importantly, I want to know what she got wrong so we can try to put it right!


The primary reason for annual tests is that they are focused on producing a 'snapshot' of achievement for recording and reporting purposes (some cynics might throw 'league tables' into the mix at this point, but I wouldn't dare!).


Are they less important then?


Well, no. Here's why...


The annual tests not only provide valuable information for parents, but if used properly, they help teachers to create longer term overviews of what to teach a particular group of children, by searching for patterns or commonalities discovered during the analysis of the test papers.


So we're agreed, all tests are important - if occasionally loathed!


All tests are important!




So I thought it would be an excellent idea to ask an educational expert some key questions about tests, and:



Good news - learn from an expert!


Here's a reply! By Ros Wilson no less, a HUGELY influential figure in Primary English education in the UK.


Ros Wilson


Ros Wilson is the creator of BIG WRITING and VCOP (ask any Primary School child about this - or look on the walls of any Primary School and you'll see evidence of Ros's work.


As it turns out, Ros has some interesting things to say about English test preparation; tips that you'll be able to pass onto your offspring!


Are you ready?


Let's go!



Can you give me your TOP 5 exam tips for your subject:


1. Ros says: "Programme all students to ALWAYS write in best handwriting, spelling and grammar, and punctuation. This should be done on automaticity so that it does not ‘fall to bits’ under the stress of exam conditions or concentration on content. This also makes such a positive psychological impact on the marker."


Parents can help with this too.

We know as adults that we don't always write in beautifully, flowing script - or is that just me?
That's because we (usually) know we can perform when we absolutely need to, and because we're not the ones doing the tests!
The last thing your child needs is to be focusing so hard on their presentation, that they forget to pay attention to the multitude of skills they need for English tests.
Clear, neat presentation needs to become second nature.


2. Ros says: "Ensure all children know and can spell the full range of technical vocabulary for the subject."


You can't write a 'recount' if you don't know what differentiates it from other writing genres. 


You can't circle the 'adverbs' if you don't understand and recognise the word 'adverb'.


Parents can help here by simply encouraging your child to try some of the online material at the BBC Schools website.


They're top quality, they're educational, they're fun and they're FREE!


Guess what?


Your child DOESN'T need to cram!


Let them be primary school kids - just give them a merry nudge in the right direction.



Parents can help with the next one too:



3. Ros says: "Ensure all children can instantly recall a range of appropriate adjectives and adverbs relevant to the technicalities, where useful."


Parents can try Twinkl or Primary Resources to name just two.


Why not print some lists of describing words and stick them up in their rooms? Or adverbs, or verbs... you can make collections.


You can also discuss them 'on the go'.



All parents are familiar with this next one - so make it work for you:



4. Ros says: "Use mini plenaries throughout lessons for students to compose oral formal sentences about what they have learnt so far. Remember – if they can say it they can write it (providing they can write)."



Here Ros is referring to the current teaching practice of summarizing, reviewing and referring back to lesson objectives.


Parents can simply ask their child what they've learned during the day.


It's a natural enough thing to do.


But boy, it can really help! So pay attention to what they tell you (gives himself slap on the wrist here - I'm the world's foremost expert at nodding wisely yet taking zero content into my brain!).



Here's how you can make big gains in their writing without the tears:


5. Ros says: "Do a full piece of writing (1 side or more) every week, changing the purpose and audience to cover the range required by the subject and ask students to self-assess against the above 4 points."


Another one for teachers, but can parents do something too?


Well yes, kind of.


Even I, a grey-haired and haggard ex-primary teacher wouldn't subject my daughter to this kind of rigour.




I DO encourage writing - in all forms - at every opportunity.


And if your little ones still resist?


Sorry folks, you've got to become part of the game and give up some of your precious time. 10 -15 minutes is enough in one sitting!



Leave notes for each other; help with a description; be the TF (come on, there might be kids reading this - you'll have to guess what that means!).



Tooth Fairy!




It doesn't have to be, in fact SHOULDN'T be, a full-on narrative fictional story.


Leave that to school. It's what they're paid for.


So there you have it.


Actionable tips to help you help your child to smash exams at primary school.



But hang on, there’s more...



In the world of educational innovation, I may have all the credibility and authority of a two-bit-son-of-the-school-caretaker, but I’ve taught too many kids to remember and I WILL have my say:



So, just in the interest of balance, I've made mine applicable to maths. 



Except possibly the first one. And perhaps the second.



Which is precisely why I don't call myself an expert.



But I know what you're thinking. Should I help my child with this stuff? Will I make things worse?


Well, according to a study done called "The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children's Education", by the government's Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008):







So you see, it isn't in dispute! As my dad used to tell me, 'Get stuck in!'.



This should earn them at least 5% extra marks!



1. Read the flippin’ question, once, twice, possibly even thrice.

Skim reading is the scourge of the modern era, and I too am drawn to its siren call. 





For years and years, kids have fallen prey to its charms, leaving many easy test marks on the table.




Doing this could gain them another 10% !


2. Have them try some past practice test papers.
Easily available for free on the internet - for pretty much any primary school year group. Try this site: SATS Papers - the SATS papers are called, well, SATS Papers, and the year groups in between are called 'Optional papers'.
There are more sites that offer these for free - just do a search.


Many benefits to this, not least of which is finding the gaps in their learning.





"Weighing the pig doesn't fatten it!" So said a very wise person at some time or other.



So unless you just enjoy the sound of peace and quiet while your child slogs away at past papers (which, it has to be said, does have its merits), then you've got to take some action with the golden information you've found out.



And that means...



Revising the content they don't know. (Cue the parent-child arguments.)




TIME is the big benefit with the next one:



3. This one's a bit of cheat. Shock horror! So keep it to yourself. In the KS2 maths tests, unless a question says you need to show your working out, then you don't. If it does, then you do. Being aware of this could save quite a lot of precious time. Quite simple really.


Kids who do this next one have a whopping advantage over kids who don't:



4. Learn multiplication tables by rote.

'Off by heart' as some used to say. NOT a sequence of answers, but the good old-fashioned, tried and tested 'one two is two. Two twos are four' etc...


The next one is high level, but will make more of a difference than all the others put together.


5. Make friends with solving mathematical problems.




There are very few straightforward 'do this calculation' style questions on school tests.


It is expected that kids will be able to 'apply' their knowledge and skills to worded problems. 


Parents can help by talking about real-life mathematical situations.




Seems like a tedious process initially, but isn't that hard...


  • Multiplication - 'Just group those 23 pencils into 5 sets for me. I wonder how many will be left?'
  •  Division (and fractions!) - 'I've only bought one cake for your party. How many equal slices should we cut it into to make sure everyone gets a fair share?'
  • Area - 'We need a rug to cover that stain you made when you spilled your drink. I wonder how many square cm it'll have to be?'


And so on...


You get the idea. It doesn't have to involve three men digging a hole while traveling at 25 mph in opposite directions. Honestly!
(UPDATE: As from 2016, Year 6 SATS will have an additional paper to sit involving 38 pure maths calculations - i.e. without 'being hidden' in worded problems. The above advice remains the same, however, as you can't tackle the problems without being able to perform the calculations in the first place!)


But wait, there's more from Ros:



Can you tell me the TOP 5 things you think the best-performing children do that the poor performers don't:


Ros says that the best performers:


a) Have correct Basic Skills (listed in answer above).


b) Have a wide vocabulary.


c) Are articulate talkers.


d) Read for pleasure.


e) Have an enquiring mind.


I especially want to highlight the fourth one in BIG BOLD RED LETTERS!




It's such a HUGE breakthrough when this happens. Trumpets should sound and fireworks should explode in the sky.





The time kids begin to read for themselves, unprompted, NOT out loud, is the time they become real readers.


Their comprehension will improve exponentially - because for the first time, they're reading for the precise purpose it was invented.




So there you have it. Short and to the point, but big ideas that could really help your child to make a measurable amount of progress.


Do you have any tips of your own? Mention them in the comments section - we'd love to hear from you.



You can download a PDF version of this post now so you can print it out and reference it more easily.


The images have been removed to save on your printer ink!


Simply click the PDF image to the left to get yours.




Would you do me a favour? If you know anyone who would benefit from this post, then please share it with them - you'll be very popular!!


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