Whether your child is preparing for Grammar School 11+ examinations or has completed the ISEB Pre-test and received invitations to Stage 2 days, written exam papers can cause stress for both you and your child.
They represent a very different challenge to their multiple choice counterparts: the onus is placed on the child's ability to express their ideas in writing. To help you and your child navigate the unique hurdles of written exam papers, Atom Learning has prepared this six point guide.
While multiple choice tests are sometimes forgiving on weak spelling and grammar (SpAG), written exam papers usually are not. Even in comprehension sections there will frequently be marks awarded for SpAG. Therefore, it’s crucial that your child has a clear understanding of these areas.
While some exam techniques can be quickly implemented, it takes a significant amount of time to develop spelling and grammar to a high level. With not enough time to cover these techniques in school, it's a good idea to get in some extra practice with your child at home. If, as a parent, you notice your child is struggling with these subjects, then they should begin working on them at least nine months out from the exams.
Unlike adaptive tests, such as the ISEB Common Pre-test, good timing is paramount in written exam papers. Any question not attempted due to a lack of time management will mean missed marks for your child.
As such, it’s important that your child gets plenty of experience practicing written exam papers under timed conditions. They should adhere to the specified time limits for each section of the paper. Rushing at the end can cause mistakes as well as preventing children from checking their work. The best way for your child to build time management skills is through sustained practice.
It’s often far from clear how marks will be awarded in written exam papers but it’s a good rule of thumb to consider how many marks are on offer for any given question.
In a written comprehension exam, a two mark question will typically require children to make fewer points than a four mark question. If there are three marks available and it doesn’t state how many reasons are needed, then to be safe they should try and make four points. If your child can get into the habit of adapting their answers to the marks available, it should help set them up for success in exams. This will help them to separate the exam paper into manageable chunks, so they don't spend too long on one section.
Successful candidates tend to hold themselves to high standards when it comes to reading every question closely. For example, if a question specifically asks a candidate to write about an author's choice of vocabulary and they fail to do so, they can’t expect to score well on the exam. Students should focus on answering the question that was asked, rather than getting off topic.
Teach your child to get into the habit of underlining key words in questions. If a Maths question asks them to write down the translation of triangle ABC to triangle DEF across X and Y axes, then they must do just that. If they misread the question and do the reverse, they will get no points.
Comprehension skills – the ability to read and write well – are not only crucial for making sense of poems and prose. Successful candidates apply them to every question on the paper.
Misunderstanding an instruction can be particularly costly for children in creative writing examinations. If the assignment asks that the student should write “a character description, not a story”, then they must do just that.
It’s important that your child produces written answers which read clearly, both in their use of English and handwriting. If your child has difficulties with the presentation then you should make sure they are working towards making their writing legible.
Some students struggle with written answers by writing excessively long sentences. A single sentence shouldn’t span several lines and the best written answers are clear and uncomplicated with clear word choice. Encourage your child to keep it simple with one or two clause sentences than to run over line after line.
Written exams can feel gruelling. Unlike in a multiple choice format, there isn’t the luxury of reading several prepared answers and picking the one which makes the most sense. The candidate has to come up with their own answer and then clearly articulate it in writing. Unsurprisingly, this adds a higher level of pressure. The act of writing quickly and accurately for an extended period of time can feel physically draining too. Encourage your child to enough sleep the night before their exam. You should also make sure they take regular breaks during their studying session. This will go a long way to reduce stress and improve your child's mental health before the exam paper.
Your child will likely perform better if they come into the exam feeling well rested. While they might want to stay up late revising the night before an exam, it usually isn't advisable. A sensible bedtime and a good night’s sleep are more likely to set them up for success and reduce stress than last minute cramming.
If your child can master these six areas, they should feel ready to take on even the toughest entrance exams. If you feel they could use more support with them or they seem to be struggling, then private tuition may well prove worthwhile.
A private tutor can help your child prepare for the exam and support them to build exam confidence. As frustrating as it may be, children are often more likely to listen to a tutor rather than their parent. A tutor can encourage your child to complete practice exam papers and can answer any questions you may have about your school-specific exam.
At Atom, we have a hassle-free service to help you find a tutor. Our team of dedicated client managers will talk to you about your child and their needs, matching you with the perfect tutor to help your child achieve their full potential and boost confidence for their education and beyond.
One-to-one private tuition with Atom is available for Key Stage 2 core subjects (English, maths and science) and preparation for selective secondary schools. You’ll get:
A uniquely personalised and data-driven tutoring service
A carefully-selected tutor who has undergone enhanced DBS checks and has a proven track record for success
Weekly reporting and termly assessments, with 24/7 access to your child’s progress data
Discounted access to our award-winning online platform Atom Nucleus for continuous learning between sessions
100% satisfaction guaranteed; if you feel that your introductory lesson isn’t a positive experience, we’ll give you a free replacement with another tutor or a full refund
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