It’s not too late to make a difference to your child’s results.

I reached the October half-term a year ago panicked and anxious. I remember this awful feeling of the sands of time slipping away, all the while knowing I should be doing more to prepare my son, Caspian, for the imminent ISEB common pre-tests.  If, like me, you freeze when overwhelmed, you may find the following seven steps helpful to activate you. Looking back, I’d say the October half-term turned out to be the best time to make a difference to Caspian’s confidence levels, and I am so glad I used it as I did. Apparently over 50% of parents with children doing the ISEB pre-tests in November, feel that the October half-term is too late to do any more meaningful revision, but that simply isn’t true.

Here are my seven half-term tips to help you take action:

  1. Don’t panic, but re-gain perspective: the pre-tests are allies not enemies.
    Both you and your child may be feeling a growing sense of alarm as you wonder if you / they will be ‘good enough’. But the pre-tests are not about being ‘good enough’, they’re about finding the right senior school for you and your child.  There is no right/wrong outcome, or good/bad result. Children are happiest, and perform best, when they truly believe that they are loved as they are, (don’t we all), and that they are enough. Trust the pre-test and admissions process, and understand that our children will thrive when they are at a school that is the right level for them.  The pre-tests are allies in achieving that goal, not enemies to overcome.
  2. Practise basic skills, little and often, on a daily basis.
    Rather than deciding on a rigorous programme of revision each day, spend no more than ten minutes, twice a day, going over the basic, foundational skills of Maths and English.  Run through times tables, (using a phone app can be less painful than worksheets), number bonds and definitions of terms, (what are adverbs /prepositions etc), to ensure their basic numeracy and literacy skills are solid. There are lots of excellent, free worksheets out there, but these ones on Peak Prep are particularly helpful with an ‘English Quick Revision Sheet’, and a ‘Maths Revise the Basics’ sheet. Doing this together can be a good way to keep it light-hearted, (the message here is the value of revising, not getting everything right), and keep the focus on pro-activity.
  3. Heap praise on your child at every opportunity.
    Half-term can be invaluable for building a sense of confidence and security in your child. In the above exercise, (point 2), say things like, “you see how much you know!” whenever they get things right.  Tell them they are clever, tell them they have an excellent head for numbers/ spellings / language, look everywhere for ways to build up their self-belief. Channel your inner American coach! (I only realised how ‘English’ I was when we lived in California and I balked at all the positive-speak that poured forth from the little-league coaches.  By the time we came back to England three years later, I was a firm convert.  Kids need to know they are intelligent and able, and you are the one uniquely placed to tell them.)
  4. Have your child do at least one mock test.
    If they will be doing all four subjects in one sitting, then replicate that at home.  Several websites offer good mock tests, but if you don’t want to pay for them then sign up for a free five-day trial, (no card details required), at Peak Prep  and you’ll have access to an unlimited number of mock tests that exactly mimic the real thing.  From the instructions, to the timer bar, your child will know what to expect and be calmer as a result.  You can also opt to break the tests up into the four subjects, and sit one subject at a time. Be sure to go through the results of the test together, though not right afterwards.
  5. Target weaknesses in their understanding.
    Following on from the mock tests, check that mistakes made were simply ‘silly’ ones, rather than gaps in understanding. If the latter, spend a few mins, (no more than ten), going over the relevant concept. If necessary, you could download a topical worksheet to cement learning, or use that free trial you set up in Peak Prep and go to the Customised Revision tool.  If your child is really struggling to understand something, you’re better off leaving it alone and focusing on what they do know.  Emphasis on their lack of understanding at this late stage may increase anxiety. If they see that you are still positive, they will be too, and it serves to remember that they will be tested on the whole curriculum, not just one topic.
  6. Talk to them about the pre-tests.
    It may seem obvious, but it’s a great idea to ask them directly how they feel about the coming tests.  Rather than assuming anxiety, ask them how they’re feeling on a scale of 1-10.  I don’t get very far when I ask yes/no questions like, “Are you worried about the tests?”.  Instead get creative and ask things like, “What do you like most about English?”, or “What does the pie chart of your mind look like right now?”, (that one worked especially well with my son because he had to think mathematically and emotionally).
  7. Do lots of things other than revision.
    This is vital. Make your half-term about time together, and time to relax.  We will be baking, bike riding, having a family photography competition, (okay this one is just to make walks more fun), carving pumpkins, and watching movies. The only thing I’d say is if your kids are anything like mine, sleepovers might be better kept to the Christmas hols.  Tiredness + revision = disaster.

For more information about Peak Prep and the free resources mentioned in this article, click here