Before the test:
- Keep your child off “high carbohydrates” such as pasta for the last few days before the tests. Foods such as pasta is good for physical energy, but it can have the opposite effect on mental energy.
- Provide healthy food for your child – lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and oily fish, and make sure they drink plenty of water. Dehydration literally shrinks the brain.
- Ensure that your child has a sensible bedtime, and consider opting out of any out-of-school activities that you know will leave your child tired and grumpy the next day.
- If your child is the sort who thrives on routine and responds badly to change, ensure that everything possible continues as normal in the household, from meal times to bath times.
- Make sure that your child has an analogue watch, or if they have a digital watch make sure they turn off any alarms on it before they go in to the test.
- Make sure that your child can calculate the finish time for the test themselves, based on any start time – five past, ten past, etc. Tests do not always start on the hour.
- Check whether pencils and erasers will be provided for the test. Pencils must be HB hardness because most test papers are read by an optical reader, and only an HB pencil will make a clear enough mark for the machine to read. Pencils with a rubber on top can be useful so the child doesn’t have to put their pencil down completely if they need to rub something out.
On the day of the test:
- Leave plenty of time for the journey to school or to the test venue. If you are travelling a long distance, check the traffic reports before you set out.
- Make sure that your child has a good breakfast. On the way to school give them a banana or other healthy snack to eat. This will keep their blood sugar up and aid concentration.
- Make sure that your child has their watch on – your child might not be able to see the clock in the exam room from where they are sitting. Schools vary in how they tell the children how many minutes are left. Some will announce “half-time”, some will announce five minutes, two minutes or one minute left. Invigilators can and do forget to make any announcements about time at all, so your child must take responsibility for timing the test as well.
- Make sure that your child has anything they usually rely upon, such as glasses or an inhaler. Give them a handkerchief in case of tears or sniffles.
- Prepare your child for the fact that some children may cry. Help them to understand that they must distance themselves from the emotions of other children, even those of their friends. If necessary they can put up their hand to draw the invigilator’s attention to the fact that the other child is upset, but they must then continue with their own test.
- Tell your child that they must not allow themselves to be distracted by anything that happens in the exam room. Things do go wrong during the test – fire alarms and car alarms go off by mistake, children are taken ill, invigilators come and go, etc. Unless and until they are told to stop working they must continue as if nothing is happening around them.
- If your child is taken ill during the test, ensure that the invigilator has made a note of it. Try to get written confirmation after the test from the school or admission authority that they have a record of what happened.
What if my child is ill on the day of the test?
- The advice in every area is the same – do not allow your child to take the test if they are unwell. If you would not normally have sent your child in to school with the same symptoms, do not take the risk of doing so on such an important day.
- Appeal panels do not have much sympathy for arguments such as: “He wanted to take the test with all his friends, so even though he wasn’t 100 percent we let him go in to school”, or “She seemed almost better so we thought it was best to get it over and done with”.
- In some areas the advice given is to obtain a letter from your GP to state that your child was unwell and therefore not able to take the test.
- Make sure that you know beforehand who you have to notify in the event that your child is unable to take the test due to illness, and take that information with you if the test venue is not local to your home. Every area has reserve dates or other arrangements for children who miss a test to take it on another date.
- Make sure that you liaise closely with the school or Admission Authority over the arrangements for the new test. When will it take place? Where will your child sit the test? In areas where the tests are taken in primary schools it is not unknown for children to have the test sprung upon them quite unexpectedly, or to have to take the test in the Head Teacher’s office, the school office or the dining room while lunch is being prepared.
After the test:
- Check with your child to see if anything significant went wrong, either for them personally or more generally in the exam room. The information could be crucial at an appeal.
- If there was disruption in the exam room, verify your child’s report with other parents if you can and call the school or Admissions department to discuss it. In most areas the invigilator is required to submit a report that shows any problems that occurred, and the report is then filed with the Admissions authority.
- Reassure your child that, however the test went, you are still proud of them and that you know they will do well at whichever school they attend. Take them out for a small celebration if you can!