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How To Avoid Common Entrance Pitfalls

For a child to be accepted into their (and your) school of choice can be a reason for veritable celebration and indeed for many families I have worked with, a token of acceptance and distinguishment. This is particularly the case for international families that have relocated to the UK, often because of the superior educational opportunities offered by such schools. On the other hand, if a child is to fall short of the required standard, it can be an occasion of embarrassment and even shame. Where the fail is marginal, feelings can even spill over to frustration and fury with the education system at large. I have witnessed all of the above first hand, and indeed one family even relocated to another country the week after an unsuccessful sitting.

So what does all this mean? It means that often in the pursuit of academic success and accomplishment, or rather the opportunities such success will bring - focus can be lost on the actual child and the actual examination. With all the focus on the "what if", often parents are distracted away from the most important question - how do we best prepare our children for the examinations. As such, I have compiled a list of "handy tips" based upon my years teaching and tutoring in this area - be it from working with Royal families, high net worth individuals or children on free school dinners - I hope you find them helpful in some way, shape or form:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan the preparation of the examinations. Whether this means gradually reducing the number of extra curricula activities in the weeks running up to the examinations, or making sure you do not have extended business trips / holidays planned close to the examination, give yourself plenty of time!

  • Do not leave finding or securing a tutor until the last minute. Most of the very best tutors can be booked months or even years in advance, especially when it comes to those with a proven track record of preparing students for entrance examinations. To give you an idea, after successfully preparing one student for her entrance examinations, the parents booked me 2 years in advance for when their other child was due to sit. With the vast majority of parents now opting for private tuition, don't leave your children at a disadvantage.

  • Stick to tutors that are also qualified teachers. Unfortunately, the tutor with a first from Cambridge who also happened to have gone to the school you are aiming for is often not the best person for the job. This is a mistake often made, but when it comes to entrance examinations it can be a costly one indeed. All students are different, and specific understanding of pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) is an absolute must to ensure effective teaching. This is especially important if your child has SEN (special educational needs). This is not to say there are not excellent tutors out there without teaching qualifications, but in the same way you would want a qualified electrician to wire up your house and not the neighbour with "lots of experience" - stick to the professionals.

  • Less is more. I couldn't stress this one more. As referred to above, I worked with an 11 year old that had 4 private tutors and an educational psychologist. He would have a full school day and then return to 4 hours of intense tuition. He would have roughly 30 minutes free time before bed and then it would all start again. Suffice to say, it wasn't long before the grades and behaviour were suffering at school. I was brought in to figure out why. As you can probably guess, the reason was over-saturation. It wasn't that the tutors were ineffective, but rather that the tuition had become ineffective. A good tutor will always be honest with you - and sometimes this may even mean reducing the number of hours so more is learnt. Likewise, listen to your children. If they feel overworked they will not retain nearly as much information as they should.

  • Do the Past Examination Papers. Due to the time I have spent tutoring - it's not often I am shocked or surprised anymore. This changed a couple of weeks ago when I was drafted in last minute to help a student prepare for her entrance examination in maths. I asked the student to bring me any past papers she had attempted but I was told she only worked through a textbook with her old tutor. On the one hand, all students should be in the habit of attempting past papers to build up an affinity and understanding of the content and questions, but on the other, it builds up vital exam confidence and gets the student used to the style of questioning along with the time sensitive nature of the examination. If your current tutor is not doing this with your children - challenge them immediately. Likewise, check the resources they are using. It so happened that the tutor in this example was also using a maths textbook from 1983 that was over 300 pages long. This ties into the penultimate tip:

  • Be an active participant in the tuition. This doesn't mean sit there through the lesson (which in many ways can be a distraction for the student) but be an active participant in the learning process. This means talking to the tutor before the lesson, asking them what the agenda is. Speak to them after the lesson, ask them what progress was made and if there are any areas that perhaps need more work (this doesn't necessarily mean you going through it, but perhaps just ensuring time is set aside for your child to read through a certain area again or go over the past paper/model answer). While I understand for many families I work with, time is in very short supply - but a quick email to check progress goes a long way and can be an effective means of holding your tutor to account. Likewise, there are tutors that turn up without resources and "wing it" - perhaps they have just finished work and didn't have time or perhaps they feel they don't need to. These are not good or effective tutors. The more active you are, the less likely they are to try and "wing it" and moreover the more likely you are to be able to quickly replace an ineffective tutor before real damage is done!​

  • Try and Protect your children from the pressure and expectation. Trust me, your children know how important these examinations are. They will have heard it at school, from their peers and from their tutor. While a degree of pressure and expectation can be very positive, unfortunately many parents (without meaning to) heap on the pressure and this can have a major detrimental impact on exam performance. I am not advocating laissez-faire but do try and protect your children from the stress and pressure as much as you can. They have that to look forward to in their GCSE's, A-levels and general adult life, afterall!

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