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Dear Parents:

So, you’ve been working diligently for months (years?), putting in the time, cancelling the playdates, making your way through the Bond papers two years ahead and otherwise focusing like a laser light on your child’s exam in January, right? 

No? 

Not done everything you had planned on back in the halcyon days when you were a year out?  Somehow let a few months slip by without much to show for them?  In a rightful panic that you are now weeks away?  Take a deep breath as there are a few things you can do to get on track during these last two precious months.

Here is your Master To Do List:

Put together a weekly game plan (done daily) from now until the exams

You have maths, comprehension, stories, VR, NVR and vocab lists strewn about the house.  Get them in order.  Pick one substantial goal for each topic and write it down to complete in each of the final 10-12 weeks.  It is easy to get swamped in resources; you need to mercilessly cull and focus on attainable goals.  Take a good few hours and put together a sensible plan, based on your child’s current attainment, until you are happy with it. Ensure that the plan doesn’t cause you child to “peak too early” (or too late).  Stick with this plan and do not deviate from it.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Cement the math basics and the writing assignment

At the top schools, your child cannot afford to drop many easy points on the first 30-40% of the math exam.  Do at least three 5 minute drills daily on the four basic orders of operations.  Math is like a pyramid: to continue to build up you must have a solid foundation. 

The essay is the easiest place for your child to differentiate himself or herself so seize this opportunity.  Three thirty minute practice essays a week until exam week will get your child in writing mode, no matter how much you have done until now.  Advanced vocabulary words (“wow words”) and descriptions are key.  Committing to this effort 1.5 hours a week could be the deciding factor for many children.

Test, test, test

And then test some more.  Your child should be taking, at a minimum, one full test per weekend from now until January.  This should not be done at home but in a library, coffee shop, etc. which will get them closer to exam conditions.  There are many companies out there offering mock exams, but the quality is highly variable.  Many offer extremely useful tests with meaningful feedback, some are overpriced chancers hawking recycled past papers in the local church hall. 

Besides asking trusted friends or teachers for advice on reputable companies, here is a good decision rule: do not sit an exam unless at least 15 other children will sit the same exam.  Otherwise, you will not get meaningful feedback.  No matter what, at least download a paper, have your child complete it in timed conditions and go over the paper with them.  Every weekend until exam time.  If you want to get better at test taking, you take more tests.

Shut off the devices and read a book

The average goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds.  The average human attention span online is 8 seconds.  We all know our kids spend too much time on screens and a lack of focus can destroy exam results.  There is enough time left to refocus, slow down and train them to see what is in front of them.

And finally,

DO NOT PANIC!

(Let the other parents do that)

Two months is not a lot of time, but it is a decent interval, after all.  You need to calmly and methodically, day to day, execute your plan with your child.  There are a lot of hours in the day, and a 3-4 week break over the holiday period offers extensive opportunity to make sure your child is diligently getting on with preparation.  Do not worry what other people are saying they are going to do with their children.  Concern yourself not with what you should have done in the past.  The best thing you can do for your child is to work through what they have in front of them on a daily basis.  

In conclusion

I hate to use the tautology, but common truisms must be faced: It is what it is.  We are where we are.  The past is the past.  Whether your child is ready for an Oxford interview or is still trying to master long division, the only thing you should be doing now is using these final few weeks most effectively.  To do this, you need to make a plan, keep a calm focus on the exam and carry it all out.

I have a few gems for the last days before the exam, and for exam day itself. 

That short article will have to wait until January!

Exam Time: entering the home stretch

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