How To Get The Most Out Of Practice Tests

If your child is preparing for a Selective Schools or Scholarship exam, then they may be using the summer holidays as a chance to have a go at some practice tests. Practice tests can be a great way for students to study and assess their abilities before a big exam. They are a great way of showing students what it takes to achieve success on their actual exam. However, if not taken properly, practice tests may not be as effective as you might think. Today, I give you my tips for how your child can get the most out of their practice tests these holidays.

1. Before the Test

There’s no point just jumping straight into a practice test without preparing; if you do, you’re unlikely to get the most out of it. Before completing a practice test, you should have a clear idea of what the test will cover. It may be a good idea to have a list of all the areas covered on the test, and make a note of which areas you are confident in and which you are not. A practice test is a great way to consolidate your study, but it should not be used as a means of study on its own.

2. During the Test

As much as possible, you should try to take practice tests under proper test conditions. Give yourself an appropriate timeframe, limit yourself to the allowed resources (don’t use a dictionary calculator if you’re not allowed one on the actual test) and try to take the test as seriously as possible. If you think you know the answer to a question, try to show your working so that you can remember it and check it later. If you are unsure of the answer to a question, don’t just guess; make a note beside that question so you will know to look over it later.

3. After the Test

This is the most important part of a practice test. Too many students just correct their practice test, look at their score and shrug. Good students analyse their results. By going over your practice test closely, you can figure out the following things.

-Whether you have improved since your last test

-Which areas you are confident with

-Which areas you need to focus on in the future

-What common mistakes you are making

-Whether or not you are able to work within a time limit

It is a good idea to spend some time after every test analysing your performance. Identify areas that you need to focus on in the future and make a plan for how you can do so. When you sit your next practice test, you can see whether you have improved in these areas, and plan from there.

Spectrum Tuition offers a range of practice test packs for students sitting Scholarship or Selective Schools exams. To find out more, check out our website or call us free on 1800 668 177.

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4 Educational Goals For The Christmas Holidays

When February comes around and students shuffle back to the classroom, there are always three distinct types of students…

The first type of student is those who have spent all of their holidays staying up late, sleeping through out the day, playing 10 hours of video games each day and forgetting everything they learned in the previous year. These students don’t know how to cope with the sudden challenges of the school year and usually take the first term just to get back into the rhythm. The second type includes those who have spent all of their holidays being drilled on maths problems, writing practice essays, attending language and music lessons and gazing blankly into textbooks with no time for relaxation. These students are already exhausted, and are not likely to start the school year with any great enthusiasm. The third type of student is the best. These are the ones who have had a relaxing holiday. They have seen friends, got fresh air, watched movies and played games. But they have also read lots, revised their skills, developed good habits, set goals and are prepared for the year ahead.

The key here is finding the balance. School holidays should be about relaxation, but they are also a great time for your child to establish good habits, in a low-pressure environment, that will help them throughout the year. As such, I recommend that all students should set the following 4 goals for the Christmas holidays, to ensure that their summer break is both refreshing and productive.


1. Read Lots

Reading is a wonderful thing. On one hand, it is one of the most effective ways that students can improve their vocabulary, comprehension, analytical, spelling and grammar skills, as well as their general knowledge. On the other hand, it can also be one of the most enjoyable activities to do on a lazy summer’s day. If your child is not already passionate about reading, then now is the time to get them hooked. They can read anything and everything: fantasy novels, science fiction novels, adventure novels, picture books, autobiographies, poetry, choose-your-own-adventure books, newspapers, magazines or non-fiction books. The important thing is to find something that interests your child. A trip to your local library is a great way to start the holidays on the right foot.


2. Master Your Times Tables

It’s amazing how many students struggle with their times tables, not just in primary school but even in the later years of high school! And yet, the ability to quickly answer single-digit multiplication questions is a skill that will help them throughout their education. Even in VCE, when students rely heavily on calculators, complete intuitive mastery of the times tables can give your child that little extra edge in answering complex questions quicker and more efficiently. The good news is that you can easily make a game of the times tables during the holidays. Maybe each week you can hold a times tables competition between siblings, or encourage your child to beat their previous records. The winner can be rewarded with the choice of movie, dinner or game for that night. The more you turn it into a fun, rewarding and competitive game, the more likely it is that your child will be engaged.


3. Use A Diary

The ability to use a diary or calendar effectively is one of the most important skills that a student needs to succeed in their education. Effective diary usage is key to your child being able to plan and organise their study schedule, keep track of homework and complete assignments on time. However, diary usage is also one of the most often neglected skills. The summer holidays can often be a good, low pressure time to develop this skill. Why not buy your child a 2014 diary and encourage them to start recording important dates and events (sleeping over with friends, family holidays, Christmas parties, days at the beach). Encourage your child to remind you how long it is until these events and to use their diary to plan their holiday activities. The holidays are a great time to develop these skills, as your child will have so much fun looking ahead and planning all the fun events and activities for their summer break, they won’t even know that they’re learning a valuable life skill.


4. Be Creative

In my previous blog post, I spoke about how being “smart” is not the only factor that contributes to academic success. In fact, what we call “smart” is actually a combination of many different qualities, such as dedication, flexibility, organisation, curiosity and creativity. The latter quality, creativity, is something that your child should be developing over the summer break. Whether they are drawing, painting, shooting home movies, making Christmas gifts, writing stories, making animations on their computer or playing music, creative activities will expand your child’s imagination and allow them to look at the world from a number of different critical perspectives. The great thing is that children of all ages love to be creative! All you have to do is provide them with the necessary resources, encouragement and positive feedback, and soon, without knowing it, your child will be developing important imaginative skills that will help them throughout their education.



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Demystifying the ATAR Score

On the 20th of December this year, thousands of VCE students across Victoria will receive their ATAR score. For these students, for better or for worse, their VCE journey is at an end; they have worked hard, studied for hours on end and (hopefully) received the results required to gain them entry to their desired University course.

For students commencing year 11 or 12 in 2014, the journey has only just begun. And often, for these students and their parents, the task of achieving a high ATAR score can seem like a scary, daunting and complicated process. What makes matters worse is  how many parents and students don’t even know how the ATAR score is calculated.

If this sounds like you, then read on. Today, I will be explaining how the ATAR is calculated and, based on this explanation, giving some tips on how you and your child can maximise their chances of ATAR success!

How Is The ATAR Calculated?

1. Firstly, each student will usually complete between 4-6 subjects. Based on their exam and SAC scores, they will receive an ATAR Subject Score out of 50 for each of their subjects. This is not a simple score, but a ranking, in which a score of 50 indicates the highest performing students and 30 is the average.

2. Next, because some subjects may be more competitive than others, some subjects will be “scaled up” and some may be “scaled down.” This means that a certain number of points will be added on to, or subtracted from, the raw ATAR Subject Score. It is worth noting that higher performing students will not have their scores scaled down. The degree to which each subject is scaled is determined on a yearly basis. To check out the extent to which subjects were scaled in 2012, check out this link!

3. The ATAR Aggregate is then calculated. It is found by adding

-Your best ATAR Subject Score in any one of the English studies

-The ATAR Subject Scores of your next best three studies

-10 per cent of the ATAR Subject Score for a fifth study (where available),

-10 per cent of the ATAR Subject Score for a sixth study (where available)

(It is worth noting that, as shown, an English subject MUST be one of your top 4 subjects)

4. The ATAR Aggregate is then used to rank all students. The final ATAR score is an indication of the students rank within their year. For example, a score of 97 indicates that the student has performed better than 97% of students. ATAR scores are given in intervals of 0.05, and the highest possible score is 99.95.

What does this mean?

This may seem complicated, but there are a few useful pieces of advice that you can get from understanding the way in which the ATAR system works…

1.    Do not neglect English.

English is the only subject that MUST be one of your child’s top 4 subjects. As such, a poor performance in English will affect your child’s score dramatically. English is also one of the more difficult subjects, as it requires students to think in different and complex ways about a particular text. At Spectrum Tuition, we spend all year preparing our students for their final English exams, giving them as much diverse and practical experience as possible.

2.    Your top 4 subjects are important.

It is important for your child to have a strong top 4 subjects. They are the subjects that make up most of the mark. Whilst it is important to do well in all subjects, you should make sure that your child is confident in getting an excellent score in at least four of their subjects.

3.    High subject scores are not scaled down

In year 12, my friend was very concerned because she was doing a lot of subjects, such as Psychology and Graphic design, that get scaled down. She was worried that this would ruin her chances of getting a good enter score. Because she knew this, she made sure to focus a lot of attention on these subjects. She made a clear study plan, and got a tutor to help with her exam preparation. In the end, she got a 50 for Psychology, and so it wasn’t scaled down at all! If your child is taking a subject that gets scaled down, they need to be aware that this is not an “easy subject”. If they want to achieve, they will have to work extra hard on these subjects to make sure they are scaled down as little as possible.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments! If you would like to see a first-hand account of how ATAR scores are calculated, check out this handy ATAR score calculator.

The Carrot and The Cane.

A few summers ago, I visited the Greek island of Santorini. The beautiful villages on this island are located on top of 200-metre high cliffs, which look over the Mediterranean Sea. The only way to get up to these villages is to sit on the back of a well-trained donkey as it slowly climbs up the narrow, winding paths to the top of the cliff. These patient donkeys climb up and down the cliff 20-30 times a day, and they never seem tired, bored, or unwilling to do so. The entire community rely on these donkeys, and the donkeys never let them down. But how are they so well trained? Is it because their owners use canes or whips? Is it because they know that they will be punished if they do not climb?




The reason that the donkeys are so happy to climb up and down the steep, narrow tracks, is that every time they make it to the top, they get a treat. The donkey trainers of Santorini have been leading donkeys up and down cliffs for hundreds of years and they know the secret that so many other people do not: donkeys respond better to treats than to threats. They work harder when offered carrots than when threatened with the cane.



But what does this have to do with education?

I don’t mean to be rude when I say, students are a lot like donkeys. They respond far better to the carrot than to the cane. Unfortunately, too often, in schools and at homes, teachers and parents try to use negative reinforcement to motivate students:

“Do your homework or you will get detention!”

“If you do not get an A+, I will be very disappointed in you!”

“If you don’t work hard this year, you will have to work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life!”

Does this sound familiar? The problem with this approach is simple: it doesn’t work. When faced with negative reinforcement, students (and donkeys too) feel confused, stressed and unhappy. They are likely to associate schoolwork with negative feelings and they will focus on not getting punished, as opposed to focusing on actually improving their academic performance.

So, what are the other options?


Many studies have shown that the clever use of positive reinforcement is the best way to motivate students. Here are some great ways that you can use positive reinforcement to motivate your child today…


1. Set a positive tone.

Before encouraging your child to begin their homework, try to get them feeling good about their education. Praise them on their past achievements, recognise their talents, and express an interest in the areas that they are studying.

“I’m very proud of you for getting a good mark on that quiz last week.”

“You should enjoy this homework task, you have a great imagination.”

“I can’t wait to read your story when you’re finished.”

At Spectrum Tuition, we like to start each class with a fun, engaging activity, which encourages the students to take an interest in the week’s content.


2. Be vigilant in your positive reinforcement

Students often become unmotivated if they feel as if their hard work is going unnoticed by parents, tutors or teachers. When it comes down to it, all children want to make their parents proud, and they always work harder if they know that you will notice. The problem is, parents and tutors tend to be more consistent in their negative feedback than in their positive feedback; we’re more likely to notice bad behaviour than good behaviour. Make sure you notice when your child is working particularly hard, or doing particularly well, and commend them for it.


3. Talk specifically about your mutual goals, aims and expectations

Talk to your child about what goals they want to achieve. Do they want to get a particular ATAR score, or get into a particular course? Do they want to get a scholarship so that they can attend their preferred school? Do they want to get better at expressing themselves? Do they want to feel less confused during maths class? Talk about ways in which you can work together towards these goals. Discuss fair expectations regarding homework and study times and make sure to write these down. At Spectrum Tuition, we start each term by forming a set of “Class Rules and Expectations” with our students. What we find is that, if students participate directly into setting their own goals, rules and expectations, they are far more likely to follow them.


3. Set achievable goals and fair rewards

Does your child want to get an ATAR score of 95? This is what we call a “big goal.” Often, “big goals” can be intimidating, as students don’t know where to start. Encourage your child to break down their larger goals into smaller, more manageable goals. It is a good idea to have a list of smaller “Goals of the Week” or “Goals of the Month,” such as working on assignments, practising spelling, completing all homework, etc. You can make this process more fun by offering a reward if your child achieves all of their goals for the month. Rewards can be anything: a day at the beach, a trip to the movies or Luna park, a new book. Make sure you specify in advance exactly what the reward will be and what your child must do to deserve it. At the end of each month, your child will feel proud and happy that they have accomplished their goals and earned their reward.


So remember, use the carrot over the cane. Whilst threats of punishment, groundings, loss of pocket money or guilt may motivate students in the short term, positive reinforcement is ultimately the best method for encouraging your child to achieve their goals.


What effective methods have you used to motivate your children?


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