Surviving entrance exams

Posted on: 17 Dec 2013

Jo MacKenzie, Headmistress of Bedford Girls' School, offers advice on preparing children for entrance exams.

Like many independent schools, spring is the time when we set our entrance examinations and children across the country are assessed to see if they qualify for the school of their dreams. It is tough time for parents and their children. Having seen it from both sides, as an aunt and as a Headmistress, I can attest that it’s also a testing time for schools because in seeking to determine a child’s ability and her potential, we are also required to make a judgement on how happy, successful and inspired she will be as part of our particular model of teaching and learning.

Equally, as a parent, choosing the right school for your child is not easy. You have to evaluate what is right for your child. What can they achieve in the school? What can they bring out of the school and what the school can bring out of them? It is a process that requires a good deal of careful thought and carries an awful lot of responsibility. However, if you believe a school is right for your child and that an independent school best meets your educational ideal then the selection process should not be seen with fear. If it is indeed the right place for your individual child, then the selection process will have been devised to draw out the attributes they want in their pupils, those that will be happy and prosper in their specific environment and who will thrive through a shared ethos and approach to learning. If the school you believe to be right for your child is highly academic then your child should gain a place if such a selective school suits their personality, their approach to learning and their benchmarking of academic success. If your child is a Bedford Girls’ School girl, she will gain a place because she will have demonstrated her ability to think critically, to make intellectual connections between disparate areas and her personality and potential sit with our values of bold, imaginative and reflective.

The school chosen should never be seen as a badge of honour that is worn proudly by the parent, with the badge suggesting the intellectual prowess of their child. If your child is not academically motivated to get into a highly selective school without excessive tutoring and additional hothousing then your child will ultimately be unhappy in that environment. They will feel inadequate, they will begin to struggle and all the things you want for your child – confidence, self-esteem and self-belief will gradually ebb away.

The best way to prepare your child for any entrance test is to make them think they can do it. Build up their confidence, reassure them and give them plenty of sleep and good food before the event. Make them feel excited and make them see it as an opportunity to share with the school all that they know. Don’t make them view the day with fear. Their preparation should not be about seeing tutors, sitting endless tests and switching them off from learning. Your child should know and really believe that if they do not get into the school, it is not the child’s failure it is because the school simply isn’t the right place for them. In fact, they should be encouraged to think of it as an opportunity to reassess their options in the knowledge that the right place, a place where they will truly flourish, will be found and a brighter pathway to a successful future forged.

I do not want to see girls in my school struggle academically in comparison to their peers. I believe a child’s self-esteem, their sense of worth is the most important gift a school can give. If they do not get into our school it is not because they are failures but because they would not thrive. It is my profound belief that all children have a valuable and unique role to play in the betterment of a future world and equally a school that will best facilitate that.

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