To Coach to the Test or Not ... (Hint: NOT!)

In the UK, students have just been receiving the grades on the national exams they sit at the end of their general high school career, that is around 16 years old before going onto their higher or "advanced" studies. 

In England, 16 yrs is the first major school milestone

Home-educated students have advantages over their schooled counterparts on the one hand (ie, choose only the ones they want to do, take some a year or two early so to spread the load), but there are disadvantages, too (they have to pay for them separately, they have to find somewhere to agree to they can take them as private candidates, and of course, there's a lot of re-inventing of the wheel whereas school teachers will generally have more experience in preparing students for the exams).

I recently read on an FB forum that home-ed students were getting poorer grades on their exams than they expected, despite working so hard. This will be true for kids in school, too, but in my experience - as a teacher, a home-ed parent, an examiner of these exams - anyone who is preparing their students for a big exam (whether in the UK or even something like SATs in the US), there is only one real mistake you can make, and that is ...


I'm not saying you shouldn’t coach your child to take the exam, but I’m really unsupportive of teaching ONLY to the test. That is, for a year or two years, to drill and drill.

The obvious reason is that, once the test is over, what have you got to show for it except that your child jumped through some hoops that are now irrelevant? Where do you go from there?

The other reason is that the hoops you jump may or may not be a real-work experience and translatable beyond that narrow exercise.

Another really important reason is that you run the risk of killing your child’s love for the subject, for exploration, and maybe even for learning anything at all.

Did you ever have a teacher say to you something like, “I know this is what we taught you about, say, Physics last year, but I want you to forget all that because that wasn’t really true - it was just a simplified version to make it easier to understand, but now we’re going to do the REAL stuff.”

You what???!!!!

Man, I hated that! You might has well have said, “Everything you’ve done up till now is a waste of time.”

This is why I make my own children, and all my online students, learn the REAL thing from the beginning. We don’t read abridged books. We don’t use Cliffs Notes or other summaries. If it’s writing, we learn the real-world skill of revising essays.

Reading the real thing.

Sometimes, the topic or approach is over their heads, but sometimes, it’s exactly that stretching approach that brings them to a higher level - a level they would not have reached if you didn’t try in the first place.

So if you have a big exam coming up in the future, I urge you to study subjects in a solid and true way as the majority of your learning, and only practice the hoops either little and often (key word: “little”), or in a more focused way such as in the month before the exam.

This way, you don’t lose sight of the reason you’re probably educating your children at home in the first place: to create life-long learners who can think outside the box.

Loving to read hard books is rarely normal!

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