Among the most common questions we hear from parents when they sign up their child or children for ICAS is: How can I support them? What can I do to help them prepare? That makes total sense — because the ICAS competition involves test questions that are quite unlike a conventional school test, the usual study tips might not be enough.
As a parent, you’ll be pleased to know that partnering with your child in the weeks leading up to ICAS is not only possible to fit into your busy day-to-day, but can also be fun and rewarding for the whole family.
Success in ICAS subjects is all about problem solving, out-of-the-box thinking and coming up with creative and unexpected solutions. It means that memorising dates, facts or formulas the way your child normally would before a test or exam will help to an extent, but it won’t seal the deal.
Acing a problem-solving academic competition such as ICAS is similar to a team sports match. Practising field drills, kicks or goal-keeping techniques is a given — but it’s the way the players apply them in real-time situations on the field that determine the winner.
So, as a parent, what can you do to get your child ‘match fit’ ahead of ICAS? We spoke to teachers with years of experience supporting students before they sit ICAS, and asked them how parents set up their children for ICAS success.
Why test practice really does make perfect sense in preparing your child for ICAS
Preparing your child for their ICAS assessment will help them to feel more comfortable — and even excited — on the day. Just like rehearsing a play or training for a soccer game, preparation and repetition increase your child’s familiarity with the process that’s involved in ‘hitting an ace’, which will boost their confidence, resilience and performance.
One of the most effective tools to use for ICAS practice is using the questions from actual ICAS past papers in the relevant subject. “Practice makes perfect,” says Janison Publishing Coordinator and former high school teacher, Danni Costa.
Mary-Anne Kefaloukos, ICAS Customer Experience Manager and a former specialist Science teacher, said, “I actually watched one of my students go from achieving a Participation in ICAS to a High Distinction (levelling up a certificate each year from Year 3 to Year 6), simply because he took ICAS seriously and practised with past papers.”
Danni says that the past papers, which are also available in an online format that replicates the actual testing platform your child will use on competition day, will help familiarise your child with the language, style and format of ICAS as well as develop the skills required to work out the (most) correct answer.
Janison Assessment Project Officer and former primary school teacher Diana Willis agrees. “The other valuable thing about the past papers is that they allow students to practise vital habits such as pacing and time-management.”
She also encourages reminding your child to pay close attention to the upfront information provided in the question before jumping in to answer it. “Read questions carefully, go back to the text or stimulus and re-read,” she says. “Don’t assume, always go back and check all the points written in the question. See if you can find tiny clues to reaching the answer in there.”
Nardin Hanna, ICAS Assessment Consultant, adds that focusing on time-keeping is just as important as the questions themselves. “It’s important children also practise under exam conditions — in other words, with a time limit. This helps them get accustomed to feeling some time pressure and learn how to pace themselves. That way, when they actually sit the test, they’ll think, Oh yes, I remember this. And they can feel relaxed and be their best in that moment.”
It starts at home: Incorporate your child’s ICAS preparation into everyday life
Including practice in the everyday means that parents have an important role to play in the lead-up to ICAS. “I’ve always been really passionate about working with parents on this; it’s a really important partnership,” says Nardin, who is also a former K-2 coordinator, NAPLAN marker, NSW syllabus writer and primary teacher of 10 years.
“We want parents to feel empowered, and know that great prep starts at home and doesn’t have to involve carving out huge chunks of time. It’s all about small steps and habits you can get into in the weeks and days leading up to test day.”
This will be particularly welcome news for time-poor parents — and we know that that means almost all of you. Here are some examples of how you and your family can weave in ICAS preparation when you’re busy:
• Encourage lateral thinking during household chores: You can find ways to encourage lateral thinking and problem-solving in your child’s everyday life, such as while doing household chores, or washing up after dinner. For example, pick out a random object — such as a sieve or garlic crusher — and challenge your child to list 10 creative alternative uses for it. Or ask them to invent a possible solution to tasks such as taking the bins out, doing the dishes most efficiently or tracking expiry dates and brainstorming uses for the food in the fridge.
• Make a night of it: Studying for ICAS doesn’t need to be serious nor solitary. Do your children have classmates who are also taking the competition? Invite them and their parents over for a trivia night, where you work through and solve questions together. Ask children the reasons for every step they’re taking to reach their answer, and workshop and prompt as a group when they get stuck. Not only will these sessions be memorable, but your child will associate ICAS with fun and exploration — a great step toward ensuring they approach test day with a sense of calm and confidence.
Making the most of ICAS past papers: Teachers’ top tips for parents
Once you have some idea of where in the family’s routine you and your child can comfortably weave in ICAS practice sessions, consider these additional strategies to get the very best out of the preparation itself. And if you found that you got quite confident at home-schooling your child during lockdown, consider implementing some additional advanced tips intended for professional teachers.
1. Look at the correct multiple-choice answer first, then work backwards: It may not be the way you expected to use your ICAS past papers but, according to Mary-Anne, looking at the answer sheet first is actually a very effective strategy, especially for the more challenging questions at the end of the paper. Knowing which of the four possible multiple-choice answers is correct will start to exercise your child’s problem-solving muscles, as well as get them used to the idea that there are many possible paths to reach the solution.
“I often tell parents to use the technique of looking at the answers first, and then ask their child to use their thinking to work backwards to reach that answer,” she says.
The advantage of ICAS past papers is that the answer sheet contains the correct answer, not the method of getting there. The bulk of the learning — and the preparation — happens as you and your child workshop the pathway to reach the answer.
“The reason we don’t include the working-out method is that there is often actually more than one way to get to an answer. Another method you can try is to illuminate all three of the wrong multiple-choice answers to your child first, then ask them to work out how to reach the correct choice.”
2. Stick to half-hour chunks: When it comes to how long to set aside each day for practice sessions, a clear consensus among teachers is that half an hour at a time is the sweet spot. “There’s a limit to children’s concentration for this kind of problem-solving workshopping,” says Nardin. “You’re getting the best bang for your buck in half an hour. Once 30 minutes rolls over, students — especially younger ones — begin losing focus, and then it starts to drag.” This makes it all the more important to start as early as possible — and given the wide-ranging benefits of ICAS prep, these strategies are applicable and useful all year round.
3. Make practice for ICAS Writing as real-world as possible: Naturally, encouraging your child to read a great variety of types of writing is the best way to prepare for ICAS Writing. But some of the most effective texts to help them sharpen up their wordsmithing aren’t necessarily only in books. The beauty of the internet is that millions of writing formats and topics, written by some of the world’s best (and worst!) writers, are accessible with the click of a mouse. Ask your child to collect examples of the best and worst writing they can find on a particular topic. Then ask them to explain why they rated it this way. Encourage them to understand the different structures, audiences and purposes of texts — and how well, or badly, the writing addresses these.
For more advanced writing styles, such as persuasive or analytical writing, you can ensure that preparation is a fun and absorbing activity by making the subject matter relatable. For example, when done well, film or game reviews, opinion pieces, or sports reports are actually among the most difficult forms of writing. But they also happen to be fun to read. One simple technique is to ask your child to go on a site such as Rotten Tomatoes and read professional top critics’ reviews of films which your child has already seen, and compare these with the quality of the reviews written by amateur writers in the “audience reviews” section.
4. Embrace the process of ICAS preparation as quality time with your child: We often hear that when it comes to ICAS preparation, what initially seems a daunting task ends up being entertaining in expected ways — even for parents themselves.
“I’ve found that for parents, it’s really about being part of your child’s journey,” says Nardin. “One of our schools actually held a trivia night for ICAS students and parents. Everybody came along, they took the past papers, and they were getting fully drawn in, parents and children challenging each other with coming up with answers.
“I’ve also often got parents emailing me saying, Are there any more? I’ve done all the past papers, I’ve been doing them with my kids every day, and we’ve really enjoyed them. People find that they really get into it.”
5. A nourished body means a nourished mind: In addition to the essential intellectual preparation, it’s extremely important to encourage a healthy routine for your child, particularly in the weeks leading up to a test. This may sound obvious, but it can be surprising how easy it is to forget. Priorities include a healthy diet with plenty of fruit, veggies and complex carbohydrates, daily exercise or time outdoors, and the right amount of sleep. This means no screens before bedtime — a great opportunity to squeeze in a healthy dose of reading as they wind-down instead.
6. Preparation also means the practical items: If you have younger children (or even hopelessly forgetful teenagers), ensure a smooth morning on test day by helping them to prepare everything they need the night before. This could include laying out clean clothes (including the small items that can trip us up, such as socks), preparing a pre-test snack, and packing their exam bag, including stationery and any necessary equipment.
And finally, while it’s the icing on the cake, ensuring that your child understands the rewards and future prospects that can be unlocked by ICAS can also really help unlock their motivation. Creating excitement about the competition element is a positive way to encourage them to seize the opportunity to shine. When children want to do well, the job of preparing them for the test becomes a lot easier.
There’s still time to sign up for ICAS 2022. Visit our shop today to choose your child’s subjects.