ACG Parnell College is a private school located in Auckland’s central-eastern suburb of Parnell – considered the city’s “oldest suburb,” originally settled in 1841.
The College participates in the globally-recognised Cambridge International curriculum, which covers the full breadth of the their education from Years 1 to 13. This includes the necessary summative exams that help them to understand how their students are performing, and how they might need to tweak their learning programs.
But as every educator will tell you: exams tend to make students nervous, especially the high-stakes tests in their later years. These understandable jitters can affect their ability to think clearly, with facts more difficult to recall, creative-thinking stunted, and focus much harder to maintain.1 For a high-performing school like Parnell College, which needs accurate assessment data to make the best teaching decisions for its students, this is far from ideal.
How ICAS helps Parnell College’s students with exam nerves
Thankfully, Parnell College has a history of participating in extracurricular competitions like ICAS, which can provide valuable exam experience for students who may have never sat a formal test. John Liu – Parnell College’s Maths Curriculum Coordinator – has seen this with many of the school’s students:
“A lot of kids come in from Year 7 and they haven’t sat any examinations. And for ICAS, it’s very good preparation for them as they move onto seniors, where they have to sit hours-long exams. They don’t appreciate the magnitude of this. But I find that if they participate in ICAS, they don’t panic as much.”
As a formal examination, ICAS is carried out under the expected conditions that make things fair: a quiet room with no talking, the watchful eye of an invigilator, and an allocated amount of time to complete questions. Many students step into this serious atmosphere for the very first time, but because they’re participating in a competition with zero risks, they learn that the formal assessment experience isn’t so scary after all.
For Parnell College’s students, this carries over to their high-stakes exams where performance does matter. As the curriculum coordinator for Maths, John has noticed this for his subject. He says:
“ICAS does help our kids prepare for maths – we notice that kids who tend to do well in the competition also tend to be capable for the Cambridge exams.”
ICAS improves students’ time management too
In addition to making exams less scary, low-stakes academic competitions, like ICAS, give Parnell College’s students a chance to practise their time management – a vital skill for completing tests to a high standard.
When the questions are tough and the clock relentlessly ticks, it can be difficult for anyone to manage their time well, let alone children. But ICAS gives the College’s students a safe platform to learn, where they can figure out roughly how long to spend on each question. John says:
“When they first participate in ICAS in Year 7, they don’t know how to control time as well – some rush to the end, and some don’t finish the competition. But when they get to Year 9 or 10, they know how to manage it much better, including how not to waste it. They finish the tests with just enough time to go back and check their work.”
Time squeezes and stretches for us all, but by annually sitting down for time-restricted academic competitions, students can make it more steady for themselves. An hour-long exam may feel like it’s over in 30 minutes, but somehow, students have still finished every question in time. And when it comes to their tough high-stakes exams, they’ll be able to do the same.
ICAS is now part of Parnell College’s culture
Academic competitions, like ICAS, have been a valuable part of Parnell College’s programs for a long time, and are supported by its many teachers. They have become an integral part of its high-performing culture, and as with other schools in New Zealand and Australia, students get super-excited when Term 3 approaches:
“It’s become a part of our culture, we’ve done this for over 10 years. Kids just know ICAS is coming up – they always ask way before it starts.”
We love that ICAS has become an important part of Parnell College’s calendar, and that it gives their students the exam experience they need to excel. We hope they are suitably well-prepared and excited for this year’s competition!
- 2018, Review of Selected Education Access, NSW Department of Education