Nothing beats seeing your students thriving and gaining confidence. From high-achievers succeeding in new subjects and finding out what they are truly capable of to under-performers discovering unexpected talents, they can both be revealed by academic competitions. These often underestimated competitions stretch the boundaries of what’s possible for students – and the impact can be powerful.
When most people think of academic competitions, it’s these incredible success stories that spring to mind. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Academic competitions can and do play a broader role in education, especially in tough climates where teachers are scarce and schools are under constant pressure to improve performance.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the ways we can use academic competitions in everyday education to support teachers and students throughout the school journey.
Academic competitions from a student perspective
Rote learning has its benefits, especially for committing basic skills to memory like multiplication tables or handwriting techniques. But it doesn’t bring out the best in every learning scenario, or every child. Students who struggle to master concepts through traditional learning sometimes get a light-bulb moment when they explore things in a different way. Academic competitions include questions about curriculum-based subjects, but they challenge students to apply higher-order thinking instead of relying on memorised knowledge. Engaging with the curriculum in these new ways can help students to train their problem-solving capacity and unlock new skills that apply in the real world.
The fact is, soft skills like problem-solving and critical thinking aren’t always explicitly taught in a traditional curriculum. Yet a study by Oxford University Press Australia found that 88% of Australian students felt they would need soft skills to succeed in their future careers. This makes sense given that most jobs can’t be mastered by book learning. People react in unpredictable ways and new technologies are constantly changing the way we work, making rote learning many career skills obsolete. Giving students a platform to practise soft skills such as problem-solving could therefore give them the confidence to thrive in the workplace.
Competition results also give students incredible insight into their capabilities, and this too is incredibly important. By tracking their own progress year-on-year, students can recurring strengths and areas to improve for themselves, set goals for addressing them, and build healthy work ethics. Most importantly, they can take pride in and celebrate their improvements. This can inspire and motivate them to be more engaged in the classroom, which makes teaching and learning far more fruitful for both student and teacher. Teachers much prefer to address students who are genuinely motivated to learn!
Academic competitions from a teacher perspective
Teachers are notoriously under-resourced. Government figures suggest that teachers work between 44-57 hours a week. And even then, only 40% of that time is spent on actually teaching. With a million different things to think about and many boxes to tick, lesson planning can become overwhelming. However, one fact remains true among the vast majority of teachers and that is that they are driven by the prospect of making a difference to their students’ futures. And academic competitions can help to realise that goal, making them well worth the effort.
Thankfully, because academic competitions are designed to complement various national curriculums, test preparation can be easily built into lesson plans. You could use past questions as daily brain teasers for the whole class and choose topics that match your syllabus to gauge students’ comprehension. So, next time you’re scratching your head trying to think of a fun and engaging lesson – why not kill two birds with one ICAS past paper?
There is also a huge upside to the student data academic competitions produce. You can use them to pinpoint knowledge gaps for individual students or analyse trends across the entire class. And this, in fact, can often lighten the lesson planning load. Armed with a better understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses, you can optimise your teaching practices to focus on the areas most beneficial to your students. You can get these insights after just one academic competition, but you can also track this data year-on-year to boost classroom engagement and get increasingly better learning outcomes.
How to get the most out of academic competitions
It can be easy to think of academic competitions as a tool for the elite, but these competitions aren’t just about medal winners and high achievers. Changing our mindset to embrace academic competitions as powerful educational tools that complement and enhance the curriculum could materially benefit both students and teachers in ways not otherwise achievable. The best way to think about academic competition is as a valuable resource to support your teaching practices and help you to get the best out of your students throughout their school journey. They are the GPS for the car journey. Where would we be without that these days?
For more information about how you can get the most out of academic competitions, check out the ICAS blog page. From case studies to preparation tips for parents, there are plenty of insights to explore. If you’d prefer to pick someone’s brain about ICAS – chat with one of our assessment consultants today.
Mary-Anne is a former primary teacher who taught across years Kindergarten to 6 as a Science and Technology specialist. Her work was included as a case-study in the 2016 report created by the University of Technology, Sydney, on “Quality Learning and Teaching in Primary Science and Technology” under the pseudonym “Suzie”. Mary-Anne has leveraged her passion for designing learning experiences for students to impact the student assessment experience at Janison.