What we learned from the 2023 exam

We learned much from the inaugural SEAG test but these are our five key takeaways from the 2023 exam.

1. On the day, the test is slow to start

When the day of the test finally arrives, both you and your child will be ready. You’ll be asked to drop your child off at your chosen centre for 9.15 am. Your child will be greeted by school prefects or staff and brought quickly to their room or hall to sit the test. This is when the pace really slows down. Your child will sit in their desk and wait for the exam to begin. And wait. The room is full of nervous, anxious children requesting toilet visits. And children who are waiting.

At around 10:00 am the invigilator will begin reading through an SEAG script designed to guide the children through a series of practice questions. These are printed in the first few pages of the test booklet. The purpose of the practice questions is to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to fill in practice answers on the answer sheet. The invigilator’s script (which they must rigidly stick to) allows about a minute per practice question and provides less and less instruction as the candidates go through them. This process settles the room down but can feel artificially slow and will last upwards of twenty minutes. The children are asked not to skip ahead through the practice questions and many find this part frustratingly slow. By this stage, they’ve been in their seats for over an hour without having started their actual transfer test.

Speak to you child about this process – they will need to expect this drawn-out beginning to the test. They are not allowed to move on past the practice questions on to the main test until told to do so. When the test finally begins (and the clock starts), they will need all the energy they can muster and will need to work quickly and accurately. Make sure that they get a balanced breakfast which helps avoid energy spikes.

2. Your child is presented with a choice

One of the final sections of the invigilator’s script suggests to candidates that they either begin with the English section or the Maths section. The English section is first and the Maths section follows just like TransferReady’s 2024 SEAG practice papers. The invigilator’s final instructions go something like, “if you want to begin with the English questions, turn to the next page 10 now and if you want to begin with the Maths questions to to page 20”. This choice may not have previously occurred to candidates and being presented with it on the morning, just before the test begins, could be confusing or unsettling.

Speak to your child about this important part of exam strategy. It can be helpful for children who are better at Maths to do those questions first but everyone is different. If they are going to do this, make sure that they know to be nearly finished by the time the invigilator announces the half-way point. And, if you are planning to flick around the exam and do questions in your preferred order, make sure that you attempt every question. The answer sheet helps with this.

3. The Maths was “easy” but the English was not

Feedback from 2023 candidates generally went along the lines of “the Maths was easy but the English was tricky”. We heard this a lot from pupils and their teachers. Preparation for the transfer test, both in primary schools and at home, is almost exclusively carried out thorough the use of practice papers. This is really effective preparation for Maths questions because there are only so many ways to ask, say, “what is the diameter of the circle?”

English is, by far, the broader side of the test. Candidates struggle with vocabulary and spelling. Practice papers can help with spotting grammar and punctuation errors but if you’ve never met a word before, then you just won’t know what it means or how it is spoiled spelled spelt. This is why we recommend daily reading of different media types – novels, magazines, news reports etc. And use our “spelling of the day” to discuss words with your children. We compiled these from Key Stage 2 spelling lists so they will all be fair game for the SEAG tests. Here is today’s…

TransferReady Spelling of the Day
aggressive ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression [Hint: Breaks down to a-ggress-ive. Remember the Double G and the Double S.]
Set aside some time each day to read with your child. Discuss the words you meet and their meanings. Look for unusual spellings. Vocabulary is the hardest part of the transfer test to prepare children for and practice papers just can’t cover it all.

4. Candidates needed to be really accurate in 2023

Now that we have received results back, and some parents have requested raw scores, it’s possible to put a picture together of how accurate candidates needed to be. [Have a quick read of this if you don’t yet understand TSAS scores]. In short, the average candidate got around 83% of their answers correct in Maths and 75% of their answers correct in English.

So, a (January born) candidate who, over the two tests, got 83% in Maths and 75% in English scored a TSAS of 200. In fact, month of birth didn’t make a huge difference to scores in 2023. Compare this to the grade boundaries in GCSE Maths for November 2023 where a raw mark of less than 50% was awarded an A grade and you can appreciate the ridiculously high level of accuracy required in SEAG.

The scores from 2023 show that candidates were generally very accurate. If you’re familiar with the old AQE where the best two out of three scores were used, then you need to understand that every answer over the two days of tests now contributes directly to the scores. Not only can kids not have an off-day; they virtually can’t have an off-question.

If your child tends to guess an answer from reading the five options, then really encourage them to work it out before looking at the possible answers. There will be answers in the options that align with common mistakes so make sure that your child isn’t falling for these.

5. It wasn’t very different to what we expected

All in all, the test looked very similar to what we expected. The Maths questions were either very consistent with the old GL tests or worded slightly differently to what we have seen before. If anything, there were very few truly challenging questions and this is reflected in the scoring that we saw. The English section was certainly more challenging with vocabulary and analysis questions causing greater difficulty. There were anecdotal reports of candidates asking invigilators questions about the meanings of words, which they, of course, could not answer.

Overall, the cohort performed really well. Future tests may be made more challenging to bring down grade boundaries – especially in Maths where candidates who only dropped four marks across the two tests (so, 52 out of a possible 56) were getting Maths SAS scores of around 115. This doesn’t leave much room for clever but slightly careless kids.

Prepare your child for the big day by discussing the long wait before the test, the decision about whether to begin with Maths or English and get plenty of reading in before November – discuss those words that are unfamiliar and work your way towards transfer test readiness. In your practice papers, a useful technique is covering up the answer options until you have worked out your own answer to prevent guessing.