It’s about this time of the year that the grammar schools will run familiarisation days for all the P7s that will be arriving to sit the AQE or GL test, so here’s a run down on my advice and experiences.
Getting familiar with the logistics
Firstly, these days are fabulous and a great dry-run to make sure you’ll know where to go on the big day, how far the journey will be from home, where you’ll park, what door you’ll go in etc. Whilst you may think that these are small things, trust me they are invaluable and from my own experience I remember turning up at Ben Madigan (BRA prep school) for my familiarisation day and then realising that I hadn’t a clue where BRA actually was, so ended up breaking the speed limit down the Antrim Road (which in hindsight was probably impossible during rush-hour) and turned up late and frazzled. Then, for the next child, with my new sense of confidence that I knew for sure where BRA school was as I’d done this before, I promptly turned up at 3pm on the familiarisation day only to find the place deserted and it turned out I should have been at RBAI (easy mistake I tell myself, to save on counselling sessions), so quickly hot-footed (again not so possible in rush-hour) across town to Inst.
What to wear
There are always a number of questions about what to wear and most schools will indicate on the letter you receive if they prefer the kids to turn up in their uniform or casual clothes, so depending on the grammar school, you should go with their recommendation. The same question exists for the real test and again most schools will indicate a preference for what they would like the child to wear. In general, I feel that when the child puts on their uniform they also put on their ‘school head’ but then there will be arguments for the child to be comfortable. I guess this decision is going to be individual if you are given a choice and you could go with the school’s recommendation or trust your gut instinct.
What the parent should expect
You should most definitely expect a very warm welcome with a lot of smiles and happy people trying to reassure you and set you at ease. This is only a familiarisation day and the school will be doing everything in their power to put you at ease so don’t be worrying about it. At the start, everyone will generally gather in the main assembly hall and all the kids will be assigned a number or grouping so that they can easily be called in sections to visit the room where they will sit the test. After the children have left for their rooms, the principal will continue talking to the parents to explain the process for the day of the test, for example:
- what time to turn up on the day of the test
- what to do if you are late
- the procedures around the marking
- their own school’s criteria for admission
- where the parent must stay when the test is happening (on or off campus).
If you’re lucky, you’ll also get a cup of tea or coffee and maybe a biscuit.
What the child should expect
After turning up, the child has to register and they’ll be given a number or a section so they know where they will be going when that group is called. When that happens, the child will leave their parents (usually quite merrily) and follow the teacher or prefect to their test room. This is a great opportunity for them to get a handle on how the test day is going to feel and ensures that they are familiar (hence the word familiarisation) with all the surroundings. As well as seeing their test room, they will:
- be able to see the setup of the desks and who else will be in the room with them
- see where they will be sitting exactly e.g. near a window, at the back or front
- get a sense of how cold or warm the room is so they may want to wear a jumper if cold (although on the test day it could be different)
- be informed of what they can bring on the day and what to do if they need a toilet break or extra paper
- do a brief test to give them some experience of what the real test day will feel like (this also gives them something to do whilst the principal is talking to the parents)
- have a chance to ask any questions
- be told about the rules of silence before the test and afterwards
Generally everyone usually leaves the familiarisation day with a sense of ease and feeling more informed. There’s also the feeling that this is now very real and imminent but at this stage I bet everyone is ready for it to be over. Good luck to you all and I hope you embrace the experience and even try to enjoy it.
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