There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether or not preparation is necessary for student confidence and success in NAPLAN. Parents and teachers alike aren’t sure whether they should spend time helping students prepare for tests, and if they do decide to help they’re not really sure of the most effective strategies or activities to employ.

There are many sensationalised stories of kids spending hours and hours sitting practice tests, refusing to go to school and experiencing sleepless nights from the worry and stress caused by the very thought of NAPLAN.

The good news is that there is a middle ground and the following is some advice parents and teachers can use to plan some useful NAPLAN preparation.

Preparation can be more informative than the test itself

In the classroom some of the best learning opportunities come from the preparation and revision we do in the lesson or two before a test than from the actual test itself. It is on these occasions that students can reflect on their learning, identify the skills and techniques they’ve been using and see their learning as a journey rather than a series of isolated lessons.

When I had my Year 7 classes complete a selection of questions from a past NAPLAN Numeracy paper, many of these useful opportunities presented themselves. We were able to discuss strategies for solving some of the problems and we were able to analyse why some of the multiple choice options seemed viable when really they were there to test common misconceptions. The students enjoyed having an “insider’s” view to NAPLAN as well as having a guided discussion on how and where they could prepare themselves further.

What preparation has your child done at school?

Before deciding what preparation your child could benefit from at home, take the time to find out what types of preparation activities they’ve been engaged with at school.

We’ve all heard of the schools that spend nearly all of Term 1 “teaching to NAPLAN” and doing endless practice questions and tests. Of course this is ineffective and detrimental to learning. Learning snippets of information in isolation, rather than units of work as a whole, is never going to result in a successful education. Similarly, practising questions without the important discussion and analysis of the solutions also leaves students unable to identify where they need to further focus and improve.

A discussion with your child and their teacher can help you gauge what sort of preparation has been initiated and where some further supplementation might be useful.

A few practice tests aren’t a bad thing

The image of young Year 3 students being made to sit at desks poring over practice papers is certainly not an image we want to associate with education in Australia. As mentioned, the endless practise of questions isn’t meaningful preparation, and yet working on a few practice papers can be useful when conducted educationally.

Why did I give my Year 7 students a practice paper to work on when this will be their third year of NAPLAN?

Firstly this will the first year in the Numeracy test where they will sit a calculator section and a non-calculator section and I wanted to help them see the different style and type of question that will be asked in each section.

Secondly students often feel that the way questions are worded or the content presented will be completely foreign and separate to what they learn on an everyday basis. By working on some practice papers my students could see that while the Numeracy paper doesn’t address just one topic (as their usual class Topic Tests do), the concepts and skills being tested are still familiar and based on what they’ve been learning over the last 18 months.

And finally, working individually on NAPLAN questions and then coming together as a class to discuss solutions was an excellent opportunity for sharing mathematical thinking and identifying areas of weakness. It is always useful for students to hear and compare other means of approaching and answering a question. It is also beneficial for students to identify what types of questions or skills need further attention and revision.

Follow up on areas of weakness

After working through some typical NAPLAN problems and marking the responses, it’s time to reflect on areas of weakness and address these in an ongoing educational plan.

Perhaps your child finds the questions involving money or currency difficult or confusing in their practice of Numeracy questions. Some real life role-play and practice might be useful here.

It might be the case that your child tends to make the same punctuation errors in their practice of Language Conventions questions. This might be due to a misunderstanding or misconception of the grammar involved and can be easily rectified.

If your child has difficulty explaining metaphors or identifying their meaning while attempting some Reading questions, then some age appropriate poetry and discussion could help with their progress.

With a proactive, constructive and positive approach to preparing for NAPLAN, it doesn’t need to be an ordeal nor a chore. Instead it can be the opportunity for some powerful and meaningful learning and an impetus to guide future learning goals.