Archive for September, 2014

Piggy-back to the exam hall


With one day separating two of the school entrance exams, L organises a treat for Eliza. We all go to JumpNation – the warehouse with a trampoline floor and walls. The kids bound around, racing across the trampolines. Eliza completes somersaults and back-flips. Their faces turn pink and their hair damp with sweat. Then we look up from our tea to see Eliza being carried by a steward. She’s twisted her ankle and receives immediate, thorough first aid.

The next morning, what was to be the easiest exam to reach becomes the most difficult. I drive mother and daughter close to the school. L gives Eliza a piggy-back to the queue waiting to be let in and then gets dispensation to carry her all the way to the desk. How it has affected her exam performance, we don’t know.


Gabe is in the top maths set. At the end of last year they did some GCSE level papers. This year, he thinks, they may be heading higher. He does his homework at home – a new departure, perhaps signifying its difficulty. He asks me to help. Quadratic equations – we look at the examples. Without an explanation I don’t know how to approach them. Gabe remembers another technique and applies it. He’s successful with some, but doesn’t feed his answers back into the original equation to check. Were he to heed me, that would be something I could teach him.


Robin is annoyed that his new teacher is making him read books at a level below where he feels he reached at the end of last year. L and I emphasise the importance of reading them quickly if he wants to be issued more challenging books. The book he wants to read is an award winning account of Guardiola’s Barcelona, that he bought with his own money at Waterstone’s. It’s an adult read (by complexity, not subject matter), but he’s ploughing through it – preferring to be listener, but reading it to himself as well.




It’s the night before the exam and Eliza cannot sleep. She twitches and becomes upset. “What’s the time?” L stays with her, but one hour and then two pass since her bedtime. A cup of hot milky chocolate comes and goes. She’s befuddled; too tired to sleep. Eventually, she drifts off, with more than seven hours to go until she needs to be up, getting ready for the school entrance exam.

Eliza has prepared diligently for the entrance exams all through the summer holiday. Taking tests, learning parts of the maths curriculum not covered at school, getting faster and more accurate.


I used Eliza’s preparations to persuade Robin to spend 15 minutes per day, around half of the holiday, to work on his times tables. Grumpy and reluctant at first, he began to pick up speed and finally memorise the ‘multiplication facts’ as the book called them. He also did some non-verbal reasoning, usually while in the bath, which entertained him as a puzzles.

Today, at school, he applied his holiday efforts in a mental maths test. He did well, he assured me. He knew his six times table.


Gabe slumped through the summer holiday: on the sofa, with TV on and tablet or phone in near constant use. I imagined his fitness draining away.

I was wrong. Back at school, he achieved his best ever bleep test score: 9.1.