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.


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