Northern Ireland

Transfer test: How to prepare for results day

Zac Parker and his brothers Image copyright Neil Parker
Image caption Zac, right, pictured with his brothers, will be among thousands of children awaiting their results on Saturday

If you are the parent of a child expecting transfer test results on Saturday, it may feel like you're waiting for your own results.

Last November, thousands of P7 pupils in Northern Ireland sat tests that will decide the next chapter of their school story - the tests are used by the vast majority of grammar schools to admit pupils.

It's an emotional and exciting time for the 10 and 11 year olds, but Saturday will not herald the end - after the score is in, there's still the school selection and acceptance to follow.

Neil Parker, whose eldest son, Zac, is waiting for his results, told BBC News NI that the whole process had felt long and very clinical.

The father-of-three said it all started in P6 with test papers and while it was a "big relief" to get the exam over, there was little respite.

Image copyright Neil Parker
Image caption Zac (second left) is the first child in the Parker family to do the transfer test

"The schools start their open nights. You already start to think, you'll soon have to make a decision based on your score," he said.

"That can be a more stressful process as your results come out on Saturday and a decision must be made by the following Friday.

"You then don't find out until the end of May what school you're going to."

Mr Parker, who lives in Comber with his wife, Paula, and their three boys, said Zac was "pretty relaxed" about Saturday.

He credits Zac's primary school with preparing the children so well and keeping them calm.

"Interestingly he and his friends don't seem to be talking too much about it," he says.


'I'm sure you did fine'

Dos and don'ts from educational psychologist Dr Marie J Hill on how to deal with the countdown to results day, the day itself and the aftermath:

  • Keep busy - Keeping distracted will not only help the time pass, but it is likely we are also going to keep busy with an activity we enjoy.
  • Plan - Before results day, it will be important for parents to think of all the possible options in case the results are not exactly what they had hoped. Having alternative plans in place makes us more mentally prepared for whichever outcome is received, and helps us to bounce back from any setbacks.
  • Take a break from social media- Individuals using social media tend to promote their 'better' self-image. If your child has not got the results you were wanting, this can have a negative impact on your thinking. Take a social media break or really restrict your usage on the days leading up to, the day of, and a few days after the results.
  • Validate - Avoid statements like "don't worry" or "I'm sure you did fine" as these may make your child feel like their thoughts and feeling are not being taken seriously. Be realistic but supportive.
  • Celebrate - No matter what the results say, these do not define who your child is and the effort they put in on transfer test days. Celebrate with your child that they did their best and the effort they put in rather than the result they got. Focus on their strengths and try to think of ways for these to help them in the future.

Also - get as much sleep as possible and remember to breathe. Breathing in for four seconds and out for six seconds can "reset" the body back into a calmer state.


Cara McVeigh will be on double tenterhooks on Saturday.

She is waiting for two scores as there are two sets of tests pupils in Northern Ireland can sit - one is used mainly by Catholic grammars, while the other is used mainly by other grammars.

That meant the 10-year-old, from Darragh Cross in County Down, sat four tests on four consecutive Saturdays.

"They have a nice experience in school up until P6, then things change," her father Barry said.

"It's the process of gearing up, calming your child the week before and doing that every week for tests with different formats."

Image copyright djedzura

Mr McVeigh said the pressure can get so intense that children can develop additional issues.

"It's not a good thing for children to have to go through," he said. "I'm in a great believer that 11 doesn't define a child's life."

Educational psychologist and chair of the Division of Educational & Child Psychology Dr Marie J Hill says while stress is a "natural human response", too much of it can have a negative effect on children and it's a problem she is seeing more and more.

"We test children a lot here," she said. "There can be an emphasis on results rather than the development of the child."

Like many parents, waiting until their post arrives will be too much of a wait for the McVeighs, so they will be going to the Post Office as soon as it opens.

"We are going to get the results and have a relaxing and enjoyable day on Saturday," Mr McVeigh said.

"Saturday's outcome isn't an issue for us. She knows that whatever the result, there is a school and a solution for it.

"She's a success to us regardless of the outcome."

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