Gungahlin College Year 12 students Tarryn McClenahan-Brown, Peta Finglas- Watson, Brooke Commons, Louis Grant and Katherine Zeman chat while they eat their breakfast, before starting their ACT Scaling Test.

Gungahlin College Year 12 students Tarryn McClenahan-Brown, Peta Finglas- Watson, Brooke Commons, Louis Grant and Katherine Zeman chat while they eat their breakfast, before starting their ACT Scaling Test. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Whether it is feeding students a hearty breakfast prior to sending them into the examination hall, or teaching them yoga and relaxation techniques to keep them calm once they’re in there, ACT colleges have put a lot of time and effort in preparing local Year 12 students for the two-day ACT Scaling Test which began on Tuesday morning.

And it seems a bit of chewing gum or a piece of chocolate are the top tips for performance from college principals.

I am sure some of the kids think I am crazy for doing it, but there is research to back it up and it’s sugar-free gum so it helps clean their teeth.  

Gungahlin College principal Gai Beecher

Students will sit three exams over Tuesday and Wednesday which will moderate their college results against their classmates and other ACT colleges to help produce an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank.

Canberra’s college systems operates on a system of continuous assessment over Years 11 and 12 so the results of the AST are used to moderate two years of performance rather than delivering an exam mark like the Higher School Certificate in NSW. Canberra Grammar is the only school in the ACT which continues to use the NSW HSC exam.

Board of Senior Secondary Studies executive officer Helen Strauch the AST was important to college students as it was the only piece of system-wide assessment to scale their performance across their subjects.

“We use the AST to get a measure of the ability of the students and the results in their best four subjects and use it to scale those marks. But teacher assessment determines the rank order of students and scaling doesn’t change that.”

She said the test was really a team effort in that college results and subject results would influence ATARs rather than individual performance. However, she said it was almost impossible to identify how much the AST could directly influence an ATAR.

Co-president of the ACT Principals Association Michael Hall said ACT colleges had all invested considerable effort into best preparing students for the sorts of thinking and reasoning they would be required to illustrate in the test, but it was important to keep it in perspective.

The principal of Erindale College said he had organised for students to have a formal lunch together on Monday where he had “delivered them a sort of grand-dad speech”.

He said it was always a proud moment for him to see students disappear inside the hall to sit the test and the college also gave each student with a “AST kit” containing, pencils, rulers, erasers and chocolate “to give the kids a bit of energy and make them feel special”.

Over at Gungahlin College, principal Gai Beecher organised for students to have a proper breakfast together at school from 8am on Tuesday, as well as a healthy lunch at Yerrabi Pond between the multiple choice in the morning and the short answer exam in the afternoon.

“I liken it to preparing for a big sporting event, you want kids who are awake, alert and well-fed.”

Ms Beecher is also an advocate of giving students a piece of chewing gum after their meal based on research which shows student cognitive function can improve after chewing.

“I am sure some of the kids think I am crazy for doing it, but there is research to back it up and it’s sugar-free gum so it helps clean their teeth.”

Ms Beecher said students no doubt felt nerves on the day, but needed to focus on staying calm.

“This is not the sort of test you can study for, and all colleges have been preparing students on the sorts of things they need to do to show their true capabilities.”

Mr Hall said preparations in the “theory of knowledge” style of thinking began at Erindale about a year ago, and students were also taught important relaxation and yoga techniques to help them through.

Old fashioned common sense and time management were also important.

“We tell them again and again, read the question properly and if you don’t know the answer, go onto the next question and come back to it later.”

Mr Hall said the test mattered in that the ACT had the highest proportion of students going onto university and for those aspiring for ATARS above 90, the scaling test had major implications if it raised or lowered a student’s marks by even one point.

Yet ultimately it remained a test that you could not “swot” for, nor memorise answers to.

“It’s like driving a car, you can learn all the steps, but until you actually get behind the wheel you can’t actually learn to drive.”