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Winter 2016

The Transfer Test process can be daunting at times for all involved. To help minimise those stress levels, Martin Rimmer addresses the most common areas of confusion and offer some advice to keep the nerves from getting too frayed along the way...

Having gone through the Transfer Test process for the first time with my daughter, who sat the CEA tests in 2015, this opened my eyes from a parent’s point of a view rather than seeing it purely in a professional context as a teacher. Thankfully, the Education Minister has agreed that primary schools are once again allowed to support the children through this process which can only help to alleviate stress for all concerned.

The first thing to understand is that the Transfer Tests are unregulated, which means primary schools are not involved in the administrative side of the tests, therefore parents must register their child for either the CEA (Common Entrance Tests) organised by AQE or the GL test organised by the (Post Primary Transfer Consortium).

The next thing is deciding which tests to take? The tests take place over a four week period beginning around the middle of November. AQE offer three tests which take place on the first, third and fourth Saturday finishing in the first week of December. Only the marks in the better two tests in the CEA will count, but it is recommended to sit the three tests making allowance for an ‘off’ day. The GL test takes place in the second week and is only one test using a multiple choice format. As the tests are offered on consecutive Saturdays, this allows a child to sit all tests if they choose to do so.
Parents do need to check which secondary schools are participating as this varies from year to year. Some schools accept marks from both tests, others only accept marks from one test.

The application process opens around May for both tests. Forms are available online at or from

There is an administrative fee for the CEA test of about £46 and no charge for the GL test. The forms give you all the information and the best advice is to process the form quickly as you have to nominate a secondary school to take the test and places are offered on a first come first-served basis. Ideally, you want the school nearest to you which lessens the stress of arriving on time for the test on a Saturday morning.

How to prepare your child
From your child’s point of view as they begin P6, the prospect of having to take on board the P6 and most of the P7 curriculum by the following November can understandably be overwhelming. They need to be reassured that there is sufficient time to cover all areas of the curriculum, but at the same time there is hard work ahead.

The core skill required in both English and maths is ‘reading for information’. It’s common for students to make ‘silly mistakes’ as they adapt to the style of the questions, which can be wordy. With practise, confidence will grow. Students should be reassured there are no ‘trick’ questions. I always say to my students don’t be put off when you see a more wordy question as when you have teased out what the question is actually asking, it is often more straightforward than you think. On the other hand, students sometimes see a question and immediately think, ‘this is easy’. My advice is to treat every question carefully and do working out, which allows you to check over working and avoid those costly errors.

Topics covered
I am not going to list every topic covered in the tests. Essentially, the tests are based on the KS2 curriculum. In maths the starting point is time tables – these must be known in order to be able to confidently take on board fractions, decimals and percentages. Maths questions vary with one step, two step and on occasion three steps of working required to reach an answer.

Many parents ask me how to help their children prepare for English. My response is they must read for enjoyment and include poetry too. Keep a notebook and note down any words that are confusing and can be looked up in the dictionary later. Start this at the beginning of P6 so it doesn’t become a battle later as the pressure starts to build. In English what is tested includes synonyms, antonyms, spelling, grammar and punctuation, homophones, alphabetical order and ability to recognise onomatopoeia and alliteration and rhyme in poetry.
Students should avoid having a favourite subject and instead work on areas of weakness across the two subjects. Past paper questions should be used wisely as a tool to address any areas to be revised.

The key message to succeed is to be thorough in your learning but most of all be careful when answering questions. In the CEA test you may need to answer more than one question correctly before a mark is given. In the GL test, as this is a multiple choice format, the student needs to be confident to choose the answer they consider correct and not be persuaded by another ‘better looking’ answer.

Martin Rimmer is director of On Target Tuition in Lisburn and a teacher with 16 years’ experience teaching upper primary and eight years’ experience working with children for the CEA/GL transfer tests since their introduction in 2009.

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