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The report also criticised the test for being too easy, which meant it did not differentiate enough between the state’s top students, and found that there was no significant advantage to coaching other than making students familiar with the testing process.

A sample of the new Cambridge test was released by the NSW Department of Education this month. It is the first practice test released in more than 15 years, and is intended to give students a chance to become familiar with the format.

Mohan Dhall, head of the Australian Tutoring Association, described the test as “nice and hard. This really does test thinking, and that’s exactly what this kind of test should do. A couple of things have gone, related to patterns … and it requires something a bit different.”

Rosalind Walsh, an expert in gifted education, said the thinking skills component – which replaced the general abilities section – required students to answer 40 questions in 40 minutes. “It’s a really long paper,” she said.

“I think kids will struggle to finish it, and that will turn it into a speed race. Whoever can get the most questions finished will get a better mark. I assume they would have piloted it with non-English speaking background kids, there’s a lot of language in there.

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“We know for example some highly gifted kids are reflective thinkers, and won’t necessarily get answers quickly but they will get depth and complexity you can’t measure in a test.”

Maths was a “fair paper”, Dr Walsh said. “A lot of the questions were three-step problems, such as converting from a 12 to a 24 hour clock then adding.”

The English paper, which required students to read more challenging texts such as Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, as well as an extract from a modern book, The Family Law by Benjamin Law, was similar to the ICAS (International Competitions and Assessments for Schools) papers, she said.

On selective schools preparation Facebook groups, many thought there was a greater range of difficulty in the maths test, from easier at the beginning to harder than previous papers at the end. Some thought the reading paper was more high-level.

Annanya Nair, a Gosford High student who sat the old version of the selective test in 2018, said the reading test had the same level of difficulty, although it helped students navigate the paper by highlighting key areas.

“I noticed the mathematic section has got much easier compared to when I did it in year 6, as it now compiles more mental math questions instead of problem solving,” she said.

“The general ability section has definitely changed as there aren’t as many synonyms/antonyms, anagrams or number patterns [and] instead more vocabulary, word problems and verbal reasoning,” she said.

“I think this section has become slightly easier as the questions don’t need as much thought. Overall, writing has stayed the same. To be honest, I think the test is much easier and I think my year 6 self would have enjoyed this test more.”

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