I was pleasantly surprised that one of my Northern Irish readers sent me a private message with a specific request.  Could I provide some tips to guide parents in helping their children deal with a disappointing Transfer Test result.

For my readers outside Northern Ireland, the Transfer Test is taken by Northern Irish children at age 11 to stream post-primary education (non-compulsory test).

Please Note: I am not an expert in this field

My suggestions below are based on my own experience as a parent.  We have supported our 3 eldest daughters through the transfer test to date and have one more to go.

The transfer test is a tough situation where children attend a local post-primary school on a Saturday morning (or 3 Saturday mornings, depending on the assessment body) to sit two tests. This takes place in early/mid November with the results coming out in late January.

Both these times are stressful for many children.  As parents, both my wife and I are determined that our children should not be stressed by the transfer test and we take the steps below throughout the preparation period. However, dealing with a disappointing transfer test result is a whole different game, especially when the child acutely feels the disappointment.

Reducing Stress (before, during and after)

We take these steps right from the word ‘go’, which is usually in January/February of Year 6 when children who are sitting the transfer test start to undergo preparation in school and at home through set homework and practice for the transfer.  This is more about a conversation we have with our children to focus on the skills and behaviours that will take them through life, not a one off event that will eventually mean very little.

Here are the key points we cover in our conversations:

  1. We continually affirm that our children’s education, life and careers will be a long, winding and bumpy road.  There will be many scrapes, bumps and spillages along the way as well as many good times.  It is unlikely that a single event (ie the transfer test) will define the journey your child takes or the outcome they eventually reach.
  • As in sport, each bump we encounter along this road is more about getting up and dusting ourselves off and going again.  Sports teams can often lose a few games but still win the trophy.  Every successful team or sportsperson can point to the disappointments they have experienced.  The difference is that they don’t let it put them off.  Instead, they refocus on their goals, set a new plan and go again. Can we support our children to do the same with a disappointing transfer test result?
  • The actual post-primary school you go to is less important than your attitude.  A child who is willing to work hard and learn will do well regardless of the school.  Each school will nurture and encourage a good attitude and work ethic because it is this attitude that will take a person through life.  A child who can ‘ace’ a test in a one off situation but lacks the willingness to work hard will not do as well, regardless of the school.
  • Children will find their own way.  The transfer test is just one thing.  Anyone of us can underperform on any given day.  In the long run, it won’t really matter.  Children will adapt and move on.  So, we always minimise the importance of the test itself.  Our conversation is about the effort, dedication and doing their best and if it goes wrong on the day, so what.

These points can be discussed prior to the test or afterwards, even after the results have been received.  Focus on the valuable skills and attitudes, not on a one-off event.

After The Results: Practical Tips to Deal With Disappointment

These tips can be followed in any situation when we are dealing with disappointment, which is an inevitable part of everyone’s life.  That doesn’t make it any less challenging to deal with though.

Parents should talk through these practical tips with their child calmly and without judgement.

Tip 1: Accept the reality

OK, things didn’t work out for you on the day and now is time to face the truth.  Travelling to a different and sometimes quite imposing post-primary school can be very intimidating.  So what if it knocked you out of your normal stride.  There is no point denying it.  Recognise what happened, understand it and learn from it.  The successful sportsperson will have ‘owned’ the disappointment and you should do the same.

There are 3 truths you need to acknowledge here:

  1. You are disappointed because you know you could have done better and you feel that you have let yourself down.  You know you have the skills, ability and talents to do better.
  2. You are now unlikely to be accepted to your first choice school (this may be the main source of your disappointment)
  3. Going to your second or third choice school will not define your education or your life.  You know you have the skills, ability and talents to do well.  These will be recognised and nurtured in any school.  The choice is yours – do you want to do well?  Yes?  Then give your skills, ability and talents another chance by working hard.  It will pay off.

Tip 2: Mourn your lost dream

Take a piece of paper and write down how you feel about the transfer test results and not getting accepted to your first choice school.  Be totally honest about how you feel (this may not be pleasant but it is important to get it out there).  It is OK to be disappointed.

Tip 3: Don’t wallow in your disappointment

Remember, you are disappointed because you knew you could have done better.  You disappointment is a sure recognition of the talent, skills and ability you possess and your confidence in them.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been aiming for a better result.

Now, you need to recognise the one thing that all people with talent, skills and ability like you have: CHOICES.

You now need to identify your choices.  You have already recognised (through your disappointment) that you have the skills, ability and talent to make the most of these choices.

Take another piece of paper.  Write down all the opportunities your most likely new school will provide for you:

  • Subjects you enjoy
  • Approach to teaching (look for positive differences e.g. study trips, projects etc)
  • Friends you will go there with
  • How your talent, skills and ability will be recognised
  • Sporting opportunities

Tip 4: Look for the positives

This is important.  I mentioned above that you are disappointed because you know the skills, ability and talent you have.  Now, think about how these skills etc will be recognised and appreciated in your probable new school.  Think about how delighted your probable new school will be to have someone of your ability joining them.  Consider the opportunities this will provide for you, that may not have been possible in your first choice school.

It is time to look to the future.  That is where all your opportunities lie.  Looking to the past will only hold you back.

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us”

Alexander Graham Bell

Tip 5: Set your goals and grit your teeth

Write down what you want to achieve from your new school.  Set these goals down on paper.

Now grit your teeth and go for it.  Determination and a willingness to work hard are so important, especially as you know you have the skills you need.  Persistence is so important because it helps you get over the bumps in the road – you have now dusted yourself down and are ready to go again.  Nice to see you have persistence on top of the other abilities you have admitted to.

Closing Thoughts

A disappointing transfer test result is a disappointing ‘moment’.  Your education and life will be full of so many moments.  This one is already consigned to history and you are setting off to a great new school, education and life!!

Good luck to all who read this!!

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