“General ability was mainly logic-based,” said Mohan Dhall of the Australian Tutoring Association. “If you were good in maths, you were highly likely to be good at general ability, because most [questions] were based on logic and reasoning.
“‘Thinking skills’ implies more critical and creative, not simply logical.”
The Education Department said it would issue a practice selective high school test in late December. “This new model’s modern design assesses core thinking skills such as critical and creative thinking plus mathematical, reading and logical reasoning,” a spokeswoman said.
The overhaul comes after a department review found the selective schools test was too easy, making it hard to differentiate between bright and very bright students.
It also found disabled, Indigenous, disadvantaged, regional and female students were under-represented in the selective schools system.
Jim Tognolini, head of the centre for educational measurement and assessment at Sydney University, said focusing on thinking skills, including mathematical reasoning, was a “step in the right direction”.
“It is what constitutes higher cognitive depth, which characterises what we require in our more able students,” he said. “[The general ability tests included] a number of relatively easy items which are not that useful at differentiating between students of high ability.”
Professor Tognolini said the new test would likely require students to be stronger in literacy, as the questions require more context.
Mr Dhall said some coaching colleges had ignored the department’s information about the new test and were still promoting programs that familiarised students with questions they would have faced in the old general abilities test.
Others had recognised the changes and reframed their websites to focus on thinking and writing skills.
“I can tell you now, none of them are effectively going to be able to pre-empt what’s in the test,” Mr Dhall said. “Nearly all of them will suggest that what they offer is relevant. For some reason, governments are very reluctant to rein in the worst aspects of these tutoring or coaching markets.”
Nic Rothquel, from Alchemy Tuition, said his company had been preparing students for the selective schools test for more than 15 years. “This is definitely the biggest disruption to the layout and structure of the test we have seen in that time,” he said.
“However, like any other change in curriculum (of which we have seen many), we adapt and get to work on bringing the best support to our students.
“The shift to mathematical reasoning and thinking skills encourages a fusion of skills, rather than isolated strengths – so our tutors ensure these skills are developed.”
A spokeswoman for the department said Cambridge Assessment had been contracted to develop a new test, which responds to the findings of a 2018 review.
“We have partnered with Cambridge Assessment to develop a new assessment framework for Selective High School and Opportunity Class Placement Tests from the 2021 test onwards (for placement in 2022).
“The 2021 test design responds to the findings of the 2018 Review of Selective Education Access by ensuring difficulty is targeted at an appropriate level for high potential and gifted students, and making sure tests are accessible to students from a diverse range of backgrounds.”
The practice test for the new Selective High School Placement Test will be available to students in late December 2020. The practice test for the new Opportunity Class Placement Test will be available to students in March 2021.
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald