The Opportunity Class in NSW
Opportunity classes are located in selected NSW government primary schools, and focus on the education of students with high academic ability. The rationale behind these classes is that academically gifted students often learn better in a cohort of students of similar ability, and often have different learning styles which cannot always be accommodated in the mainstream classroom.
In NSW, there are 76 primary schools which have dedicated OC classes. Although many of these are located in Sydney, there are OC classes in some schools in major regional centres, and the online Aurora College caters for high ability primary students from remote areas. Aurora College students are hosted by another primary school in their local area. In 2022, there will be 1830 places available in Year 5 opportunity classes. It should be noted that students in OC classes are not guaranteed places in selective high schools. They still have to complete the selective high school application and testing process. However, they are more likely to be admitted to selective high schools because of their high academic ability.
Students generally attend their local primary school for kindergarten until year 4, before transferring to a different primary school for years 5 and 6. OC class admission is administered by the NSW Department of Education’s High Performing Students Team and is made on the basis of a school assessment and the completion of the Opportunity Class placement test. The school assessment is made on the basis of the student’s performance relative to other candidates from the same school in English and Mathematics. If it is not possible to provide a school assessment, the student will be considered on the basis of the test score alone. Students sit the placement test early during their time in year 4. Parents make an online application for admission, in which they list two schools at which they would like their child to be placed. It is important to list these preferences in order of preference as if your child is made an offer for admission to the first selected school, there will be no offers made for the second selected school. There is no application fee, and the online form is generally made available in April and closes in early May each year. Details of the application process are available on the NSW Education website: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/selective-high-schools-and-opportunity-classes/year-5/application-process.
The Opportunity Class tests are held in July, and parents are notified of the outcome of their child’s placement in early October. At this point, the child may be offered a place at one of his or her school choices, placed on a reserve list for one or both choices, or be unsuccessful for one or both choices.
The Opportunity Class Test
The opportunity class test is held in a designated test centre on a specified date each year. Students will be allocated to test centres on the basis of their area of residence. Students will receive a letter giving them ‘Authority to sit the Opportunity Class Placement Test’ in early July and must take this with them to the allocated test centre.
The format of the Opportunity Class Placement Test was changed in 2021 in response to the report from the 2018 Review of Selective Education Access. It will continue to be paper-based and tests students on their reading, mathematical reasoning and thinking skills.
The test has three sections, including 25 multiple choice questions on reading, 35 multiple choice questions on mathematical reasoning and 30 multiple choice questions on thinking skills. All tests are marked by the computer. Students are given 30 minutes for the reading test, 40 minutes for the mathematical reasoning test and 30 minutes for the thinking skills test. The texts chosen for the reading test cover a range of different genres, including non-fiction, fiction, poetry, magazine articles and reports. The mathematical reasoning test aims to test the student’s ability to apply their mathematical knowledge to problems drawn from the full range of the primary school curriculum. Calculators are not permitted in this test. The thinking skills test covers a wide range of critical thinking and reasoning skills. It is not based on any curriculum area, and contains a wide range of different types of questions.
Preparing for the OC Class Placement Test
Sitting a test in a formal exam centre can be a daunting task for a primary school student. In order to make your child more comfortable with this process, it is vital that they become familiar with the format of the test, the types of questions that they are likely to be asked, and the way the answer sheet needs to be filled out. It is also a good idea for them to gain practice in reading and interpreting questions, and in isolating the important information and using it to draw the required conclusions. In order to achieve these goals, it is important for your child to practice as many sample or online OC practice tests as possible.
The NSW department of Education provides some sample tests on its website: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/selective-high-schools-and-opportunity-classes/year-5/the-test. While these are a good first step in helping your child to understand the format of the test, the types of questions they may be asked and will help to familiarise them with the answer sheet, it is important to find other examples of similar tests. Unfortunately, in 2021, many of the published books and websites pertaining to the OC class placement test provided sample tests in the old format. While these continue to provide a useful source of practice questions, many of the questions are irrelevant and are in a different style from those on the sample tests provided by the NSW Department of Education. SubjectCoach currently has a range of practice OC placement tests in development that follow the new OC test format. These will form a very useful source of practice tests for your child.
Finally, these tests require prolonged concentration from your child. In order to give them the best possible chance of performing to the best of their ability, it is important to make sure that your child is well rested and well nourished on the morning of the tests. You should send water, nutritious snacks and lunch with them on the testing day so that they have something nourishing to eat and drink during their breaks.
Opportunities in Other States
At present, NSW is the only state that offers full-time opportunity classes for academically gifted primary students. However, the other states do provide opportunities for these high potential students in a different format. Details about many of these programmes are available on the Aussie Educator website: http://www.aussieeducator.org.au/education/gifted.html. These opportunities include early school admission programmes, enrichment activities, online learning opportunities and specialised courses and programs.