ICAS Exam Preparation - What are ICAS tests? Plus, how ACE them!

Ultimate Guide with Practice Sample Questions + Answers to Help Your Child Soar to the Top 10% of Student Scores in ICAS tests of Maths, English & Writing

~1 Million Students Sit ICAS Every Year - What Are the ICAS tests?

The ICAS tests (International Competitions and Assessments for Schools) is a testing program and competition for primary and secondary school students from ALL OVER THE WORLD developed by UNSW Global, an Australian group - part of the University of New South Wales.

Students/parents select the subjects they want to sit an exam for (they can sit many subjects or just one) and then sit the exam at their school (in paper form or online). Once the results from ICAS come in, your child may then be given an award if they score well e.g. merit, distinction, high distinction, or for those with top scores, a medal!

Over 1 million students sit the exam every year from countries like Australia, Brunei, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa and more.

The purpose of ICAS is to give your child the opportunity to showcase their academic abilities and because it is recognised internationally, the benefits of doing well in ICAS exams can open up many opportunities for your child.

It may help your child in their:

  • scholarship applications
  • college applications - ICAS top students in Grade 11 & 12 are eligible to receive ATAR (university level) bonus points for entry into the University of New South Wales (an Australian university)
  • high school entry applications
  • gaining entry to study overseas or to study in Australia and New Zealand

BUT... ICAS is also extremely competitive, your child is not just competing in their school or their state but they compete at a country and international level!

So... you need to prepare to do well.

With ICAS, you can select from 6 test areas for your child to sit. These 6 subjects areas are:

  • Digital Technologies - tests your child's knowledge of using software, applications and computers.
  • Science - tests your child's knowledge of science related concepts ranging from chemistry, physics, geology, and more...
  • Writing - tests your child's ability to write along with knowledge of text structures at a very deep level.
  • Spelling - tests your child's ability to spell certain words.
  • English - tests your child's ability to read, process and interpret a text to answer questions. There are a range of texts that can be tested.
  • Mathematics - tests knowledge and application of maths skills. Importantly, the test is quite broad and may even test ability to navigate direction, read maps and tell the time.

There are many levels or grades for ICAS subject tests. The test levels span from Grade 2 all the way to Grade 12 (Grades 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12).

How to Score High Marks in ICAS English, Maths and Writing Assessments - Skill & Strategy is BETTER than Memorising Knowledge

The things your child learns at school is NOT ENOUGH for ICAS tests.

Sitting any ICAS test is likely to be a scary experience for your child, especially if they are not prepared. Even if you believe your child's school scores are higher than average, do not think this will be enough.


Schools differ in standards and schools generally help your child to LEARN knowledge. It doesn't mean that your child will know how to USE or APPLY that knowledge, especially in a test situation. This is a skill that's tested heavily in ICAS.

For example, you might know what running a marathon involves. But, it doesn't mean that you'll be able to run a complete marathon. To run the marathon itself, you need to train for it.

But... not all training is effective. However, when you have a coach that is experienced and an expert in marathon training to help guide you in the right direction—you can then start training 'smart' and perform at your peak.

An ICAS test is the same - your child needs to improve their test taking skills and learn how to use their maths, English or writing knowledge to complete a set task or questions.

ICAS is an independent testing service, meaning schools do not set the assessments. Because of this, questions are often harder than what your child may be used to. Additionally, the ICAS test is broad in scope so while at school, your child may have gone through a certain section briefly, it may be tested in greater detail through ICAS.

Here are our expert tips to getting a high score in the writing, English and mathematics assessments of the ICAS:

ICAS WRITING ASSESSMENT Tips - Sample practice questions/topics & answers

Improving written expression can be tricky, but with the right preparation and targeted feedback, we have seen many students show significant improvement!

The ICAS writing paper often asks your child to write an 'aspect' or 'part' of a story/essay and for your child to stand out from the other students, they need more than only good spelling and grammar.

In fact, good spelling and grammar is expected as a basic.

To get the higher marks, assessors will be looking at: (1) ability to answer the question (2) thoughtfulness of content and (3) higher level expression.

Here are our top 5 tips to get those higher marks:

  1. Tone or feeling. The difference between top scoring stories and average ones is the careful inclusion of 'showing' sentences. It's the secret sauce. In higher grades of the ICAS, the writing task may ask your child to specifically 'create a sense of happiness, anticipation, fear...' in their story. Your child should come prepared with certain sentences to help them create a range of feelings. We have compiled a book of 1000 sample sentences to help you show, not tell for 50 different types of feelings, perceptions or emotions that your child can use. If your child writes "I tried to find my way out of the circus tent, feeling scared." it's good, but average. But... if they write: "My legs shook as I frantically scrambled to find an exit from the colossal canvas tent."... well, that's a sentence that leads to high scores!
  2. Answer the question. Your child should not automatically write a full essay based on what they want. Your child needs to respond to the requirement. ICAS often asks students to write the middle of a story, the beginning or a part of the story. For example, if they ask for a beginning only, and if you write the whole piece or the ending, then you don't get high marks/scores.
  3. Know your essay structures. Your child needs to understand the different structures of a piece (persuasive and narrative mainly) to be able to deliver a part of an essay only. Without this knowledge, they'll struggle. For example, if your child is asked to write the middle of a story, the writing piece could be structured around paragraphs, but instead of having a beginning, middle and resolution, each paragraph would contain an element of the main event (this is just one example of how ICAS challenges students, most of whom would not be used to structuring narratives in such a way!)
  4. Timing. Your child should go into the writing test with a set process or order they can follow when they get their prompt. They should know how to plan so that they don't waste precious time and have a series of steps to deal with certain requests e.g. what to do when asked to write an introduction, how many sentences to write etc...
  5. Relate to the prompt. Your child needs to make a decision to write about the prompt they are given whether it be an image, text or both. The prompt should not just be a quick 1 sentence reference - it should be the key part of the piece. It should be intentionally and carefully included as part of your child's story, ideally, at the planning stage.

What we have found is that the most successful students are the ones who receive targeted feedback and practice implementing this feedback in their writing. It’s no use writing hundreds of essays if you keep repeating the same mistakes!

What's next? Practice (with expert feedback)!

ICAS ENGLISH ASSESSMENT Tips Plus Sample Practice Questions/Topics & Answers

The ICAS English test is a broad test that many students find difficult. This is because it isn't just a simple reading test, it examines a range of English skills like:

  • Use of punctuation.
  • Understanding of words.
  • Reading - knowing what is said, and importantly, what is 'not said' but implied or suggested. This means picking up on the "hints" in the piece.

Like many of the ICAS tests, your child needs to know more than just the 'rules'. For example, it's great to know that you use a full stop to end a sentence, but how about when full stops are used to change the pace (fast/slow) of a story, or to show strong resolve? These are the 'harder' questions tested in ICAS English.

Like this sample practice question developed by ExamSuccess.com.au:

The use of full stops in the following phrase "It seemed like you were born only yesterday. But today. Three. years. old." are likely used to express:

a) happiness and expectation.
b) an ending.
c) excitement and expectation.
d) reflection and acknowledgment.

The answer to this sample practice question is D - reflection and acknowledgment. This is because the writer is reflecting on how quickly time has flown and that now, the subject, presumably, their child, is three years old (an acknowledgement). Students who select B may only consider the basic function of a full stop - i.e. an ending. Students who select A or C may be associating birthdays with happiness and excitement while not looking carefully at the purpose of the full stop as used in the phrase.

Reading every night is not enough to gain high scores in ICAS English. Your child needs to do ACTIVE reading.

This means they need to explore the text and gain a deeper understanding. Some of the questions they may get in their ICAS English test are:

  • Why did the reader use a particular word instead of another word? How did it change the piece?
  • Why was this word capitalised?
  • What kind of punctuation would indicate hestitation, frustration, joy etc...

A range of texts like poetry, narrative, advertisements etc... can be presented in the test and your child should be familiar with a range of texts and their purpose.

Here are our 5 expert tips on how to get a high score for ICAS English:

  1. Read the question first, before the text. This is to make sure your reading of the text is focussed on getting the information you need to answer a particular question. This saves time and also helps you to pick up on 'hints' in the text that could be missed, if you were just simply reading the text without any idea of the questions.
  2. Prepare beforehand. Picking up on what a text is saying, especially different types of texts is a skill to be learnt. It's not just one thing, but many things put together e.g. how to scan the text, where in the text to look for a certain sentence, what characters are in the piece, what words would indicate a change in the tone of the piece etc... when you practice this beforehand, it'll seem easier (and your child will know what to do) if they see it in their exam. You can practice for ICAS English with our 600-question teaching test bank (video solutions by experts). You can do a FREE teaching test bank trial by clicking here.
  3. Organise the ordering of events. Using numbers, note down when certain things happen i.e. after, before or at the same time. The ICAS English exam does really test your understanding of the ordering of events when it comes to texts and it's not uncommon for students to be easily confused with the ordering of events. Numbering will make it clearer and less likely for your child to make a mistake that involves a question relating to ordering.
  4. Pick up on the hints in the piece. In writing, 'showing' the story is generally encouraged. So instead of writing 'He is hungry', it is better to write 'His stomach rumbled'. Why? It creates more impact. However, in reading comprehension, you'll have to do the reverse! When your child reads "His stomach rumbled", they need to understand or guess, that the character is hungry or nervous (or it could be something else, depending on how the piece is set up).
  5. Know similar words and opposite words. A question might ask what someone is doing when they "beam". "Beaming" is similar to "smiling" and represents someone being happy or pleased with a certain result. Knowing similar words and opposite words will help you select the right answer when you're presented with this type of question.

Students who practice for their reading test by actively going through texts and answering practice questions are students who are prepared and equipped with the strategies they need to do the English test well.

What's next in terms of preparing so your child can get in the top 10% of scores?

  • Try out free sample English ICAS questions issued by the UNSW Global website - these do not have detailed solutions so we recommend that you do this with our teaching test banks. Remember, the key to getting high scores is strategy and learning how to answer questions quickly (from an expert).
  • Do practice questions & learn with expert provided detailed solutions by video! Our teaching test bank gives you access to 600 questions + video solutions by experts that show you how to answer the question in 5 steps or less!

ICAS MATHEMATICS ASSESSMENT Tips Plus Sample Practice Questions/Topics & Answers

Mathematics questions in ICAS are not the traditional questions where your child does a simple calculation at school.

No, with ICAS mathematics, there are range of subject areas tested and to make it harder, the questions are often presented in images, tables and worded problems.

Generally, to solve an ICAS-style mathematics question your child will need to:

  1. Comprehend the question - figure out what information is useful in the question and what the problem is. Sometimes there will be missing information that you'll need to solve in order to then get to the answer. Many students struggle with this part.
  2. Figure out what maths to use.
  3. Set up the calculation.
  4. Solve the calculation.

In school, many questions are already set up with step (1), (2) & (3) done for them so all they do is step (4). But with ICAS, your child will have to learn how to do step (1), (2) & (3) successfully in order to do well in the test. This is the hard part.

It's knowing how to USE mathematics to SOLVE problems.

The students that do well LEARN how to SOLVE problems.

This means how to read information and then figure out what they need to set up the calculation that would then solve the question.

It's a multi-step process that we teach in 5-steps of less using our teaching test bank - get the free trial here.

Here are our top 5 tips for your child's ICAS test preparation in mathematics:

  1. Know that your answer can come in different looks/forms. A question may ask a person to find an area that is double that of a right-angled triangle. But the triangle may be shown as one with a height of 2 cm and a width of 2 cm (area = 2 cm squared). The answer may show images of different rectangular areas, and one of them may be a height of 1 and a length of 4 (correct answer). However, students who do not recognise that the area can be set up in different 'looks' may choose a rectangle that has a height of 2 and a width of 1, even if the total area does not equal 4 (double the triangle area). There are many ways to get to an answer in mathematics and understanding this is important in doing well in ICAS.
  2. Wider breadth. Even in Grade 3 ICAS Maths, in the 2018 exam, you had questions that tested students on things that schools may not cover like axis of symmetry and transformations like a flip, slide, half turn etc... Knowing direction e.g. clockwise, anti-clockwise and basic direction e.g. left & right, is critical. Students were also tested on how to tell the time! Students in higher grades should also know 3D and 2D mapping.
  3. Patterns. The mathematics in ICAS isn't just simple calculations, it also tests pattern detection, similar to numerical reasoning. Your child should have a framework to pick up patterns - see this numerical reasoning online course if you need further assistance.
  4. Read carefully. Silly mistakes can be extremely costly. For example, if the question asked to you calculate 'half of the remainder of a liquid' but you forget this final calculation and only provide the remainder, your child will instantly lose that mark (even though they knew how to do it!)
  5. Be comfortable with different tyes of data presentation. Very rarely is a single question just going to ask your child to calculate a simple equation. The questions are harder than that! Your child needs to develop wider skills in mathematics and that includes processing and interpreting information. They'll need to be able to look at numbers in a table and understand the what information can be obtained from that data table. They may have to look at graphs and collect information from the graph.

Your child doesn't need to do their preparation alone. Our teaching test bank has expert created videos that show your child how to do mathematical problem solving in 5-steps or less (click on the button below). There is also a small selection of practice questions for the ICAS issued by the UNSW Global (the people that write the ICAS) and you can find that here. However, that doesn't have detailed solutions (which is the key to acing the test!)

Here's test preparation designed for your child's success

How to Write a Creative Piece in Under 20 Minutes (for Year 7 entry)

Author's Score (ATAR or IELTS): 96.04

The price above is inclusive of 10% GST. If you are purchasing for use outside of Australia, at checkout, you'll be charged the amount without GST
How to Write a Creative Piece in Under 15 Minutes (for Year 9 entry)

Author's Score (ATAR or IELTS): 96.04

The price above is inclusive of 10% GST. If you are purchasing for use outside of Australia, at checkout, you'll be charged the amount without GST
How to Write an Argumentative Piece in Under 15 Minutes (for Year 9 entry)

Author's Score (ATAR or IELTS): 96.04

The price above is inclusive of 10% GST. If you are purchasing for use outside of Australia, at checkout, you'll be charged the amount without GST

Frequently Asked Questions

See answers to frequently asked questions by parents:

For courses, how do we get more practice worksheets to work on? The videos are helpful but we need more practice material to practice under time constrraints [sic].

As a minimum, per course there are 10 questions x 10 checkpoints = 100 questions (some courses/checkpoints have more). The final checkpoints (Checkpoint 11 / 12) is the practice exam which has for the Year 7 exams, approximately 30-45 questions depending on the course and for Year 9, this is 50-65 questions depending on the course. The course should provide all the practice questions you require in order to prepare effectively for the exam.

Parents don't often realise that too many practice questions is not a good thing because students are more likely to skim over the question and 'do it' and opposed to understanding the logic more deeply. Understanding the logic leads to Exam Success!

I've seen this problem happen a lot where parents buy all this practice material and become confused and stressed not knowing where to start! Focus on quality of practice questions over quantity and your child will be less stressed, more focused and better prepared for the exam. It's about studying smarter not harder!

If I wish to purchase whole package (course package only), how much time (approx.) should it take for my 10yr old to complete all the units?

If you have the time for example, 6 months to spare, I'd recommend 3.5 hours each weekend. Each course has 12 checkpoints and there are 7 courses altogether (84 checkpoints - approximately 84+ hours of exam preparation. If you have 3 months to the time of the exam, I'd recommend doing a checkpoint per day (if doing the full package of 7 courses). Some students say it takes on average 37 hours to complete one course (for 7 courses that would be 210 hours) so potentially, your child could do the course full time during the summer holiday period and beyond.

For courses, if we complete certain units but want to go back to previous units, can we do that? How long are the videos available to us? Can they be downloaded?

Yes - that's what we wanted as students often have to reinforce their knowledge. You can revisit the unit whenever you like. It's like having the ultimate text book in video format and you can flip ahead or back whenever you need. Access is granted for a period of six months. If you need an extension it is $19 per month for an individual course or $39 per month to have your whole package extended per month.

No the videos cannot be downloaded, everything is available to access on the site.

Are test papers downloadable? Available in physical format?

The teaching test banks are online only. You would not be able to print out questions or answer keys.
There are a limited selection of test papers that are downloadable and that would be indicated on the product page. If you have any questions, please let us know.

For courses, how does the extension work? (not test banks or other products)

It's great that you're planning ahead. Once you purchase, access is provided for 6 months from the date of purchase. An extension is $19 per month for an individual course or $39 to have your whole originally purchased course package renewed per month. To get extension access, just extend on the website where you access your course.

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