Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

No.1 in Transforming Students’ Grades

Archive for July 2018

Ignoring Examiners’ Instructions (eek!) ?

So, you’re taking a driving test.

The examiner gives you an instruction – and you ignore it and do something else.

You would expect to fail the test, right?


And yet this is what happens in academic exams All . The . Time.

AND it’s why many students end up getting results they’re disappointed in and that don’t reflect their effort or true ability.


The difference is, that for most students, it isn’t that they are IGNORING instructions, they just weren’t totally clear on what the examiner was really asking of them.

(Although sometimes the ‘IGNORING instructions’ thing does happen when a student realises they don’t know how to answer what’s actually being asked, so decide to answer a different Q they WISH it was asking instead!).

FYI – that doesn’t work either. Ever.


Both of these scenarios will lead to the same result (though perhaps the second will mean the disappointing result is little less unexpected).

This is why it’s SO important for students to not only read the INSTRUCTIONS on exam papers rrreeeeally carefully.  Things like the front cover info, such as the number of questions to answer, the amount of time available and so on.

(Because EVERY year there are students who don’t answer the right selection of Qs, or too many, or not enough).

But moreover, it’s essential that students understand how to dissect and break down each and every exam Q so that they can work out the exact instruction they’re being given.

The problem with this, is that unlike reading the front page of exam info, most students don’t know how to dissect or precisely what to look for in a Q, or exactly how to respond.

That’s why the 6 Elements of Exam Technique are so important, so that your teen isn’t performing a parallel park when the examiner has asked them to do an emergency stop.

But of course, it’s usually more subtle than that – more like the examiner’s asked them to turn left, but they’ve simply moved into the left hand lane (and failed to indicate) 😉

They’ve heard ‘left’ – which might be the topic or a key word in the Q, but they’ve missed the command word in the question. And in an exam, *that* is what determines the level of cognitive skill their response needs to be at and is what the mark scheme is centred around.


So, if you’d like to get all the behind-the-scenes info on Command Words, what mark schemes demand aaaaannnnnd get advice on how your teen should prepare for exams, then come join me at my Exam Special – Parent Webinar that I’m running this week, where I’ll be teaching and sharing all this info and (lots!) more.

CLICK HERE to save your digi-seat 🙂

Can’t wait to see you at one of the webinar sessions!


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Exam Rehearsal is Critical

It’s long been accepted in education that ‘teaching to the test’ is NOT the most effective way to great grades.

Plus it’s also not really possible these days.

Exams and the curriculum are designed so that it just doesn’t work.

And this is a *good* thing as it means students have to be taught in a more holistic way and are required to actually understand the content, rather than learn and rehearse it parrot fashion (like so many of us used to do!).

Memory flashback happening right now – reciting and memorising German verb tables – arrrrgh!!!

But that doesn’t mean that students can’t prep and practice for tests and exams.

There’s a much more useful and transferable skill and process: TRAINING for the Test’.


In other words:

  • Getting familiar with the format of the exam to be sat.
  • Being clear on exactly how to tackle it strategically.
  • Having go-to strategies to address different types of questions and a toolbelt of techniques to write top-notch responses.

…So that the ‘unknown’ of an exam is no longer daunting, (partly because those ‘unknown elements’ are minimised).

And the fact that many students still AREN’T being trained in exam technique is a little bit crazy – or at least I think so – and is of course why I’ve made it my mission to help as many students as possible with this.

Because we wouldn’t go to an interview without having rehearsed our answers to possible questions they might ask us , and researching what will likely impress them (AKA – things that I should definitely try to include in my answers!) 😉

No TED Talk presenter would turn up not having practiced their talk or knowing what rules or expectations or guidelines they’ll need to follow.

And if we had our driving test coming up, we’d not only know exactly what manouevers they could ask us to perform, but we’d have practiced those exact procedures many, MANY times and have a clear strategy to follow for each, like lining up the wingmirrors for a reverse park or having specific steps for a three-point-turn.


And yet SO many students go into exams having learnt the subject info but not having clear strategies, steps or techniques to perform at their best.

That’s like going into a dance competition having read a ton of books about ballet but never actually having danced. Or going into a boxing match having watched hours of matches but never having been coached and trained in the ring yourself.

Being able to perform brilliantly and knowing exactly what the judges are looking for is a whole other world, right?!


So make sure your teen isn’t just relying on their subject knowledge to help them achieve success in their essays, exams and assignments.

They need practical strategies and go to tools, templates and techniques so that they can produce answers and responses that align with the wording of essays, tasks and exam questions AND with the mark schemes and rubrics.

Be sure to check out my upcoming ‘Exam Special’ webinar with loads more practical and in-depth training on this. (Look out in your inbox or on the Facebook news feed for registration info next week!).

And until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!





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Sketch it in crayons

Practicing exam responses and testing knowledge using past or sample exam papers is an EXCELLENT way for students to prepare for exams.

And if they don’t know where to find these, my GTZ Members can find quick links to all the state exam boards, their past papers, mark schemes or chief examiner reports in the Grade Transformation Zone Member Area 🙂

However, it can be a pretty intense exam prep activity, and when your teen’s feeling exhausted, perhaps mid-exam-block, BUT they still *need* to be doing some productive work to prepare, then here’s an alternative, slightly ‘lighter’ way to tackle this.

And just quickly – I can’t take credit for this. I got the idea from Steve Collis who, at the time was the Director of Innovation at SCIL – the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning, and he once said ‘if you can’t sketch it in crayons, you don’t understand it’.

It wasn’t meant to be a profound statement,  but it struck a chord with me and so here’s one of the ways I took this and made it into a practical strategy….


Instead of writing a formal full answer to each question on the practice exam paper, have your teen try to draw a response. This can be fun, but also pretty challenging (in a more light-hearted way)!

But it’s that extra challenge that makes it really effective 😉


Because the fact that your teen is having to convert their knowledge from text format into a visual form, means that their brain is doing an extra step of processing of that information. And more processing means more retention AND easier, faster retrieval when it comes to getting that info back out, from brain to paper in the exam hall.

Plus, it  highlights any knowledge gaps. Because you can’t sketch something you don’t know or understand.


Now, a quick ‘Captain Obvious’ note here – obviously this is not something to do IN the REAL exam – this is just a suggestion for revision and exam prep, when they need a bit of a break from the really hard core revision, but still want to or need to be productive.

Ok, that’s the disclaimer done 😉

Scroll down and leave me a comment to let me know if your teen fancies giving this a go!

And until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!

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Environment is everything

The space and environment where students study matters.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t me giving your teen a free pass to start requesting expensive trips to IKEA or Kikki K!
In fact it’s usually a case of cleaning up and clearing out rather than adding more stuff) 🙂

If their environment is well-suited to focused, motivated and effective study, then they are more likely to FEEL motivated and GET and STAY focused.

Here are the specific factors you need to consider.


If their space is messy and cluttered, then (apart from taking ages to find anything and then losing focus and ramping up frustration) their thinking and processing will also be messy and inefficient.

Buuuuutttt…. if their environment is well-suited to focused, motivated and effective study, then they are more likely to FEEL motivated and stay focused.

Here are the key factors that it’ll be helpful to consider, because even though everyone is a little different in terms of what helps us stay on task or produce our best work, these will all play a part:

Firstly, the Visual.

It absolutely needs to be a neat and tidy space.

Mess and clutter are never conducive to effective work or study.

Now that doesn’t mean it has to be totally sterile – it can be inspiring for sure, perhaps some motivational quotes or travel photos or precious items around, but not so much that they become a distraction.


Secondly, it needs to be QUIET.

Some students need or prefer silence – and that’s me too BTW! If I’m working, I can’t deal with any noise, TV, people talking or music – boring perhaps, but I know what works for me. So I’m not one of those cool people you see working away at their laptop at a coffee shop and ideally, your teen won’t be either!

If they do insist that they work better with music, then it should only be baroque music. They likely won’t like it, but I’ve done a whole other blog post previously on this (which you can watch HERE!) to explain this in more detail.


And thirdly is COMFORT.

Now this is a fine balance.

They need to feel comfortable but ALERT. So no lying on their bed, sitting on the couch or slouching in a bean bag. Again, not always a popular fact, but again, this is proven to affect our focus and quality of our work.

For me, I actually do a lot of my work standing. I have a perfect height kitchen bench top for my laptop and it keeps me more focused than sitting at a desk. However, when it comes to marking for exam boards, I have no choice but to sit down, but I take along blankets to prop myself up a bit! I don’t care what I look like (way past that these days!), I just don’t wanna be distracted or less productive because I feel ache-y or uncomfortable or slip into sleep-y mode.

Students often do need motivation and focus and a lot of that has to do with them being in the right environment and setting to do their best work.

So… Neat, tidy and inspiring; quiet or with baroque music; and a desk and chair that has them comfortable but alert will go a long way to helping them be the best they can be 🙂

I’d love to hear about anything your teen has done to make their study space more positive and productive for them. Drop a comment below 🙂

Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!


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