Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

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Archive for August 2018

Pulling Back the Curtain on how Exams are Written

Okay, now this week’s blog is slightly more nerdy than most ?

I’m going to be getting into the nitty-gritty of official assessment tasks and exams and take you behind-the-scenes of creating them.

So if you’ve ever wondered how exams, coursework and assessments are actually put together, then this week’s blog is for you 🙂


I’ve recently been through the Curriculum Authority Training course for Assessments and it was-  well – pretty full on!

More detailed and more rigorous than I was expecting – which is definitely a GOOD thing, and meant it was suuuuuper-interesting … (to me at least, as someone who totally geeks out on all things exams and assessment!).

So I thought I’d share some of the key points with you.

(Don’t worry, I really will just keep it to the key points that are actually useful to know for you and your teen! No ‘point 5, subsection a-part-ii’ type of stuff, I promise!!) 😉


Now, I started off planning to go over this in just one video, but as I started to go through things, even with plenty of summarising and simplifying, it started to get stupidly long and maybe a bit tough to digest. So I’m breaking it down over 3 weeks as blogs, so look out for parts 2 and 3 to come!


Soooo… after many hours of study and discussion with other teachers, examiners and curriculum representatives, here’s what forms the foundation for EVERY formal assessment –in EVERY state in Australia – whether this is internal (e.g. an assignment or task set in school that counts towards the teacher assessment component), or external (e.g. the final exams set and marked by the exam board).


The foundation is the 3 attributes:

  • Validity,
  • Accessibility and
  • Reliability


These are what teachers, the writers of exam papers for exam boards and the assessment moderators and verifiers are all working to.

And this week I’ll explain the concept of VALIDITY.


A VALID task or exam Q means that it accurately measures what it is intended to measure or test in terms of subject content and the syllabus dot points.

So this is where subject knowledge and an excellent understanding of the concepts and case studies is required.

If you’ve heard me use the formula:

Knowledge + Application = Success

then you’ll see that this Validity attribute fits into the knowledge part.

(And if you haven’t heard me explain this formula before, then you definitely need to come along to a future webinar when I next run one!).

Therefore, here’s what I advise all students to do when studying and in particular, revising.

  • Don’t just go through the lesson notes.

Instead go to the official syllabus (if your teen is a member of the Grade Transformation Zone then they’ll have direct links in there to the syllabus documents for their particular state and exam board – yay!) and plan their notes and revision around *those* key content lists and dot points.

Because teachers or examiners can test students on ANYTHING from within the syllabus. And different schools and teachers may put different emphasis or spend different amounts of time on different aspects, depending on the structure of the lessons or time available to cover everything in the term.

For example, I remember years ago, on a GCSE Geography paper in the UK, there was a 3 mark Q early in the paper that really expanded on something that we’d teach as a simple introductory 2 minute kinda fact. Eek… Yep, it caught quite a few students out unfortunately 🙁


So, quick recap:

Validity is one of the 3 essential attributes of any formal internal or external assessment.

This means that it is clearly tied to the syllabus content and accurately measures that skills or knowledge.

Therefore my advice is for all students to use the official syllabus dot points not just their notes or a term handout planner for their study notes and revision.

Look out for part 2 of these attributes and what they mean for your teen’s exams and assessments next week, and until then, let’s make this a fantastic week!



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4 most common Maths exam MISTAKES

Maths questions are sometimes super-straightforward, like ‘Solve this equation’.

But, they can also can be a lot more complex and tricky, with layers of info and worded requirements.

And it’s often these worded parts of maths exams that trip students up or catch them out. It’s also where there are usually some simple yet often overlooked extra steps or hints on getting full marks.

So, this week, as part of my 5 Exam Tips in 5 Days email series, I’m sharing the 4 most common ways students lose out on easy marks in Maths exams – and of course how to make sure your teen DOESN’T (lose easy marks in their next maths exam, that is) 🙂


By easy marks, I mean that they’ve done the hard work, they know the concept or method they need to use and have applied it correctly.

BUT where they could be getting full marks or an A grade for a particular question, they may be missing out and this is for a few simple possible reasons:


Common Maths Exam Mistake no. 1

  • Rounding too early.

If students round their answers at each stage of a multi-step calculation, there’s a fair chance that their final result will be too far from the ‘accepted range’ in the mark scheme for top marks or an A-grade in their final answer. So they need to get really good at using either the Memory buttons, ‘Previous Answer’ button or accurately inserting brackets on their calculator to avoid this.


Another error that’s often made DURING their calculations is:


Common Maths Exam Mistake no. 2

  • Not noticing different units WITHIN a question.

For any calculation of any kind, all figures or data being used must be in the same units. It’s easy to miss small but important details like this in a question when under exam pressure. For example, if a question has measurements of both km’s and metres, one or other needs to be converted so that they are all in metres or all in km’s. Or ideally (extra tip!) in the units required in the final answer. 🙂

And that brings us nicely to …..


Common Maths Exam Mistake No. 3

  • Not giving the final answer in the units required.

For example the question might state that students give their answer in cm squared but they’ve given it in mm squared.

Oooorrrrr they’ve given an answer in minutes, when it should be converted to hours.

This usually happens because they are so focused on GETTING the answer, that they then forget that final conversion when they get to that finish line.


And last but not least…

Common Maths Exam Mistake No. 4

  • Not giving the answer to the correct degree of precision.

Similar to mistake number three, in that it is also often forgotten in the final stage of the answer…

Unless otherwise stated, students should give an answer to 2 decimal places (or 3 significant figures for super-small numbers). However it’s quite common for the level of precision to be specifically stated, for example to the nearest tenth, or to the nearest thousand.

When students have gotten caught up in the process of working out especially in a multi-step problem, it’s easy to either gloss over or forget about an instruction beyond the calculation itself.



Each of these common mistakes are often responsible for students dropping down a full mark or grade in a question. Over a whole exam that could be a number of marks.

And remember it only takes one mark to drop or climb up a full grade overall.


So have your teen check and double check in their next Maths or Numeracy Test:

That they’re keeping all figures in full throughout all steps of a calculation and only rounding at the end.

To be careful of units WITHIN a question and whether any conversions need to take place before the calculation is started.

And then at the very end, taking note of what units the answer should be given in and then being careful to round to the degree of precision required.


If you’d love your teen to have lots more simple tips like these as well as get coached in MUCH more detailed and sophisticated strategies and exam techniques in time for their end of year exams, then be sure to check out my Exam Mastery Workshop – especially right now while I have a very special earlybird offer on!

Can’t wait to see your teen at the workshop!




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Lean, mean exam MACHINE! ?

Here’s an email I got recently from a mum, after my previous blog video about when it is and isn’t a good idea for your teen to go over and above in their study.


“Hi Katie,

Your video about what to spend extra time and effort on – and what not to – was exactly what my son needed. He almost always runs out of time in exams and tests and it’s because he tries to put in so much information into all his answers. He’s always been a hard worker but I worry because he’s getting a bit disheartened with a couple of recent exam results that weren’t so good. He’s in Year 11 so I feel this is a fairly critical time”


And I totally understand and agree.

I’ve already replied in detail to Kirsten and I’ve done a lot of other blog videos around exam technique (just click the ‘Exams’ category on the right-hand-side menu on this blog!) so I want to expand a bit more on why there is never any point in going beyond the requirements of a question in a test or exam.


Because there are students out there who hear this and still ignore it.

Not in a rebellious sort of way! But just because they don’t quite believe it; they think that their exam is different (it’s not) or they still hold out hope that there are extra marks to be had (there aren’t).


Every question is written with a purpose.

That purpose is focused on the skill or knowledge it is testing AND what is required to prove that knowledge or skill.

And that proof is allocated specific marks for each element at the time the question is written.

Then, there will usually be a meeting of senior and chief examiners after an exam has been sat. They’ll take an extensive sample of student scripts (their completed exam papers) and see how their initial mark scheme works out in practice. Any adjustments are then made before full marker training and the official marking operation.

However, EXTRA marks are NEVER invented or added on.

It’s more just a case of making a final decision about scenarios they might not have predicted or foreseen in students’ responses.


This is why I never encourage students to go above and beyond in exams. In fact it’s quite the opposite, especially where time pressure is a factor.

There’s often that temptation for students to put in some extra info or knowledge that they’ve so carefully revised, either because they want to showcase their hard work OR because they hope it will make up for a lack of knowledge or a less detailed response in what was *actually* being asked.

Well, I’m here to confirm (or reveal!) that this just isn’t the way exams or tests work.

If your teen does have extra time left, they’ll be better off using it to improve their vocabulary or improve any existing information they’ve written to have it respond even more specifically or fully to the requirements of the question.


There are no discretionary ‘aww, bless, them , they’ve tried really hard’ marks.

Or, ‘gosh this person really knows their stuff – even though it isn’t the stuff we are asking for’  marks.

Not even, ‘oh, they’ve worked it all out correctly but for the wrong chemical’, sympathy marks.

(Oh and no extras for answering more questions than they needed to either).


As a marker I’ve seen all these scenarios and many more. Where I can see that a student deserves a great mark but I just can’t give it to them if what’s on the page doesn’t match the criteria. That’s as far as it goes.

So, rather than end this on what now feels like a bit of a depressing note!… I want this to be a positive take away 🙂

So that this as an insight into exam content and marking, so that your teen can put effort where it will more likely get rewarded and can spend every minute wisely in their tests and exams.


If you’ve gotten value from this video, then please feel free to share it with any other parents who might find it helpful too 🙂

Leave me a comment below – is this blog ‘confirmation’ or ‘revelation’ for you and your teen, that there are no hidden marks.

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



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Working SMARTER in homework and assignments

Has your teen ever gone over and above in their assignments or homework tasks?  Perhaps adding an extra case study in a research project, using some amazing home-crafted props to add some pizazz to a presentation, or simply making a beautiful, front cover for a project, (laminated of course)! ?

What was the payoff and the result?

Was it worth it?

Because there are times and places for this sort of extra effort.

Sometimes it can pay off, sometimes it won’t.

So how do you know which situation is which?


Well, as a general rule, in tests and exams, this is not the time to do this. Every question has been given a clear and strict mark scheme as it’s been written, and every mark will have been accounted for in the specific directions and wording in every question.

In extended tasks, assignments, projects and coursework, these are a little more flexible and there is the possibility of added extras or special effort gaining credit, extra marks or at least some form of informal recognition like a positive comment from, and a great impression made on the teacher.


Now, when it comes to these sorts of extended or open-ended tasks, the lower the year group, the more these sorts of extra efforts will be rewarded.

It’s certainly the case that a great first impression can put the teacher or marker in a more generous frame of mind. Even with a marking rubric teachers are still human

(yep, really) 😉

And of course they want to nurture and encourage that effort and work ethic by having it pay off for your teen.

Plus, more officially, some of these ideas and added extras will actually count towards the success criteria. For example: Props in a presentation would likely count towards the delivery of the presentation being engaging and original. Additional independent research could mean that the level of detail or breadth of research is regarded as higher quality.


However, as your teen moves up through the years and into the senior years, things get more formal with mark schemes and so added extras not on the task sheet or marking criteria won’t make up for problems like a lack of in depth analysis or sophisticated evaluation.

Teachers as well as examiners are looking for academic performance in years 11 and 12 (and year 10 really too). All assessments in the senior years will have been matched with the exam board or curriculum criteria and all submissions need to stand up to being scrutinized by outside moderators, so there’s no opportunity for teachers to give any extra discretionary marks or credit anywhere.


As you’ll know if you’ve followed me for a while now, I’m all about sticking to the mark sheme, BUT if your teen really is keen to go over and above in a task, then I’d say that in Years 7 to 9, as long as it’s staying within the realms of the task AND not going off on a tangent AND doesn’t involve spending hours of extra time or effort, then go for it 🙂

It could make a good impression on the teacher which can have positive knock-on and long-term effects, but can also produce a better mark or grade if it’s related to the criteria in some way, and of course will give your teen a confidence boost from the positive comments and teacher recognition.


However, in Year 10 onwards, I’d hold back on any added extras not mentioned in the instructions or criteria, and put that time and effort into making the elements specifically required as deep, complete and detailed as possible.

They should spend their time and brain power extending their explanations.

Or, perhaps theycan they make a clearer link to their background research to enhance their analysis.

Can they craft a more sophisticated or engaging opening?

These are the sorts of improvements that are going to move them up through the grade descriptors AND will make a great impression on the teacher or exam marker. 😉


Don’t forget to leave me a comment below this video, let me know your thoughts and your teen’s experiences around this 🙂

Until next week, let’s make this a fan-TAS-tic week 🙂






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