Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

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Archive for September 2018

Grade Drop Alert! [Exam Marker Video Diary – Part 2]

I’m revealing what’s ACTUALLY in the marking guide I’ve marked to this year, and how this applies to ANY exam Q your teen might face.

The (4 hours of!) marker training for my (4!) allocated Qs revealed:

– What’s required in referencing from a text source

– A (big!) potential grade drop where there are two parts to a Q

– What happens if students give MORE examples or explanations than required in different types of Qs

If you find it as exciting as my face in the thumbnail 😉
(gotta love the thumbnails that the stills land on sometimes!)
then feel free to share this with others who’ll find it useful and let me know your comments or Qs below!

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What do they expect? [Exam Marker Video Diary – Part 1]

Exciting times if you’re an exam geek like me!

(C’mon – not even a little bit?) 😉

Yup – Yesterday was the first day of exam marker training for the 2018 QCS exams.

And that means it’s time for Day 1 of the annual ‘Exam Marker Video Diary’!

(Any suggestions for a more catch-y name gratefully received!… You know by now, I’m not the most creative soul, haha!) 

Confession time… I hadn’t even looked back at the exam paper or the unit I’d requested

(first choice granted – yay! I tell you the reason why in the vid 😉 )

since having it sent through a couple of weeks ago

(down to being laser focused on a little something called the EMW last week!).

So I thought I’d get into it on camera and share my quick-fire initial thoughts on what they’re gonna be wanting in students’ responses.

I explain what I reckon is gonna be in the mark scheme, why, and how your teen can do the same in their upcoming Term 4 exams.


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“Did you see the gorilla?” – What students miss in exam Qs

This week I’ve been putting the finishing touches to the upcoming Exam Mastery Workshop (woohoo!) and one of the videos I always show students in the workshop is a famous ‘attention test’ with the two basketball teams and the gorilla.

Yeah, weird right!

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s how it goes:
There’s an official sounding man who tells you to count how many times the white team passes the basketball.

You then – if you’re anything like me and likes to pass any kind of quiz or test 😉 – diligently start watching this video footage of a team in white and a team in black each passing a basketball around.

The video ends and the official sounding man comes back on and tells you that if you got the answer 13 then you are right.

Again, if you’re like me, you set off a few mental party poppers and give yourself a good-old pat on the back…

But then he carries on to say ‘but did you spot the man dressed up in the gorilla outfit?’

“Whaaaat? I was watching so closely, concentrating so hard – of course I’d have seen that!” you think.

So then they replay the video and this time you see it.

There’s a fully grown person in a gorilla suit walking in,doing a bit of dancing amongst the basketballers and then walking back out again.


It’s kinda fun.

But more relevantly to us, it shows something REALLY important for students when it comes to exams.

Because so many students are focused on the subject content when it comes to study and exams.


However, what is just as important (you could even argue moreso if you really wanted to) is their knowledge and understanding of command words and the other 5 elements of exam technique.

Because spotting the command words, the cues and the ‘Sherlock Clues

(and just so you know – command words and cues are both technical terms. Sherlock clues is more of a ‘Katie term’! )

is something that students aren’t often taught or trained to do.

But these key words in any exam Q, or essay, or assignment, are precisely what tell them HOW they need to convey that subject knowledge, in the way the exam question demands and in the way that the mark scheme requires.


So once they know what they are looking for and how to spot these critical keys to successfully answering any exam or essay Q, they can’t HELP BUT see them!

(They are kinda like a dancing gorilla on the page – though admittedly probably not quite as fun – but definitely a whole lot more useful.) 🙂

But if your teen hasn’t been told what they are, had them explained with examples, and doesn’t know how to identify them, and understand them, and respond to them for themselves, then they’ll likely gloss over them, in favour of focusing only on the topic being asked about.



If they’ve ever had the situation where they’ve written about the correct subject content, but gotten only a few of the marks available, then this will be why.

They’ve responded on topic, but not in the way or to the level that them command and mark scheme require.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen any more!


P.S. Scroll down and leave me a comment, let me know if you’ve ever seen that video and whether you did or didn’t see the gorilla the first time 🙂



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This is a ‘Gold Mine’ for your teen!

QUOTE: ‘All results of official exams and assessments must be consistent, dependable and replicable.’

This basically means that ANY trained, official marker should come out with the same result for a given written answer, as every other trained marker.

There’s something that makes this happen, it’s available for all to see, and your teen can use it to their (huge!) advantage!

Alright-y! This is part 3 of what has kinda evolved into a 3 part mini series of blogs where I’m sharing the nitty-gritty of how exams, coursework and assessments are actually put together.

As QLD aligns with other states and joins the ATAR ranking system, I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to get in on the training that the QCAA is making available to all registered teachers 🙂

I want to make sure that I’m across as much of Australia’s national assessment system as possible – so that not only can I be at the top of MY game when coaching students and updating and improving my programs and training, but also so that I can pass on all the up to date info to YOU; so that parents and students across the whole of Australia really understand what goes on behind the scenes of exams and coursework assessments.

#knowledgeispower in this case!

Before we dig in, let’s have a quick recap.

On the last 2 videos we covered the fact that there are three attributes of any formal assessment task.

Those three attributes are: VALIDITY, ACCESSIBILITY and RELIABILITY.
And by formal assessment we’re talking about any external or internal exam or coursework task that counts towards students’ final grades with the exam board.

If you missed the previous videos, you can go back to Part 1 (Validity) HERE,

and Part 2 (Accessibility) HERE 🙂


OK, let’s dig into ‘Reliability’…

This means that the results of an assessment must be consistent, dependable and replicable. Which means that the mark schemes and rubrics for assessments are rigorous and rigid. Which means that ANY official marker trained in a marking guide, would come out with the same result for a particular exam answer or completed assignment task as every other trained marker.

And that, my friend, is why I repeatedly talk about the importance of your teen getting to grips with mark schemes!

So that they understand how mark schemes are structured,

how marks are allocated and

how their work is judged.

These mark schemes often also have ‘Model Responses’ which are an absolute gold mine in terms of insight and building QWC skills!
(BTW: QWC…that’s quality of written communication – one of the 6 elements of exam technique).  

Because when students can see what a full-mark or A-grade answer really looks like, they can get clear on where, how and why their response did or didn’t get an A.

PLUS – extra little bonus tip here 😉
– these Mark Schemes are often accompanied by the Chief Examiner’s Retrospective; a report all about where students have done well, or less well in previous exam papers.

Again a huuuuuggge treasure trove of info and basically a massive opportunity for learning from other students’ mistakes!

What’s not to love about that?!


Again, these are all things that I go into detail on, with heaps of real life examples in my annual Exam Mastery Workshop (EMW for short!).

Giving students skills like:

  • dissecting and even predicting mark schemes (no mind-reader magic needed!)
  • analysing A grade answers and matching every criteria up to the mark scheme
  • and figuring out how to structure extended response and essay answers.

So go check out the EMW if your son or daughter isn’t already enrolled 🙂


So, to wrap up this little mini series:

We’ve covered the three attributes of any official assessment or external exam; the nitty-gritty insider info of assessments and exams, with my specific advice and actions for ways your teen can use this info to ensure they’re giving markers what they need to see and can achieve their best possible results (and do it all with a lot less stress and masses more confidence!).

Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below, and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!


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Crucial Clues in Exam Qs and Assignments

Last week we covered the fact that there are three attributes of any formal assessment task:– VALIDITY, ACCESSIBILITY and RELIABILITY and how your teen can use this knowledge of each attribute to their benefit.

So, let’s get into Attribute Number Two … Accessibility AND how your teen can turn this into pro-active action to power-up their performance and results in all formal assessment.

Hey and welcome to Part Two of what has kinda turned into a 3-part mini series of blogs on the nitty-gritty of how exams, coursework and assessments are actually written by teachers and examiners.

Now a super brief recap of things:

  • There are three attributes – VALIDITY, ACCESSIBILITY and RELIABILITY of any formal assessment task.
  • By ‘formal assessment’ we’re talking about any exam set and marked by the state  exam board, or any type of coursework assessment or in-school formal assessment that counts towards your teen’s final grade.

(If you didn’t see Part One (where I discussed VALIDITY), it would be a good idea to go check that out first) 🙂


And, what does this have to do with your teen?

Well, if they know exactly what exam boards and curriculum authorities are assessing against or measuring up to, then students can make sure they are giving the markers everything they need to see, to be able to award marks and tick off the success criteria in the mark scheme!


So, let’s get into Attribute Number TWO – Accessibility

Accessibility  means that the exam or assessment must be clear and user-friendly for every and any student.

It ensures that no student or group of students is disadvantaged in being able to access an assessment either in understanding the instructions or in being able to provide the required outcome.



What pro-active actions can students take based on this info?

Students MUST read every piece of information on a task sheet or exam paper.

Often students skim over  a source or some introductory info, or the STEM of a question…(if your teen isn’t sure what we mean by STEM, then the parts and structure of exam Qs is something that I explain in detail in the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program AND in the Exam Mastery Workshop 🙂 )

…But the STEM is important – because often there will be info in there that’s designed to make the question or task accessible.

For example, this could be:

  • where a rule or formula is actually provided for students to use.
  • It could be a definition of an unusual word that is used. Or
  • a background to a method that needs to be used,
  • or some descriptive detail that accompanies a source or text extract.


EVERY word on EVERY page of an exam paper or assignment task sheet is there for a reason and has VERY carefully been considered and scrutinised (certainly by at least three exam board representatives for external exams).

If you think your son or daughter could benefit from attending my online Exam Mastery Workshop, then you can check it out HERE

And look out for next week’s blog where I’ll share Attribute Number 3 along with advice and actions on how to make this info useful and actionable for your teen in their next exam or assessment.

So until then, let’s make this week a fantastic week!




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