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Archive for March 2019

Do *THIS* after every assessment

There’s one thing that every student should do after every exam paper they sit, essay they write or assignment they complete.

Now I warn you, it’s not glamorous, and sometimes it can actually be downright depressing.
But it’s something that the best students do and it’s something that I still see so many students NOT doing.

And that means they’re missing out on a huge practical and very specific learning opportunity that they can apply in their future assessments.

This one thing is reviewing and dissecting IN DETAIL the feedback (not just the grade) they get when it’s handed back and compare it to the marking guide.

So let me back track a little on everything I just said and break it all down.


Firstly, here’s why so many students don’t do it.

Reason Number one – they don’t see the point.

If they got a good result then they’re happy and they just wanna bask in the glory for a little while. They don’t see the need to go back with a fine toothed comb because they think ‘I did well, so I don’t need to’.
Of course the whole point in this case, is we want to identify WHY they did well, so they can replicate that in future.
Plus, we still want to identify any areas where there COULD still be improvement, because of course, what gets an A or a B in one year group, won’t still get that grade in the next.


Reason Number two – they got a disappointing or not so great result, and they just don’t wanna dwell on it.

I get it.
Why would we wanna spend even more time and effort on something we’ve already given quite a bit of that to, to then focus in on those things that are the reason we got that poor result?
It’s rubbing salt into the wound!

But of course, that’s exactly what we need to do.
It’s one of the key ways we can ensure we improve on it next time.
That’s what I meant by it can be a bit painful or depressing, but students have to focus on the positives of this exercise – of how, if they’d changed that, or left that out, or added in this instead then it would’ve achieved this criteria because…

Which leads us to…

Reason number 3
– they don’t know HOW to review and dissect their work.

Maybe they don’t REALLY understand what the teacher means in the feedback.
Or they know what it means, but don’t know how they’d act on it.
For example, I had a great email and video discussion with a parent and student recently where they’d had multiple teachers say things along the lines of – “she needs to expand her writing” and they were like: Okay – how do I do that?
And what does that really mean?
So I had to (and loved to!) explain exactly what that meant and precisely HOW it could be done.

Also in this third reason (they don’t know how to review and dissect strategically) is the situation where perhaps there is very little teacher feedback.
Or, just as frustrating – they’re not allowed to keep their work to be able to review it.
In these cases, your teen needs to be extra pro-active and ask the teacher to sit with them for 10 mins and review it with them.


So, yes – there are a lot of reasons that students are put off or struggle to do this.

But because it’s using specific questions and their own written answers, it’s not just trying to grapple with general ideas or advice, so it’s a fantastic way to stop making the same mistakes over again, and be able to level-up their future answers and responses in future.


If you’d like me to help your teen dissect an essay or assignment or exam question they’ve had returned, then feel free to send it through to me 🙂

Yes, really!
If they’re in any of my memberships or trainings, then I’ll be able to work on it with them, and even if they’re not, then I might just be able to use it as a case study exemplar for others, and if so, would love to review it with them 🙂


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


Katie 🙂








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Look out! These (TOUGH!) Qs are Super-Common on Exam Papers

Here’s what I found when I reviewed a heap of last year’s exam papers.

There’s one type of Q that seems to be cropping up more and more.

Even in subjects you wouldn’t necessarily expect it (yep, we’re even talking Art and PE!)

And it’s (unfortunately) the type of Q that many students dread (because it’s also the one that catches many out and where they perform worst – eek). *

So with end-of-term exams looming for many students, I want to make sure I share this now!

* Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom, because awareness is half the solution! Having your teen look out for these Qs and know EXACTLY what to do with ’em will mean they’re way ahead of the pack (and picking up all those extra marks!) 🙂


This week I wanna help you out with one particular type of essay and extended response Q.
This has always been, for as long as I’ve been around as a teacher and examiner, AND even back to when I was a student, the type of Q that students are most uncertain and least confident in.

And validly so – because these are the Qs students overall perform worst in, too! ?


So what are they?
And how SHOULD students be tackling them?

Well, I’ve just been going through some past papers and it struck me just how many times this type of Q is coming up these days.

“What type of Q, Katie?”

Evaluation level questions.

These are those dreaded types of Qs that make a statement and then just finish with the word ‘discuss’.
OR the questions that BEGIN with the opening:
‘To what extent’

They may even have the word evaluate in them, like:
‘evaluate the success of…’ .

But usually they don’t actually include the word ‘evaluate’, which is, or course, part of what makes them more challenging!

But more on that in a moment.


Even as a national and state exam marker, I’m a little surprised at how many times evaluation level Qs have crept into all subject exams recently.

Even multiple times in one paper!

And not just on the ones you’d think either, like History or Science or English.

Nope, these are in subjects like Art and HPE.
In fact on the NSW PDHPE paper of 2017 – which I’ll include a link to in the blog notes, just in case you wanna check it out –

In that paper, the phrase ‘to what extent’
–  a flashing, ‘hit you over the head’ wording alarm for an evaluation command! –
that phrase was used for almost every extended response question in the 2017 HSC PDHPE exam and contributed around 30% of the marks on the paper.

Whoa! I know, right?!

‘To what extent’ is often used in ATAR exams and it’s important that it’s recognised as a question that requires you to make a judgement.
For example, Question 23 from the 2017 exam asks:

To what extent does Australia’s health care system benefit from having a healthy ageing population? (8 marks)

Now I know that ‘evaluate’ level questions are almost always the ones that students struggle with most

So I thought I’d share the bones of this with you too.


So here’s what I want students to know:

1) How to identify an EVALUATE command in a question, even when it doesn’t actually state the word evaluate.

2) That this means they need to make a JUDGEMENT about the statement being given.
That might be a judgement about how much they agree with the statement, or more objectively, how much it is agreed by others or by other research that the statement is true.
Let me explain using that PDHPE example: ‘To what extent does Australia’s health care system benefit from having a healthy ageing population?’.
Students need to respond with:

Yes it does,
No, it doesn’t,
It does to some extent.


3) They need to be able to plan and structure their response in light of this.

They need to outline in their intro their judgement and an overview of the reasons for it, which they’ll then expand on in their body paragraphs through examples, evidence and explanations.

Of course rounding up with a conclusion that shows how these all fit and link together to lead to the overall judgement.


So, if your teen doesn’t feel confident in these types of Qs, then it’s definitely time for them to take action to turn that situation around.
Because it’s highly likely they’re gonna be faced with these questions regularly in their future exams, no matter their subjects.

Rather than figuring it out for themselves, I just wanna remind you that I have a whole Catapult module dedicated solely to ‘Evaluations made Easy’ in my 10 Week Grade Transformation Program AND will cover a variety of examples and break down model responses in the monthly GTZ Seminars throughout this year.


Please go ahead and leave me a comment, share this blog with anyone else who’d find it useful, and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!


  • The 2017 NSW PDHPE Paper:


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Busy? How to ‘Get more done’ AND ‘Do it better!’

When are you able to do your best work?

In the morning, in the evening?

After lunch?
(Really?!… Seriously, does *anyone* feel at their most alert or productive after lunch?!? Though I AM pretty productive in the chocolate-snacking-skills right around then!) 😉

Point is, we all have a time of day that we’re naturally more able to focus and concentrate and be most productive.

And the question is, at this busy time mid-term, are we maximizing it to really supercharge our results?

This week, I’m sharing how to do just that…

Let’s start with a quick example.
I know of one guy who actually trains people in productivity and is really particular about it and calls it his ‘Power Hour’.
And during that one hour every day is when he sits down and does some of his most important work. Not even his kids are allowed to disturb him!

And I know of another high-flyer who doesn’t schedule ANY meetings or phone calls between 8am and noon because they know that’s their best time for doing their best work.


And for me, I know that I’m best in the mornings. I’m pretty useless mid afternoon – and then I often get a kind of second wind in the evening after dinner. (Not always a great thing, seeing as I like to get to bed early!)


Anyhow, it’s really important for students to be aware of and recognise when they’re at their best too. To know their ‘power hour’.

And not just so that they can work well during that time – but so that they can optimise it. Make best use of and maximise that time to use it to their advantage.


So let’s get specific and dig deeper into HOW to actually do that.


During that peak performance time – their power hour – or whatever they want to call it – students SHOULDN’T use this to power through the work they can get done quickly and easily.

There’s a temptation to do that, because we’re feeling motivated and we wanna smash out a load of work, get plenty of ticks on the to-do list (amiright?!!?!)
But those are the tasks that should be left for less-productive times, when our brain cells are only capable of the quick and easy jobs.

Here’s what students should do instead:

Firstly, they need to schedule that optimal brain power time to tackle the tougher tasks.

That is, those that take the most concentration, or the most creative or higher level thinking. Those that really take dedication and often – let’s be honest – this can be those tasks that they really don’t want to do 😉

These difficult tasks are the ones that should get done in the power hour.

Selecting tasks should be about the level and quality of the work, not the quantity.

Let me repeat that!

Selecting tasks should be about the level and quality of the work, not the quantity.


Secondly, they can also consider whether there are ways to extend or increase that period of time.
For example, if they’re an early bird, can they go to bed a bit earlier and get up earlier, giving themselves an extra 30mins or even an hour of super productive time each day?


Then things can filter down from there…

So, next, take on and complete the ‘medium level tasks’ at the slightly less productive, but not those totally brain-dead times.
For example, this might be proof reading the thing they wrote during their power hour. Proofreading is less creative and requires less high order thinking, but still requires focus and concentration.
So definitely don’t do these tasks at the lowest focus times because the errors or edits will just get missed and need to be re-read again – not efficient at all!

Then finally, students should save the menial, low level tasks, like filing notes, or cleaning up their desk, or making a to-do list, for the times when they’re just not as motivated or focused.
Or of COURSE, use these times for relaxing and re-energising! (Also important but never actually written on a to-do list, right?!)

But actually, re-energising and relaxation are essential for making those power hours as alert and productive as possible.

So, we’ve gone full circle, back to the power hour 🙂
I love it when a system is rounded out and all the dots join together!

So, the key takeaway here is to make sure your teen knows what their most productive and focused time of day is, and THEN have them see how they can optimise that with using it to tackle the trickiest tasks that require the highest levels of cognitive work, and if possible, maximise it by altering their schedule or sleep patterns.


I’d love to know – when’s your teen’s power hour? What’s yare they already doing to maximise their power hour and what could they do to make it even better?

Scroll down, leave me a comment, and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week 🙂




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3 steps to make writing ANALYTICAL (and avoid the waffle!)

I got some great feedback on last week’s video – what to do when the teacher says “expand your writing”.
So I thought I’d go deeper on this topic as I know this is the time of the term where a lot of essays and assignments are being doled out!

Because there’s one thing I constantly see students struggle with when it comes to high quality essays. It’s not so much about their writing in itself, it’s about one specific element that’s required in every essay in Year 10 and above (and I’ve even seen a Year 8 essay require this too, just this week! Yikes!).

So, this week I’m gonna explain what the struggle is AND share the exact 3 step solution I use with my students.



First up, how do you know if it’s actually an issue for your teen?

Well, if they’ve ever had feedback or comments like “more analysis needed” OR “now link this to the title” or ‘to the question’,
then likely they’re struggling with this skill.

Or, if they tend to slip into #wafflemode with their essays, then this is definitely an issue too!

So here’s what it is…

It’s the analysis element of writing.

It’s required in all essays that require a discussion of an issue or the purpose of something. Even if the title of the essay doesn’t actually include the word ANALYSE.


So, this could be essay titles like
‘Analyse how the author creates a sense of mystery in the poem’
‘Explain how ‘such and such a legal reform’ tries to achieve justice in Australian Society’
‘Evaluate the effectiveness of ‘Person X’ as a leader during ‘period Y’’


What’s required in every case, is to:

– name a supporting example or quote or piece of evidence
and then

– explain WHY or HOW it is relevant,

and then,

(here’s the final part that most students either forget to do or don’t realise they need to do)

– they must to go on to elaborate on the IMPACT
(for example on the reader of the poem, the audience watching the play or documentary, or the relevant society or even better, different types of people or groups in that society).


If they don’t do that final step, then they’re simply giving an example and explanation. NOT an analysis.


So here are my 3 clear steps to actually ANALYSING:


ONE — State the example or quote or evidence

TWO – Explain the effect of or reason for it


THREEExplain HOW that impacts the relevant people in relation to the title.

For example, with that poem one I just made up – HOW or WHY does that literary device make the reader feel ‘suspense’? Perhaps it brings a sense of fear or evokes the emotion of concern or wondering what will happen next. (By the way, this is where synonyms come in handy!).


Often this third step gets left off, not because the student doesn’t know what the effect or impact is, but they just didn’t realise that’s what’s needed for analysis.

Many students just think an analysis is an extended explanation.
It’s not.
It’s the step that LINKS the explanation to the key focus of the essay.
It’s like closing the loop 🙂


I hope that helps clear up what ANALYSE really means and, more importantly, gives you the HOW to have your teen conquer that element in any future essay.

Let me know in the comments 🙂

And you know what?…  I’m sure there’s a ton of students and parents out there who could use these 3 steps  – so please forward the weblink to this blog
or (for extra digi-love) 😉
share it on Facebook.

Okay! Let’s do this – Let’s make this a fantastic week!

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