Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

No.1 in Transforming Students’ Grades

Archive for August 2019

Are exams useful?

There’s a lot of debate in the media and within education about exams and assessment.

What’s the point of it?

How can we make it more effective and less stressful for students?

Is testing and the traditional exam system even relevant for the world today?

Well, I’m not going to get into that debate as such right now, but I do want to share one point of view that I hope will be useful…


The way I see it, whether or not people are happy with it,
exams are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

And whilst there’s development in how we TEACH the subject content and understanding how students – in fact how ANYONE – learns best,
the way we test and structure exams hasn’t changed much.

And there is no realistic discussion right now about scrapping Year 12 exams for those following the academic routes and ATAR.

So, if we accept that,
then we might as well view exams in a productive and positive light.

So I want to offer a way to do that:

First we need to understand that getting great results in exams is about much more than learning and regurgitating information.

Yes, subject knowledge is important,
but what’s equally important is the ability to decipher what a question is really asking and at what cognitive level.

And by cognitive level, I mean what level of detail and depth. For example a question that asks your teen to define, say, food hygiene, is quite different to a question that asks them to explain the importance of food hygiene.

Or a question that asks for a description  of a painting or artwork, requires a much lower level response than one which asks your teen to analyse that artwork.

One example where students fall into this trap is with novel or movie analyses.

They often end up simply describing the storyline or the characters, rather than analysing the techniques that have gone into these and how they relate to a certain theme or purpose.

So how does this make exams useful?

Well, it could be argued that knowing the symbolism an author has used to portray a theme in a novel isn’t going to be that relevant in later life,

it’s not going to serve students particularly well in writing a job application or carrying out there job (whatever tasks that could involve)

being able to serve clients,

or write a funding grant,

or following a set of instructions.

The actual subject content and knowledge and understanding required may not be that useful.

It can be interesting, and it can show an ability to think and operate at a certain level,

but useful in a practical sense – not really.

But the skill of being able to work out what is wanted and needed is going to be super useful.

Knowing how to figure out what people want and then how to give it to them in the most effective and efficient way is extremely useful and can serve your teen in so many ways.

Whether they work for a boss and need to fulfil their demands,

whether they are serving clients and customers,

whether they run their own business or projects and need to create products and services,

or if they’re applying for funding and grants for a charity or not-for-profit organisation.

So, I hope this waves a little sprinkle of positivity over exams.

If we’re accepting that they’re a part of most students’ lives, then we might as well consider them as positively as possible and focus on the ways they can serve and help students today.

This way, the exam technique skills they learn and hone to tackle them,

like identifying command words,

knowing exactly how to respond to them

and properly understanding mark schemes and rubrics, well, these will not only serve them amazingly well for their exams

but will also be in place for whatever lies ahead beyond those exams too.

Leave me a comment below – I’d love to know what plans or dreams has your teen got for their future

and how could the skills of getting to grips with what’s wanted and knowing how to provide it – help them succeed in that as well as their exams?

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DON’T Just Start Somewhere

“Where do I start?”  Or “I don’t know where to start.”

Ever heard anything like that from your teen?

And have you or one of their teachers ever, in a totally well-meaning way, ever replied with
“Just start somewhere.”

Or, maybe been tempted to say
“Try anything just to get started.”
“Start with the bit you do know.”

Unfortunately, that’s not good advice.

It’s coming from a place of encouragement and action, but it can just lead to many hours of wasted time and energy. And plenty of frustration and disheartenment to boot.

So what to do instead?




Make a clear plan of what needs to be done and what’s going into each element.

So for an essay, just having a plan that says intro, body paragraph 1, body paragraph 2, and 3 and conclusion isn’t good enough. It’s a fraction better than having zero structure, but it’s definitely not enough.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of what should exactly go into a plan, and HOW to do it.
I do that in my Write Like an A-Grader Training.

Instead I want to focus simply on why that plan is so essential
and why it’s such an amazing indicator of whether a student is going to complete a task smoothly and successfully,
or whether they’re heading into the dreaded waffle zone,
(or not even that far – staying stuck and frustrated with a blank screen or blank page in front of them).

Because if your teen isn’t able to make a clear and detailed plan,
then they aren’t going to be able to write a clear and cohesive, high quality response.

In other words, if they don’t know what to put in their plan,
then it’s no wonder they are feeling stuck and finding it hard to get started or make progress.

They’re likely confused or simply feeling kinda empty about what they need to do and how to do it.


To make a plan, they need two things:

  • They need to learn how to identify what a task or question or essay title is REALLY asking and what they need to do to respond appropriately.


  • They need to be clear on the subject content and how it links to the demands of the task.


Only THEN will they be able to devise a thesis statement or have a clear focus.

And only with THAT will they be able to pick out the evidence and examples that need to go in their body paragraphs.


These are the things that need to go into their plan.

The direction or focus or thesis
and then
the content to support that.

If they aren’t able to create a clear plan, then they have little hope of creating even a satisfactory response.


So many students want to bypass the planning stage because they feel it’s time-consuming and they want to just dive straight in.

The total.opposite. is true.

The planning stage is not only an essential part of crafting a high quality response,
but it’s a very clear indicator of whether your teen’s clear on the task, the demands of the command word (or words!) and the focus of every paragraph.


So if your teen’s feeling stuck, confused or finds themselves in the waffle zone part way through an extended response, assignment or essay task,
then they need to go back to the planning stage.


Figure that out first, use the gaps in it to guide them on getting the help and clarity they need
and the rest will become a LOT quicker, smoother and more successful.

If you know anyone else who’d benefit from this tip, then feel free to forward it or share it online,
and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!


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“A Must-Read For All Parents”

Download your copy of my ‘behind the scenes’ Parent Guide revealing the

‘3 HUGE Mistakes Even Smart Students Make in Exams and Assignments’

(And How to Fix Them Immediately So Your Teen CONFIDENTLY Achieves Their Best EVER Grades)


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Small actions – BIG results

When it comes down to it, there’s one mark difference between grade boundaries.

Just one mark can make the difference between a D and C grade, one mark between a B and an A grade. Therefore one word can make the difference between a grade, as one word in an answer can mean getting or losing a mark. I’ve talked about this when tackling compare and contrast Qs before.

And this is why I’m a big believer in ‘every little helps’.

Because one little tip, one strategy, one minute of revision of one fact that’s asked in an exam, can make a whole grade’s difference.



I’ve been making a point lately to recommend to my personal coaching students that they do just one or two questions for practise and revision each day because many of them have Term 3 exam blocks in a few weeks.

We’ve been coming up with some specific plans for them based on their personal priority points and your teen can do this for themselves too.

For example in Maths, putting in place a daily bare minimum over the school holidays, to do just one or two Maths practise Qs on top of any other study (or on top of their relaxation!).

That’s perhaps 14 questions over two weeks of a school holiday.

Which would be approximately two or three questions per topic for a term’s worth of content.

Two questions on every topic is just about enough to keep everything fresh in their mind and not let anything become totally buried so that it has to be dug out from the depths come revision for exams.

Or… how about we make this REALLY easy and a long term plan.

How about in Y11 and 12, making one revision card per week, and doing one practise exam Q per week?

Not a whole practise paper, just one practise question. That’s maybe 15mins for the revision card, and 10 mins for the practise Q. That’s just 25 mins once a week. If they’re a morning person, that’s getting up at 6am instead of 6.30 on just one day, or that’s one less episode of a TV program just once a week.

That’s going to give them 46 revision cards if we don’t count the summer holidays, over the course of one year and 46 practise Qs completed.

And that’s a LOT of revision resources at the ready, a lot of exam practise and familiarity with exam Qs and that equals a lot of potential extra marks in an exam 🙂


I’d love for you to have a think about what one little thing could be done once per day, or once per week.

It won’t feel like a lot on it’s own, but add it up and it can make a big difference.

And then let me know in the comments below – what is the one small thing and what big result would it give?

I’ll see you next week, let’s  go make this a fantastic week.


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Well, this could be awkward!


I’m sticking my neck out here and fully expecting a few unsubscribes this week.

Because I’m going to make things a bit uncomfortable for a few minutes :/

(Just warning you!)

And just so you know, this is something I’m totally guilty of as well.

So, watch or read on to join me in this awkward conversation!


Here’s the thing.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with parents over the past week while I ran my Exam Special webinar event, and while some were totally diving into the content and telling me about ways their teen has already enacted it the very next day, for others… there was some resistance.
And it may not immediately be recognisable as that, but that’s exactly what it is.
And I’m pretty sure there’ll be many more parents out there feeling the same thing, so I want to address it head on.

When they were talking about their teen getting the study skills they know they need, or getting the full training on exam technique, some would say things like,
“Well, we’ll just see how the rest of Year 11 goes first, and then we might look at doing something next year”
“I think I’ll get him an English tutor for now and then if his confidence doesn’t improve, then maybe I’ll get him on to watch this webinar next time you run one.”

And I totally get this situation…

The concepts and training I teach go beyond the accepted traditions of learning more content and having subject-based tutors.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of those, if you know that understanding specific subject knowledge is the thing holding your teen back.

BUT – and here’s the part that can be challenging for ALL of us… if those
“I’ll just do this first”, or “I’ll just wait until” statements and stories we’re telling ourselves are actually,
(if we really dig deep and get really honest with ourselves), just excuses to put off what we know we really need to be doing,
or help us put off accepting the uncomfortable truth of things…
then they’re not only not helping, they’re actually holding us back.
They’re holding you back from experiencing a life of less worry or concern over your teen and their study.
And stopping your teen from finding out what they’re truly capable of and discovering that confidence and pride that’s inside but hasn’t had a chance to break free and be experienced YET…


I did this myself in a big way back at the start of this year.
I held myself back and – #confession – I held other teachers back, and students back.

Yep, I said this was uncomfortable…
Believe me, it’s not fun writing this down in public.

But I recognise it now. And that’s the thing…
It can be hard for us to really see this clearly for ourselves at the time, but on reflection, it’s SO clear to see.
But only once we’ve taken the action we’ve been avoiding.

So here’s my confession…
I had plans to create an online program for schools to deliver to their students, similar to my 10 Week Grade Transformation Program.
In fact I’d had this plan in my head for about a year before I did anything about it. Because I know that many teachers aren’t aware of the importance of exam technique – I certainly wasn’t until I became an exam marker in the UK, even though I’d already been teaching for 4 years and even won a national teaching award by that point!

Anyway, I already knew that schools needed this, teachers needed this, and although I was already training students in this in my online programs, I wanted to be able to help as many students as possible and working with schools is one way to increase the number of students I can help.

I was already delivering in-school workshops, but making the program was a big project and then putting it out there and marketing it was, psychologically, an even bigger step. It’s a lot more corporate than the way I share my knowledge and programs with parents, like I do with you, and I’m not from a corporate background.


So, I decided: I needed to read a few books to prepare and equip myself for this.
One of them was the famous ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Brown.

I looked up the ones I thought I wanted and needed online and added them to cart. It quickly came to over 200 bucks.  And I was like, ‘hmm, that’s more than I was expecting’.

Now, of course, on reflection, for those people’s wisdom and teaching, it TOTally isn’t a lot of money; but that was the first step in me holding back, right?!

It had nothing to do with the money. What it really meant was: if I didn’t order the books, I couldn’t read them and therefore I couldn’t start on the schools project yet.
Urgh, it seems so crazy now, but yes, if I really dig deep, that’s what was going on.
I was just putting more self-inflicted hurdles in my path to delay the uncomfortable tasks I wanted to do, but also was avoiding doing.
Yep, crazy alright!


So, guess what I did next…

I looked the books up on the council library database*
(so I could save myself 200 bucks of course –  but ACTUALLY so I could delay the process juuuust a bit longer!).

*Positive side note  – this was the start of me re-discovering how awesome libraries are! Almost all of them were on the database!

So I requested all the books and then waited for weeks, some of them for months til they became available.


One of them I was really keen to read, but when it actually came through, it sat on my shelf for the entire two weeks.
I didn’t even open it.
Because I ‘didn’t have time’.

I was working on other things, I was coaching students, I was planning and delivering monthly student seminars to my GTZ Members, I was training with the QCAA to become an examiner and panel member for the new Senior Exam System… there’s always PLENTY to fill my time with.

Of course I could’ve MADE time, but two weeks later, I returned it.
Hadn’t even opened it.

In the mean time,
one of my good friends called me out on all this.

That’s the kind of friendship we have.
We massively support each other but we also know when to challenge each other  – in a helpful way.
I think that’s a rare type of friendship, but it’s so valuable and I feel very lucky to have it.

Anyway, she asked me what I’m really waiting for.
She’s a high school teacher herself and told me how much her school and her students needed this info and training.
We talked about my conversations with parents like you who’ve asked me in wonderment why schools don’t teach this stuff.
She told me about the money her school was already spending on a program nowhere near as good as what I had planned.
And then she asked the waitress for a pen and started writing my to-do list on a serviette.
With dates and deadlines.
(You can see why we’re friends) 😉
I still have those notes.

And I agreed to, as Nike says – just do it.

Now, I still wanted to ensure things would work perfectly – or very close to – I’ve never had anything go 100% perfectly – and so my small Rock Solid team and I decided we’d launch to a small sample of schools, so we could make sure we could deliver everything at a really high level and iron out any issues easily.

And then we got to work.

A month or so into progress, guess what popped up.
Yep, the notification that the ‘Dare to Lead’ book I’d had on reservation for months was now ready for me at the library.

I collected it.
I read a few pages.
But it wasn’t really connecting or resonating.
It wasn’t what I was hoping it would be.

Although I’m actually not totally sure exactly what I WAS hoping for or expecting. Super-hero powers, unicorn glitter maybe?

So I skipped ahead and dove into a couple of chapters I liked the sound of.
Still wasn’t doing much for me.

I’m sure the book is great.
It’s had rave reviews.
It’s just not what I needed right then.

And that’s fine – because I’d already started.
I’d taken the leap (with a loving push on the backside!).

But could you imagine if I’d waited
til I’d read those books before I got started on the project?

I’d be here now, still not started.
Because I still haven’t read those books.

The schools who are running my online program right NOW (yep, it’s out there and everything’s running great!) wouldn’t have that info and training to deliver to their students.

Those students wouldn’t have the skills and strategies they’re learning and honing and their Term 3 results and Finals wouldn’t be as good as they’re going to be as a result of it.


So, if you’ve been thinking of taking action that’ll catapult your teen’s confidence or results,
or will make them more effective in their study,
but putting it off for whatever reason,
then I’d encourage you to dig deep and consider what you’re really waiting for and whether it’s really serving you or your teen.

What would it mean if they just got started now in the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program?…

What would it mean if they registered this year for the Exam Mastery Workshop?…

Rather than waiting to see how things go, wanting to try something else first, or wondering whether it will actually work.

Where will they be this time next term if you did take action and took a leap?

And like I say, I know this might feel uncomfortable.
And I know this has been a longer blog than usual!
But I can tell you that waiting or filling time with unnecessary steps is NOT the answer.
It’s not going to take away the discomfort you or your teen might currently be experiencing.

So if you need a friend that’ll give you that reality check, or the ‘firm but kind’ kick in the butt, then I’m happy to be that person 🙂

If you wanna chat about it, drop me an email and we’ll set up a time for a friendly chat on the phone,
and until next week, let’s take action to make this a fantastic week!

Katie 🙂



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