Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

No.1 in Transforming Students’ Grades

Archive for September 2019

Exam Marker Diary 2019 – Entry 1

Getting real for a moment.

The biggest challenge for students when it comes to exams is NOT:

  • Trying to revise all the content (that’s important, but it’s not the TOP one).
  • Finishing the paper in the time given without having to rush and scribble through the last few Qs (common, but, still not the biggest challenge).

And it’s NOT

  • !


Because, the biggest challenge is likely the thing your son or daughter isn’t even AWARE of.

(That’s what makes it so frustrating. Like wondering why the kettle hasn’t boiled, then realising it was never plugged in at the wall).


The reason so many students fail to get the grades they could in exams is because they aren’t savvy in knowing what level of cognition the Q is operating at and therefore what detail and elements are required in their response.


Watch me explain how this all works for three (well, it’s really gonna be two – you’ll see why) high level exam Qs.


> Here’s a copy of the exam Qs so you can properly follow along (copyright QCAA – not great quality photos, by me)!


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Stop! You’re going the wrong way!

Just because you’ve been doing something a certain way for so long, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should just keep going.

Recently I was working with a group of school students and had a couple who were adamant they wanted to continue making their notes in the same way they always had.

Despite the fact that I’d just been through the proven reasons why that strategy – which was basically typing them out almost word for word – was not effective both in terms of recording and remembering that info.

Just so you know – having a set of typed notes to refer to is not as useful as having a set of hand-written, colour coded summaries, condensed and ideally transformed or processed in some way. Our brains don’t take in the info in the same way and the act of actually handwriting those notes and condensing them also enhances our understanding and retention.



I see this all the time in students’ revision too.

They have always revised by reading back over and highlighting notes.

They have always written out palm cards crammed full of info for topics.

And sometimes the reason is perfectly reasonable too.

They’ve always gotten decent grades that way.

But that doesn’t mean that’s as good as it can be – as good as it’s gonna get – that you have to continue to take that slow and inefficient route to exam success. (Because – blunt but true – all those strategies I’ve just mentioned are slow and inefficient. Even if typing is faster than writing, the learning is less effective)

I remember hearing someone talking about an analogy that totally works for this situation – consider this:
If you were travelling to a destination, and you’d already walked for 2 hours to get there, but then you realised that you were going the wrong way,
would you keep on walking?

It would be frustrating for sure, you’d maybe even be a bit angry.
It would certainly be understandable for you to want to question that info, the map, the GPS,  or whatever it was that told you, you’re going the wrong way.

But would you be like …
aw, you know what I’ve come this far,
I’m just gonna keep going and somehow hope that it’s going to get me where I want to go.

Hopefully, you’d have someone come up to you (someone like me maybe!) and go –
‘Wait! Stop! You’re going the wrong way. Turn around. Here’s the right way.
Certainly don’t go any further in the wrong direction!

Yes, you’d be sceptical,
yes, you’d be annoyed,
but should you carry on going the wrong way?

Of course not!

Hopefully that route has taken you at least slightly in the right direction at least, and often that’s the case.
Students have been able to find some success in what they’re doing. But I want to be the GPS that sends out flashing notifications to as many students as possible and shows them the right way to go about their study. To make it as efficient and effective as possible.

So, has your teen been given advice anywhere along the way that they haven’t yet taken on board?
Is there a different path they need to get onto in terms of their research strategies for assignments,
their note-taking systems, and – the big one…
their revision techniques?

I’m a big believer in the fact that it’s never too late to get onto the more direct and faster, easier route to awesome grades.

So if you feel your teens not on the right path right now, then be sure to check out my free parent guide – the 3 huge mistakes even smart students make in exams and assignments  –– and I’ll show you precisely where they’ve likely been going wrong and how they can easily get back on track.

You’ll also then get all my weekly videos like this one delivered straight to your inbox – (don’t know about you, but I love making life as easy as possible).


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How to stay focused when studying (and not get distracted every 5 mins!)

Your teen sits down with all the right intentions to study hard, but within 5 minutes ends up:

  • scrolling through Insta (for inspo/motivation/just because)
  • making a pretty title page instead (because it FEELS productive even though we all know an A-grade never got given for a brilliant research project front cover) 
  • watching funny cat videos/makeup tutorials/minecraft demos on YouTube (because it just auto-played after the ‘How to solve quadratic equations’ video)
  • gazing out the window (why IS the sky blue. Like really. Why?).
  • offering to unload the dishwasher (okay… now it’s really getting desperate!) 😉


Well, if so, they’re not alone, as this week’s video is for Panda Banda – who asked in a recent Youtube Comment:
“Can you please make a video on how to focus? I know some people have to listen to music or have some sort of background noises. Thanks!”

So this week I’m sharing 3 proven and practical suggestions that work for me and work for many of the students I’ve worked with. I’ve even had parents tell me that these strategies have worked for them too!



Okay, number 1 – let’s address the music thing.

The boring truth is that most people are better off with total silence.
So if you can find a quiet place to study then that’s going to be your best bet.
Zero distractions.

But – if that’s not possible and you need something to drown out the distractions, then multiple studies have shown the most effective type of music for study and focus is baroque music – a particular style of classical music from around 1600-1750. There are hours and hours of playlists you can play for free on Youtube.

Any music with lyrics or faster beats are NOT good for focus or concentration.
So students’ fave playlists on Spotify aren’t the way to go – save those for free time, the gym or in-car sing-a-longs 😉


Tip number 2: Get a clear plan of action.

There’s nothing worse for focus and productivity than not really knowing what you’re doing or how you’re going to do it.

So before getting started on any task, make sure you have all the necessary resources or equipment AND make sure you have a clear plan of attack.

So. Many. Students feel that spending time outlining, planning and prepping is taking up time they could be spending actually getting on and writing or studying or researching or whatever the task involves.
However, the exact opposite is true.
It’s counter-intuitive, but not only does having a clear plan make the overall task a lot faster, it also makes it a lot easier and stress-free AND often results in a higher quality piece of work, therefore achieving a higher grade.

This is why I provide templates and structures in so many parts of my training in the 10 Wk Grade Transformation Program and in my monthly member seminars,
and it’s why I have a whole module dedicated to showing students how to create clear and high quality plans for any extended response or essay they write in my Write Like an A-Grader Training (available to Next Level Coaching students).


Okay – Tip number 3: Chunk everything down.

Both in terms of tasks and in terms of time.

Here’s what I mean…

Never tackle an essay by sitting down to write an essay.

Yep, don’t tackle an essay, by sitting down to write an essay!

Here’s what to do instead…

a) First of all, sit down for 15 mins to dissect the essay title and PLAN the essay content and structure – just like I said in tip 2.

b) Then get up, have a quick break and then spend 15 mins finding the evidence, examples or quotes for each of the body paragraphs you’ve just planned.

c) Then spend 10-15 mins drafting body paragraph 1, then the same for body paragraph 2 etc etc.

Note that I didn’t start by saying to write the intro first – I have another video about writing the intro last in essays HERE.

And notice that I’ve given everything a time limit.

This really helps focus us and spur us into action.

I genuinely play little mind games with myself when I have a challenging job to get done, whether it’s because I don’t really want to do it, or because it’s tricky.

I set a reasonable time limit and then I get to work and see if I can get it done.
I even do it with things like doing the dishes or ironing a bunch of clothes!

And no – don’t use your phone as the timer (‘hello distracting notifications’!).

Nope. Leave it out of sight while you’re working within that time limit.

You’ll be surprised how much you can get done when you do nothing but focus on that specific little part of a task within a certain time limit.


> Recap of those 3 quick but super-practical tips…

1 – Silence is best for focus – but if you need something to listen to – then baroque music all the way.

2 – Plan exactly what you’re going to do and exactly how you’re going to be doing it. So there’s no fluffing around, no excuse to get up and go do or find something.


3 – Chunk down larger tasks into sections. Give them time limits and then challenge yourself to get them done. Check out the video I made on this topic 🙂

And captain-obvious bonus tip – none of those should involve your phone!
If you need it for accessing an email or photos or whatever, get those things up in the planning or getting organised time and then switch off the data or wifi.
Simple. #noexcuses


Leave me a comment on this page to let me know how you go, and until next week, let’s make this a brilliantly productive week! 🙂





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What’s the point of exams?

If your teen’s ever uttered the words ‘what’s even the point of exams?’
(or maybe you have too!)

then listen in,
because if we consider exams as just a thing to be passed to get the grades for whatever lies ahead in life, then we’re missing out on some hidden opportunities.



Don’t worry – I’m not gonna try to convert you into some sort of exam board cult,

I just want to give you a positive angle to consider.

Because, yes, exams are partly a tool to judge ability in a subject or a skill,
they do test knowledge of whatever topics are being assessed.

But what if they really were more useful than that?

Because here’s what else exams are:

They’re a test of being able to decipher what people are really asking for.
The information or skills the examiners or teachers want students to show.

In fact I had a savvy parent actually say this to me a few years ago…
Her son was doing the 10Wk Grade Transformation Program and she’d watched some of Catapult 7 with him, which dives deep on one of the 6 elements of exam technique.

And she told me that it really isn’t much different to what she has to do at work.

From what her clients tell her, she has to work out what they want, exactly what they’re asking for and then translate that into what she proposes or provides for them.

So, maybe exams do have some real-world application after all.

Maybe they do actually have some purpose and skills that translate and serve us beyond the exam hall and results day.

Because if students can become masters of working out what people want from the words they use
and get brilliant at giving them exactly what they want,
in a clear and efficient way,
then that’s sure to serve them well in life and their career, right?

So, here’s how I choose to see exams:

– Yes, they demand good subject knowledge.

– Yes, they require certain skills, like source analysis skills or numeracy skills for example.

– But beyond that, they require an ability to dissect the wording of questions,

– and be able to understand and act on that information,

– to provide a response that fulfils the needs and wants of each question.

This is why, as you’ll have heard me say before, all the subject knowledge in the world is useless if your teen doesn’t have the tools and strategies to do those things.

And it’s why so many hardworking and intelligent students still don’t get the results they deserve to get,
the grades they could and should be getting in their exams.

So, maybe there is more to exams than just testing subject knowledge.
Maybe they actually are useful for later life.

And maybe they’re about teaching students more than just learning and memorising facts and info.

Let me know what YOU think –
leave me a comment below, or drop me an email

I’d love your thoughts and feedback on this. And if you know someone else who could benefit from this perspective, then feel free to forward this to them or share the link on social.

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