Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

No.1 in Transforming Students’ Grades

“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)


Share Button

Podcast Ep. 1 – The Study Success Formula

SHOW NOTES: Episode 1

​​Welcome to the very first episode of the Parents of Hardworking Teens podcast!
I founded Rock Solid Study to help as many students as possible to become happy, smart and successful in their study and I hope this podcast will give you, as the parent, the information that you need to help
your teen boost their grades AND confidence…
AND have you both enjoy the journey along the way.


  • The (hopefully now, not-so-) secret formula for Study Success and the critical element many students are missing.
  • The reason why many hard-working students aren’t achieving the results they could, despite studying more and more.
  • Why more knowledge does NOT automatically mean more marks (and what does).




Hi, and welcome to the Parents of Hard-working Teens podcast!


This is my very first podcast and although it’s traditional for the first episode of a podcast to be all about me and rock solid study and what we’re all about, what I decided to do is just give you something that you really genuinely want, which is helpful information and something you can take away that will make a difference to how you and your teen approach their study. 

So what I’ll do is, I will intersperse my story, who I am and why I’m here and what we do at Rock Solid Study throughout all of the upcoming episodes. But I’ll start off by saying that I set up Rock Solid Study out of a drive to help students get results that match their effort, their ability and create the confidence and self-belief that you as parents (and me as a teacher) really want for your teens.Because I was that hard-working student when I was a teenager, but I never really had a clue about how exams really worked, what teachers or assessors were really looking for and I was always using what I call now the ‘hand in and hope’ strategy.
It was only after becoming not a teacher, but an examiner and coursework moderator, working for state and national exam boards internationally , that I started to understand how it all works.
And since my very first exam marker training day, I have been finding ways to share this knowledge – information that I’m totally allowed to share by the way – there’ll be no answer sheets in the show -notes – with students and parents through my classroom lessons, through tutoring, then through free blog videos, and now through my training and coaching programs and here, through this podcast. 


So let’s start with today’s topic, which is why knowledge and hard work does not necessarily equal great results. So often I get emails, or have conversations with parents where one of the most frustrating things for them is that their child is studying really hard, they’re doing all the things they’re told to by their teachers, doing their homework, revising for exams, researching for assignments but they aren’t getting the results their child really wants, or is aiming for, or is capable of – in other words what they feel they SHOULD be getting given the knowledge they have the the time and effort they’ve put in.
And from my experience, they certainly COULD be getting, because they do have the ability, they do know their subject content.

So, why is it that hard work and solid subject knowledge doesn’t guarantee top results?


It all comes down to one simple yet super-powerful formula. And in particular one key element IN that formula that’s often missing for students – and is what all of my coaching and training is centered around for students.

The secret formula – which I am working hard to make – not so secret – formula for study success is:
Knowledge + Application = Results.

Knowledge plus application equals success.


In other words, students do need subject content, but they also need to be able to apply it in the way the task or question demands and the mark scheme requires.


Because all the knowledge in the world is almost useless when it comes to exams and assessment if your child doesn’t know how to put it across properly. How to apply their knowledge to what the wording of the question or task requires and in a way that meets the descriptors on the mark scheme or success criteria.


It’s basically like having an amazing car – now, I have no idea about cool cars, or high performance cars or supercars, so I’ll let you picture whatever type of performance vehicle you want – but picture it with a super-powerful engine, it’s got an amazing aero-dynamic design, it’s full of all the best accessories, but…

the wheels are missing.
And without the wheels it’s just not going to go anywhere. And it’s certainly not going to operate at it’s true potential. 

And it doesn’t matter how much more fuel we pour in , how much bigger or better the engine is, – or, to apply that analogy – how much more knowledge your teen learns. THAT isn’t the thing that’s keeping the car stuck – or them stuck at their current level of work or current grades.


Another analogy I like to use – you’ll come to hear me use analogies a lot – because I find them really helpful to really relate to concepts.
Another one I like is the skyscraper and how the foundations underneath – the part we don’t even SEE – are so important.

One of the critical design aspects of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – something right near the top of my bucket list – I have a bit of a tallest building in the world geeky fascination – is the foundations that support it. I watched a documentary on it once and quick did you know fact – there are over a hundred-thousand tonnes of concrete in those foundations, and it goes over 50m deep.
Not surprising when you think about what it’s holding up.

Now, again, it doesn’t matter how strong, how tall, how stable the actual building is, how scientifically amazing the design is, if the foundations aren’t just as amazing, if not more, then the building is not going to hold up.


Just like, your teen’s results aren’t going to be as high as they’re aiming for if they don’t have those foundational skills to APPLY all the subject knowledge they have.
And don’t mistake that word foundational for basic.

These skills and strategies are actually pretty simple to LEARN and develop, but they are foundational because they are essential, they’re critical to your teen achieving their potential and doing it sustainably and confidently.


How I like to put it to students is that ‘they need to be able to SHOW THEY KNOW.
 THIS is where so many students fall down. Where they lose out on what might often be easy marks for them. They focus all their time and effort on learning more and more subject content. Writing more and more notes or revision cards, watching more tutorials, reading more textbooks.


And this is totally understandable.

For two reasons.
Firstly – all curriculum document and syllabus information is mainly centred around the content. The topics that need to be covered.

And secondly – students are hardly EVER explicitly taught the skills and strategies needed to APPLY their knowledge effectively. And this is not the schools or teachers fault either.

The truth is that syllabus content and the curriculum doesn’t include these skills. They often include subject-specific skills, but not the skills of exam technique or how to effectively research, or note-take or revise actively rather than passively or how to perform under time pressure or stay within word limits or dissect the wording of questions or figure out exactly what IS the difference between appropriate and discerning on marking criteria. I actually heard a teacher say recently that kids are kind of just expected to absorb these skills by osmosis.
Now these are all things I’ll be covering in future podcast episodes, so definitely stay tuned and subscribe or follow this podcast.
But schools also don’t have the time in class to teach these skills, what with all the subject content and the bulging curriculum they have to cover. Teachers almost always cite ‘time on timetable to cover all the content’ as one of the main challenges in teaching today.

Plus, there are only a small percentage of teachers out there who have experience in writing or marking external assessment pieces, so don’t actually have that knowledge to be able to pass it on even if there was time. 


The trouble with this is, that Students who have not mastered the skills of application will often find themselves getting disappointing results.


And so then they think: 

“the information I wrote was wrong” I simply didn’t give the right answers, or…
“I’m just no good at this particular subject” those thoughts and beliefs that they’re just not good at History, or they just don’t get Science.
“I didn’t put in enough information” I didn;t have enough detail or enough facts and figures or just didn’t write a long enough answer – that is a VERY common one – the idea that they just have to write more STUFF next time.

And so naturally,  when these thoughts occur, what happens next is:
They decide they need to learn more content, more information, memorise more facts and stats.

If it’s an exam they then feel like they need to revise harder and longer next time in order to store and then regurgitate all that additional and correct information they think they need to learn.

And if it’s an assignment, exam, oral presentation or anything really they think “I just need to write longer answers”. This is what I call the spaghetti approach – throwing all the spaghetti at the wall hoping that some of it stick – writing in as much information as they can hoping that some of it will get them some marks. And some of it will, but it isn’t necessarily answering exactly what the Q is asking and it is also the way to end up running out of time in exams or going over word limits in essays and assignments.


BUT – My experience as an exam marker and coursework moderator has shown that these disappointing results are actually more often because the student simply didn’t respond EXACTLY to what the question asked or They didn’t apply their knowledge in a way that accessed all of the marks available.

And I didn’t know any of this stuff as a student.

I didn’t know the skills and strategies for ultimate success. And so I went about my study throughout my own education the HARD way. I spent a lot of time and effort on things that gave virtually zero pay off when it came to exams, coursework and results. All those things like doing wider reading around the subject, expanding my vocabulary, reading or watching the news… all those bits of advice when students are already doing all the required tasks, the set homework, including the extension tasks.


Now that’s not to say that I did badly as a student. I actually got very good grades through high school, college and uni. I was a solid B grade student, getting a couple of A’s here and there, (and the odd C+ on a bad day), 

But I did it the hard way.
I certainly didn’t have a clue as to how exams worked or examiners operated, I didn’t even think about it as a topic, let alone realise that there were ways that I totally legally and legitimately could find this stuff out and use it to my advantage. I took the long and winding, steep road to good grades.

And the thing is, these same actions, these same struggles – I see so many students in the exact same position still today.
I see so many students working really REALLY hard, striving for great results, and very often CAPABLE of those great results but not achieving them. OR they’re getting top results, but sacrificing their mental health through stress or anxiety, sacrificing a life balance or their hobbies because they’re spending all hours on their study, and parents are struggling to help, because you aren’t across all the subjects or haven’t read the latest novel or studied the current Shakespeare play. 


So, that’s why I’m going to be sharing all of my tips, insights and experience.
I’ve worked as a high school teacher for 16 years now, including winning a national teaching award and being a Head of Department and Head of Faculty BUT I can tell you that the thing that has made the BIGGEST difference to how I help students achieve their very best results AND confidence in their study has been as a result of working with national and state exam boards, which I’ve done internationally for over  10 years now. Being an assessment moderator, an official exam marker a scrutiny panel member and and writing panel member, from ATAR to IB, to GCSE and NAPLAN. That’s what has shown me that the APPLICATION part is missing from many students’ skillsets and that gaining those skills is what slots that missing piece of the puzzle into place and literally catapults students to success.

Now I’ll be going into exactly what I’ve learnt from those experiences and what I continue to learn from them every single year here on this podcast, so as we wrap this first episode of the podcast, I’ll quickly summarise the key thing I want every parent and student to know about study and that’s the study success formula: knowledge plus application = success.

success comes from yes having the subject KNOWLEDGE – and most students DO have that – but success also comes from being able to APPLY that knowledge in the way the question or task demands and the mark scheme requires.

So, step one (another thing you’ll get to know about me is that I love actionable steps and knowing what to do and getting it done – just ask my husband – if we even talk about or come with up with a little project around the house or garden, he knows that means that same day there’s going to be a trip to Bunnings).
So, Step one – take a look at where your teen might be missing a piece of the formula.
Do they need to work on learning more subject content or memorising more facts and stats to build their knowledge, or is it more that they’re not quite applying that knowledge effectively? Are they uncertain on exactly HOW to do that. Because whether its the knowledge or the application that’s lacking, both of those are totally fixable – the knowledge by using text books, or online tutorials or a subject tutor… and the latter with skills, techniques and strategies – some of which are super-quick and simple.

So, if you’d like to get started with some of those skills you can go to the website: and request the Free parent Guide where I’ll share the three huge mistakes I see even smart students making and how to solve them. Plus you can get all the notes from this podcast on the podcast menu there too.


So that’s enough for the first episode, I hope you enjoyed it. It has absolutely been my pleasure to be here with you and to begin this process of sharing with you what we do at Rock Solid Study. Thank you for being here with me, take care and I’ll catch you next time.


Facebook Comments
Share Button

Evaluation essays don’t want a ‘personal opinion’

Evaluation level essays do NOT actually need your teen’s personal opinion.Yep.
Even if it says ‘In your opinion…’

For most students, this is GREAT news!

Because it means they don’t need to be an expert in whatever the genre or topic it.

They don’t need to be a literature enthusiast.

And they don’t need to have some sort of sophisticated and unique insight into anything.
I just wish I’d realised this as a student.
I only figured it out 7 years into my teaching when I was marking Y12 Writing Tests and figuring out the mark scheme as a non-English teacher.

In Week 3 of Essays Bootcamp (available as part of Next Level Coaching), I told students exactly what they need to do instead.
And, all importantly… HOW to do it.



Facebook Comments
Share Button

Advanced Skills: Making Links Within AND Between Evidence in Essays

How to achieve the highest marks in selecting and integrating the best evidence/quotes in essays.
– Top tips in how to up-level evidence selection and how to make detailed linkages in the analysis.



Facebook Comments
Share Button

Checklist: How to select the BEST evidence or quotes for an essay

Excerpt from Essays Bootcamp in Next Level Coaching: Gemma explains exactly what examiners are looking for when awarding the top criteria for ‘discerning’ evidence. Including: – The proven Checklist of ‘decision-makers’. – A specific example of where students can go wrong with this – What your teen needs to look for so they don’t fall… (read more)

Plan Details and Specifics From the Very START

It’s easy to say: “I’ll include a metaphor here.”

“I’ll give some context in the intro.”

What takes more thought and effort is to say from the outset:
– precisely WHAT metaphor and why.

– exactly what IS the context and which elements are most significant for this task.

Sometimes students feel like they’ve planned, but really, they’ve outlined.


Having an expert (like Gemma, our English-Focus Coach!) there to help with these sorts of small but mighty details is what can take us to the next level in our work.

Because although deciding on these details in advance can be challenging, NOT doing so will lead to multiple challenges in the writing stage.

Brainstorming and then selecting them all at the beginning will not only highlight any gaps in knowledge (which are much better solved before the writing begins, rather than half way through, when the temptation then is to gloss over that fact and waffle our way through),

it will also allow much more discerning choices and selections.

And together these mean the task gets completed much more smoothly and quickly AND achieves more of the top level criteria and therefore a higher result.



Facebook Comments
Share Button

Is your teen using ‘micro-quotes’ in their essays?

What makes ‘use of evidence or quotations’ in an essay, exam or assignment
‘discerning’ rather than ‘appropriate’ in the mark scheme?
What takes an extended response to ‘pertinent’, or ‘perceptive‘, in the success criteria?

There are multiple elements and Gemma, our English-Focus Coach went through ALL of them with our Next Level students this week.

One of the mistakes students are making is incorporating quotes that are too long.

The quote can be appropriate.
It’s perhaps even been analysed well.
But it’s not considered perceptive or discerning because the EXACT words in the quote that are pertinent to the focus of the question have not been identified.

Here are some excerpts of that session where Gemma explains how and why MICRO-QUOTES should be used instead of full sentences.



Facebook Comments
Share Button

Stop writing more than you need to – 2 ways to stop running out of time in exams

The 3 main fears students have around exams are:

1) Fear of the Unknown (What will they ask?)

2) Fear of Uncertainty (What does the Q really mean? What do they want in my answer?)

3) Fear of Running Out of Time.

That third one happens because students are writing more than they need to.

And that happens for two reasons:

  • 1. Not being sure what will get marks or what the Q really requires – see Fear #2 above – so they end up ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall’ and hoping some of it sticks (gets marks).
  • 2. Answering the same way they do every day in lessons or assignments – which is the opposite of what’s required in exams.

And there are 2 super-simple, instantly-actionable solutions that will give your teen back SO much time in every Q in every exam they sit from now on.


Facebook Comments
Share Button

“I wish we’d had this earlier”

Is the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program right for your teen
and if so,
when’s the best time for them to do it?

Facebook Comments
Share Button

Exam Marker Video Diary – DAY 5

How do students actually manage to get 15/15 in extended response Qs in exams?

It’s possible and here’s how:



Facebook Comments
Share Button

Exam Marker Video Diary 2021 – Part 4

The focus of the question I’m marking is all about analysing impacts around a challenge within a specific case study.
There are MANY different impacts student could identify and this is often the case in all different subjects, topics and case studies.

Sometimes there are so many that it’s overwhelming.
Sometimes it can feel tricky to identify them or see how to put them across coherently.
So, I’m offering some specific ways to identify impacts or effects
and then a strategy to help decide which ones to select to actually include in an answer,
and what order to put them in.


Facebook Comments
Share Button