Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

No.1 in Transforming Students’ Grades

Posts filed under Essays

Essays in Exams

Let’s talk essays for a moment, shall we?

We often think of them as long drawn out tasks, slaved over for days (sometimes weeks).

Cue all the false starts,
finding quotes,
writing drafts,
trying not to waffle,
including stuff we know they didn’t ask for just because it sounds good,
(missing stuff they DID ask for, but not realising it),
wondering whether a snack would help ;),
realising you’re way over the word count and trying to figure out what to cut without losing marks,
OR realising you’re way under the word count and wondering what on earth you could add without waffling or repeating yourself,
handing in a draft,
being told you’ve missed the point somewhere or need to ‘add more detail’,
eating all the snacks,
hours of editing (or total re-writing),
finally handing in with fingers crossed and a whole lot of hope that it comes back with a good mark.

(FYI – ‘hope’ is not a proven strategy) 😜

But of course, essays come up in exams too.

With a whole lotta marks allocated.
And very little time to do ’em in!

In the video I explain the critical step
(and IS a proven strategy that works in EVERY subject, for EVERY type of essay question)
your teen needs to do before they write ANYTHING:

And as a thank you gift during this runway to my next 10WGT enrolment, right now you can get my
​Essay Title Swipe File with my 2-step Topic and Focus system
(+ bonus explanatory video!)
for your teen for free!

Here’s how:

1) Share the invite to the webinar:
Skyrocket YOUR Teen’s Exam Results and Confidence
on your Facebook page:


2) Take a screenshot of your share.

3) Email your screenshot to:

I’ll email you the swipe file AND the video within 12 hours!


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FREE exam style Qs and practise papers for Y9-12

Your teen wants to practise for an exam, but…

They’ve exhausted the revision questions given by their teacher.

The online and text book questions are okay for learning, but not quite the same as exams.

They’re not in Y12 so can’t really use the exam board past papers.
Or maybe they are in Y12, but their syllabus changed so they don’t have many past years to work from.

So, where can they find a treasure trove of untapped test papers and exam style questions?

Here are a few places to go* to find them for your teen’s specific subjects and year group.

* I’ve put in some direct weblinks in the P.S.


P.S. Here are a few direct links to get you going… but please watch the video to find out which ones are relevant to YOUR teen and where they’re at in their study.

School Certificate Past Papers : Humanities

GCSE exams (foundation and higher tier)

ATAR exams – see each state exam board (10WGT and Next Level Coaching members have direct links to all these with past papers, mark schemes and Chief Examiner reports in the Study Vault)

A’Level exams (AS = Y11, A2 = Y12 equivalent)

P.P.S. BONUS! Not mentioned in the video:
IB Past Papers


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The second best time is NOW

If you feel like there’s not enough time to make a difference to your teen’s results, then THIS is for you.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist and planner (okay, a bit of a control-freak too) so I totally get it when you WISH an opportunity had come up at what felt like a better time.

However, even if you wish your teen could’ve mastered their exam technique and learnt how to revise strategically months or even years ago, does that mean that they can’t benefit from the opportunity to grab these skills right now?

Is ‘late’ better than never?

P.S. Here’s the other video I reference in this video!…
Is it too late?

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The ULTIMATE skill for nailing exams

What’s the ULTIMATE skill in nailing exams?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as we get into exam season, and I’ve come up with what is, officially, my favourite exam skill.

Favourite in terms of the skill that gives biggest bang for buck.

And one that’s very specific.

Watch the video (or scroll down for the written version) to find out what it is and how your teen can get it!


Hopefully you know by now, if you’ve been following me for even a short while the ‘Not-So-Secret Secret’,  that there’s more to exams than just subject knowledge.

That even if your teen knows EVERYTHING there is to know about a topic, it (unfortunately) does not guarantee them a top grade in an exam.

In fact, I coached one of my Next Level students on exactly this, this week. 

He’d written an essay with heaps of great knowledge, vocabulary, examples. 

But he hadn’t fully identified the FOCUS of the essay question and therefore hadn’t tied his points to that focus clearly enough to get the result he’s capable of.

And I see this EVERY year as an examiner. 

Students who I can tell from their answers or essays, are obviously smart and have clearly revised and done everything they were told to.

BUT they haven’t been trained in exam technique. 

There are 6 elements of exam technique and the one skill that is my absolute favourite is a cross over of two of them.
Well, actually three of them.

Conquering command words and mastering mark schemes are the two main ones, and time management would be the third.


The skill I’m talking about is:
Being able to write the most succinct answer that gains maximum marks.
In other words, how to cover each criteria on the marking guide, with the least amount of words.

It’s rare to see them but when I do, I get SO excited.
It requires a solid understanding of command words – and the trigger words that go with them – and it’s massive help with time management.

I still remember one of the best examples I saw of this.
It was around 3 years ago probably now, but I still remember it.
It got full marks with about half the words of most other responses. 

I had to read it over 3 or 4 times to really check that I was definitely marking it correctly. That it really did satisfy all the criteria, and once I was certain it did, I was like – ‘Oh, that’s brilliant’.
I can’t recall the exact Q now, but it was a comparison, so had some very specific trigger words and this student had used them really well in their answer.

And if your teen can master the skill of giving the examiner exactly what they need to see and do it in the least words possible – or close to – then they’ll not only maximise their results, but also won’t run out of time in the exam. (Time being something that isn’t such an issue in the middle years, but is definitely an issue a lot of students have in Year 11 and 12).


That’s why I’ve already developed a ‘Most Marks, Least Words’ Challenge as a specific activity in the Exam Mastery Workshop and it’s why I train students in identifying and understanding command words, using trigger words AND the whole exam time management system in the 10  Week Grade Transformation Program.

Because ALL of these skills can be learned and actioned in your teen’s very next exam.
They aren’t talents you’re either born with or you aren’t.
They’re like driving a car.
We can all learn them, and once you’ve figured each thing out and how to do them, together, you’ve got the skill of nailing exams – and got it forever.



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“What would Katie say?”

Rather than posting a video of hand-picked tips and advice for you, this week I’ve decided to to open up my Wednesday evening (27th May, 8pm AEST) so you can get the precise tips, advice or just bend my ear about what YOU really want to know.

So join me for:

“What would Katie say?” 🤔

*Live Q&A* for you to ASK . ME . ANYTHING!

I’ll give you a clear and specific answer, based on my 13 years as an award-winning high school teacher, national exam marker, coursework moderator and scrutiny panel member.

This is what I do all day, every day
and luuurvve to talk about with keen and supportive parents, students and, well… anyone who’ll listen!

Check out my personal invite, I recorded just yesterday in the moment I decided to do this!
And then CLICK HERE to get your link to the Live Q&A Room.


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Dealing with school closures

In this week’s coaching call with my Next Level students, one Year 12 student typed into the Q&A chat:
“Do you have any tips on dealing with the anxiety of not knowing my future, with exams etc”.
I’m sharing my response so that it can hopefully help all the other students (and their parents) in this position.
And if you’d like more strategies and tips on how your teen can stay AHEAD, not just afloat through schools closures, I’ve got a TON of support:



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It isn’t even that difficult

As we get ready to release the brand NEW 10 Week Grade Transformation Program (2. 0),
whilst a lot is new and has been upgraded and
even more amazing training added,
when I went back to the original info I wrote for students about the 10WGT almost 4 years ago there’s literally nothing I would change in that description!

I was expecting to cringe my way through it
(as you do when you go back and read something you thought was good way back when, but then later… well… not so much)
but when I read it, I was actually like “Wow, this is goooood!”.
It totally nails everything the 10WGT is and everything the 10WGT does.
Because of course, the key concepts and the core purpose of the program HAVEN’T changed at all – so I’m sharing my fave snippets of that description with you here:

Fact: You could easily raise your grades in any exam, essay or assignment if only you knew the untold secrets to exam success.

Did you know that most students will never get the marks they should in assessments, assignments and exams, even if they study hard?

(In fact it doesn’t matter how hard they studied, even if they worked harder and longer than anyone else).

Why? Because they are not fully skilled and confident in things like understanding command words, selecting and structuring content, and knowing what the markers are specifically looking for.

In my experience as an exam marker, national coursework assessor and award-winning high school teacher – and now – exam board scrutiny panel member and school workshop leader –  I’ve come to realise that it is NOT ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU KNOW, it’s all about how well you put it down on paper. 

But: Teachers just don’t have the time to teach these skills along with all the content laid down in the curriculum they have to cover. Plus, most of them aren’t trained examiners or assessors and so don’t have this insider knowledge.

Pretty depressing, right?

But here is the good news – well in fact it is brilliant, awesome news… This ALL means… that

You Are Better Than You Think!

Your grades can be higher than you ever imagined.

You can have access to more career and life opportunities.

All with less stress.

Yes, it is possible to achieve fabulous results whilst feeling cool, confident and in control.

And the best bit is…

My online 10 Week Grade Transformation Program means you can easily discover all these secrets and master all of these skills. It isn’t even that difficult. In fact it’s a lot easier to perfect things like ‘exam technique’, structuring extended responses and giving examiners what they want, than it is to learn lots more subject content.

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work – this isn’t a magic fix that’ll happen overnight. But what it does mean is that you can become highly skilled in the strategies required for amazing results, and when you do, you’ll have these ‘super-powers’ forever!


The 10 Week Grade Transformation Program is for you if:

You Sometimes Feel:

  • Like you’re drowning in homework, notes, assignments or revision

  • That there are some subjects or topics that you just never seem to do well in

  • That you don’t know the best way to organise your time or tasks in order to get things done efficiently

  • Lacking confidence in some aspect of your academic abilities

  • That you don’t know exactly HOW to make your work better even after it’s been marked

  • Unsure if you’re ‘doing it right’ when answering exam questions or writing assignments

  • That you work hard but still wish your results were better?

And the 10WGT is for you if You Want:

  • Expert help and support to give you the skills to be confident, organised and motivated in your school work

  • To feel positive and in control of your study, your exams and life at school or college

  • To know exactly how to tackle different types of tasks and assignments

  • To know PRECISELY what ANY exam question is really asking 

  • And able to respond in a way that will earn you the MOST MARKS with the subject knowledge YOU have

  • To know exactly what ‘exam technique’ is and what ‘command’ and ‘trigger’ words are

  • To set goals beyond anything you ever thought possible, and actually achieve them!

My proven system has led hundreds of students to success already and it can work for you too.


So, if ANY of this sounds like your teen, then definitely go check out the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program 2.0,
and take advantage of this once-only opportunity to be able go through it in REAL TIME, with me checking in each week and all of our new students, as we all kick off together.

This time next week, we’ll be in it, doing it.
So let’s make this an amazing week, and I hope I get to meet you and your teen if you decide to join me inside the 10WGT 🙂


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When complicated becomes easy

Remember learning to drive?

Having to think about every little thing…
the clutch, the accelerator, the steering, the gear changes,
the mirrors, the road signs!

It’s amazing how, once we’ve practised,
and practised (and practised!) something,
with guidance and teaching and advice along the way,
that thing that once felt
– and genuinely WAS so complicated,
and took so much thought and concentration…
becomes almost effortless.

It’s pretty amazing when you really think about it.

Find out how this happens for students when they master exam technique
and the skills of strategic and effective study.


I just finished a quick journey
where I was following a learner driver for much of the time.

They were struggling a little bit at a junction
and as I’m pretty sympathetic with learner drivers,
I was sat behind them thinking about all the things they were trying to do in that moment.

The accelerator, the clutch, the steering,
looking both ways down the road as well as in the mirrors
and everything else!

And I had a bit of a double-whammy-thought-moment.

First, I started thinking about how there’s a parallel
with all of the strategic study and exam technique
that I train students in.

At first and for people outside of that training
when they hear me talking about it all,
it can sound pretty overwhelming and complicated.
It can feel like there’s a lot going on
(and just like if we had to break down and describe everything we have to do and have to think about when driving… there is a lot to know and do and think about!).

You might wonder… 

How’s that all going to fit together?

How does my teen put into action all those skills when they’re sat, under pressure, in the exam hall?

For example,
let’s just consider the 6 elements of exam technique.

And what about just ONE of those elements.

  • Command Words.

Well, there’s quite a bit involved just with that
(like there is with just pulling out of a junction,
never mind all the other scenarios and skills with driving).


  • IDENTIFYING the command word


  • Figuring out the LEVEL OF COGNITION


  • The TRIGGER WORDS they need to use in their response
    to alert the marker they really
    are answering exactly what the Q is asking.


Yep, no messing…
there IS indeed a lot to it.


Students who’ve had my training,
feedback and worked with me on practising and honing these skills
totally end up doing ALL of this naturally,
automatically and effortlessly.

They don’t have to be actively thinking about each and every element.

Just as, when we’ve been driving for years,
we don’t have to think about exactly what to do with our feet
and our hands every few seconds. 

And here’s the double-whammy moment I had.

As I sat there thinking:

Oooh, I should make a video about this’.

I realised I get quite a lot of my ideas when I’m driving.

And then I thought:

Well, isn’t that interesting!

That while I’m doing the thing that I used to have to think about,
with every little action and nitty-gritty detail,
I now not only don’t have to do that…
but in fact my brain is so free,
having mastered the skill to such an extent,
that it can actually think creatively and at an even higher level.

Now think about what that means for students!

When they have their exam technique and study skills nailed,
everything’s a lot smoother and more efficient,
then they can up-level themselves even more.

Because when their brain is free from having to think about those skills,
they can come up with even more creative language,
come up with better ideas,
be more able to draw on and convey higher level knowledge
they’ve worked so hard to learn in their subjects.

It creates the space and brain power to produce even better quality work and responses.







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Can marks ever be taken off for this?

So what’s the deal with leaving exam answers blank?

Can you ever have marks taken off? What should you do instead of leaving an answer blank?

One of my students asked a question and I wondered if anyone else wondered or thought the same thing so I want to set the record straight.

She asked: “Katie, some of my friends have been saying that if we leave an answer blank in a formal, external ATAR exam…we can have marks taken off and we should just write something. Even if it’s just rewriting the question into the answer space.”

Let me be very clear…

NO. That does not happen!

I have never come across an exam style of marking where marks have been taken off for a blank answer…ever!

So what should a student do if they’re not sure on an answer or if they’re running out of time and don’t want to leave something blank?

Firstly, if it’s a multiple choice question and you really have no idea on the answer, simply have a wild guess.
It’ll likely be a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right and could even be the easiest marks you ever get!

Please don’t ever leave multiple choice questions blank. It literally takes seconds and you’ve nothing to lose. Writing something is always better than writing nothing.

If you’re running out of time but don’t know how to tackle something then write some bullet point facts or information that you know you would want to expand on if you had more time.
Very often, some of the basics can get some of those low level marks (the low hanging fruit).

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Exam Marker Diary 2019 – Entry 4

Clarity, succinctness and structure are important.

Especially for extended answers.

(Those answers worth 8 marks or more, or those with ‘graded’ marking that have multiple criteria per grade boundary.)

That’s exactly what I’m discussing in detail, with examples, in this (final!) 2019 EMVD entry.

Every year I’ve been selected to be one of the Referee Markers
(phew! That basically means you’re good)
and it’s like the grand finale *think fireworks bursting all over the sky!* when it comes to me learning what’s letting students down and possibly leading to them missing out on marks.

Because, this stage is full of the responses where both markers have judged the same answer to be worthy of two different marks.

It’s like one big, bright spotlight shining on the more complicated aspects of marking,
showing all the ways students are (inadvertently) making it difficult for the marker to award certain marks for certain criteria, or simply writing their answers in a confusing or non-succinct way!

Now, there are two ways this could go when an answer is confusing to mark:

  • The marker accidentally awards credit where they shouldn’t.
    (Possible, but less likely as we can only mark what we read, and there are strict rules around not ‘reading in’ meaning – i.e. where we can see what they mean, but they haven’t actually conveyed it fully).
  • The marker misses wording that could earn credit, because it’s jumbled within another point being made,
    not clearly worded or the grammar makes a clear connection difficult,
    or it’s led to a random tangent that isn’t relevant.
    (More likely because markers are expected to mark to a time-frame and therefore cannot re-read over something more than 2, or total max. 3, times realistically.
    Plus, we know the key points we’re looking for and if they are ‘hidden’ amongst waffle or off-task content, then we’re simply more likely to miss it).

*Side-note: Honestly, exam marking isn’t that different to sitting the exams! 😉

So see if any of this sounds familiar for your teen, and then grasp my advice to ensure they don’t end up putting any marker on the fence or  miss a mark they just maybe shoulda-coulda got.

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