Why making mistakes is important for students

You are probably wondering why making mistakes is important for students – how can this possibly be?

Recently I was attending one of my son’s parent teacher interviews and was actually very impressed with the teacher who went through an Essay he had written.  The teacher first asked what he thought his mark would be to which he responded an ‘A’.  He was then told he had received a ‘B+’ and had just missed out by a few marks.  The teacher then proceeded to focus on the telling him the areas where he had made mistakes and where he could improve in order to achieve an ‘A’ next time round.  What I really liked about this particular teachers approach was that he actually didn’t just focus on what my son had done well rather spent more time on what mistakes he made.   It is important naturally for a student to know what they did well but the key learning is in what they didn’t do well or where they made mistakes!

When working 1:1 with students I often ask them to reflect on their assignments, homework, tests and exams so that they learn from the process of what did and didn’t work and where they can make changes to ensure they learn the material and do better next time round.

The key to making mistakes is in teaching students to discover the benefits of making them and that it is not all doom and gloom!

Many students see mistakes as failure rather than a valuable asset.  This is because students don’t think about their mistakes rationally rather they think about them emotionally – not achieving the result they desire can make them feel disappointed, frustrated, angry and even sad.  This is true for our society in general, as we don’t usually embrace or celebrate when mistakes are made now do we.  So how do we get students to embrace their mistakes and reframe this into opportunity for growth and further development?  The last thing we want is when they get a bad result to hide the test or exam away as this will never see them get better.  Academic success does not come from how smart or motivated students are it comes from how they feel about their mistakes.

It is important for teachers, students and parents to talk about mistakes rather than avoid talking about them at all as this helps our students to ultimately benefit—both academically as well as emotionally.

Mistakes usually happen for a reason:

  • the student didn’t learn all the relevant information;
  • they didn’t execute the steps in a process;
  • they didn’t put in the time or effort studying;
  • they were not using effective study strategies; or
  • maybe just ignored or didn’t understand the actual questions or directions given.

The ‘x’ or ‘0’ mark is just a simple assessment of the actions the student took in that moment.  Naturally these actions can easily be altered and fixed for next time round.  We need to share mistakes in this way to ensure students practice, stay motivated and help them have a constructive relationship with mistakes they make.  We also should encourage the effort as much as the end result, yes we want students to do things the right way but we also need them to learn from their mistakes.  We all make mistakes from time to time and know that it isn’t the end of the world as a result.

As we have just entered the mid year exam period it is important for students, once exams are over, to take a step back and look at what worked and what didn’t to ensure they are more successful with both their study and exams next time round!

Those mistakes on the actual exam are also where the key learning will come from.  Unfortunately many students usually just accept the result without spending any reflection time on the study process or the actual exam paper in terms of going over in detail what they did wrong.  I often find that many students don’t even seem to keep or know where their previous test papers are.  I advise students to always keep them and reuse them next time round as there are only so many questions that can be asked for each topic/subject.

The key learning for all students is to make sure they know what they did wrong and then to understand and learn from this ready for next time.  As I asked my own son, only a few days ago as he was preparing for his maths exam, was he reviewing his past maths tests?  It was pleasing to hear that he had gone over and redone those problems again during his revision to ensure he understood them better now.  This means he will no doubt be more prepared for his maths exam than had he not taken this step.

So where to from here?  What are you going to do or say when your child gets their exam results?  How are you going to get them to reflect on what they did well and didn’t do well so they learn from their mistakes for next time?  Think about how you will discuss mistakes with your child – in a positive or negative way?

If you would like some support for yourself or your child please get in touch to learn more how I can assist with my Student Success Program.

Passive v active study strategies for students

Do you as a parent really understand the difference between passive v active study strategies for students?  If you answered no to this question you are not alone.  Unfortunately many of our children also don’t understand the difference and this needs to change.

When I meet with students, both in a school and home environment, I am astounded at how many of them actually often only use passive study strategies.

So what is the difference?

Passive study strategies

Passive studying is what the majority of students do when it comes to studying information for a test, SAC or exam.  This usually involves a student adopting strategies of:

  • reading over their notespassive v active study strategies for students - image of a student highlighting notes
  • re-reading information in a text book
  • highlighting large chunks of information
  • listening to information
  • watching a demonstration or documentary

A student usually thinks that if they do these things over and over that is all they need to do.

A passive approach, like that described above, creates an illusion of knowing for a student which means that by reading over information it is familiar to them and therefore they believe they know it.  Unfortunately, as an academic life coach, I see this happen way to often.  What actually happens is that when a student has a test, SAC or exam and needs to recall information they think they know, it is NOT stored in their long term memory and they struggle to provide the answers required.  Naturally they then do not receive the marks they think they should have as a result.  Passive studying is not effective for long term retention of information in any way!

Active study strategies

Active studying is adopting an approach whereby a student actively tests their knowledge of material learnt.  While rereading notes still has a role to play those students who take it a step further by actually engaging with the information and adopting active strategies (noted below) are more likely to achieve better results.quote learning to study smarter not harder - and how it is about adopting Passive v active study strategies for students

Active strategies include:

  • rewriting and revising notes into their ‘own words’
  • making outlines
  • using flashcards
  • teaching the material to someone
  • answering practice problems

By adopting the above approaches, a student is more likely to gain a greater understanding of the information and material, whilst strengthening their long term memory, and be able to respond better in test, SAC or exam situations.

As I regularly tell the students I work with it is all about studying smarter not harder and by adopting active study strategies you are giving yourself a much better chance of receiving the marks you want.  The more active the study method you use the more prepared you are likely to be able to respond and do well in a test, SAC or exam situation.

For more information on how I can support your child with their learning/studying and ensure they have the necessary tools & strategies to succeed please get in touch.

15 common mistakes students make with exams

That time of year is fast approaching (in the Southern hemisphere anyway) when it will be time for exams.  Some students will be more prepared than others for what they are about to face.  It is however worth knowing what the 15 common mistakes students make with exams are so they can try to avoid making them.  I have split this BLOG up into those mistakes students make in the planning and preparation stage as well as those they make in exams themselves.

15 common mistakes students make with exams

In the planning and preparation stagestudent studying

  1. not starting early enough – many students think they have lots of time to prepare and study for exams. Unfortunately this can be a trap and students convince themselves that it will be okay to not start today only to find that they end up running out of time and cramming.  Studying for exams often takes more time than students anticipate, so make sure you get started early!
  2. reviewing information that you already know – students often spend time on studying or reviewing information that they already know.  The best use of their time is to identify what they don’t know and work on strategies to ensure they learn this information.
  3. studying passively and not actively – you ask what does this actually mean?  Studying passively is usually when students spend time just reading over their notes and textbooks until it is familiar.  Where as actively studying is when you actually incorporate the passive study as well as spend time testing and quizzing yourself to see what you actually do or don’t know.  Unfortunately most students actually spend more time studying passively than actively which really is not the best strategy. Click here for more information on this.
  4. not actually studying or preparing in the way you are testedclick here to learn more about this in a recent blog that I wrote just on this point.

In examschairs in an exam room

  1. not writing your name on the exam or test paper – I have seen this time and time again when working with students and this should be the first thing they do when they can actually start writing!
  2. not reading and understanding the question – this is vital and students need to ensure they use their reading time wisely to ensure they understand what the questions is actually asking them to do.  When doing this students really need to take notice in particular of the key/command/prompt words in the question ie analyse, compare, describe….  Basically those words that tell you how you need to respond.
  3. starting to answer questions without any planning – It is important, particularly for any writing tasks, to plan the structure of your response/essay first. This will then assist you to know what you are going to say and in the right order and keeps you on track.
  4. running out of time – some students can find themselves running out of time and in many cases this links back to lack of preparation and planning when they should have spent time practising this with past exam papers.  Ideally you want to have a plan of attack and strategy as to how you are going to break up and use your time before you enter an exam.  Spending time on this prior to exams is a really useful strategy.
  5. Ignoring the clock – when in an exam another trap for students is not keeping an eye on the clock or following any such plan so they run out of time in general.
  6. leaving questions blank – where possible students should avoid this and always try to ensure they gain some marks rather than just giving up and leaving a response blank.
  7. not matching up questions and answers with multiple choice – this is a common mistake and really one that should be avoided.  Students need to take care when responding to multiple choice questions.
  8. answering a question twice – this is common when answering multiple choice – make sure you have only selected one answer per question.
  9. ignoring a question because you don’t like it – when this happens and it does, students ignore the real question and write or respond with something else that often is unrelated to what is actually being asked of them.
  10. having enough supplies with you – students need to make sure they have additional pens or pencils with them as the last thing they want to happen is for the ink to run out and not have anything to write with.  This seems so logical but not always on a students mind when going to an exam.
  11. leaving the exam room early – even if you think you are finished use the extra time to read through your answers and make sure that you’ve answered them to the best of your abilities. You may find during this time that you’d like to include additional information or points.  You might also check over your spelling and grammar as well.

image of students in an exam


For more information to assist with exams the following blogs might also be of use:

  • how to create an exam study plan click here or
  • why being organised is the key to exams click here


If you would like further information about how I can support students please do get in touch.




Students need to practise the way they are tested

This is such a simple concept – ‘students need to practise the way they are tested’ yet in my experience it’s something that many students actually struggle with.

I regularly see and speak to students who don’t revise and study on a regular basis and often only do it prior to an upcoming test or exam.   The other issue I see is that when students do actually revise and study they are often not using the best methods.   Both of these are entwined and students need to practise the way they are to be tested.  It is vital that they learn how to do this in order to give tests and exams their best shot and in turn get the best marks they possibily can.

As I say to my students in my workshops or when working 1:1 with them that it is about ‘studying smarter not harder”!  You can often hear a bit of a sigh of relief when they think about what I am actually saying.quote learning to study smarter not harder

Regular Revision

Most students actually understand the importance of revision however seem to struggle to know how to know what steps to take and how often they should take them.  Research shows that students definitely benefit from revising on a more regular basis rather than only doing it only when preparing for upcoming tests or exams.  

Many students will also work hard at revising, however they don’t always work well at it.   As with any other aspect of their studies, they need to organise their time, plan their revision well in advance and know what strategies work best for them.

It is important that students do many regular reviews of their information and notes as this is more effective and likely to be retained in their memory over an extended period of time rather than doing just a few long cram sessions.   Ideally students should be reviewing their information and notes on the day they have written them to ensure they have understood the topic at the time and seek further assistance at that stage if they don’t.  It is much better for memory to do it at the time than weeks or months down the track.  From there they should then find a regular pattern of reviewing their notes and testing themselves.

Revision doesn’t have to be hard

Revision doesn’t have to be too hard and students need to put the effort into planning.  It is important to know the best way to revise for all their subjects and have a plan in place for each one.  If students are not sure about this they should seek assistance and guidance from their teachers who are more than willing to assist.  Sometimes this in itself can be hard step for students to do.

Unfortunately many students today are still of the belief that reading over notes or highlighting key text are good revision strategies.   However both of these are actually not the most effective as they don’t force students to think deeply or critically about the topics and they end up being done without much thought at all.  Reading and highlighting creates a sense of familiarity to students however in an exam situation they don’t get marks for things being familiar, they get marks for recalling relevant information and using it to answer the question.

Having said that students shouldn’t abandon these strategies completely as they still can have a role to play and be used alongside other effective revision methods and techniques.

Testing yourself and its importance

There is a lot of research on memory where they say that testing yourself is one of the most effective ways to improve your ability to recall information.  By testing themselves students also can easily identify any gaps in their knowledge.  Practise papers provide a good starting point, as well as quizzing themselves at the end of a revision session.  Another useful technique is to teach the material to someone else.  They could do this with a study partner and take turns and/or to someone who knows nothing about the topic.  This technique assists students to really think about the subject in a clear and structured way.   Another method could be for students to put all the information they know in a mind map or on paper before reviewing their notes to see where the gaps in their knowledge are.

image of a multiple choice exam paper

This then leads us to the next stage of revision where it is important for students to focus on the information that they don’t know rather than what they do know.  Naturally it is more satisfying to revise what they do know rather than focus on their weaknesses.  Revision isn’t about reassuring oneself on what they do know it needs to be all about identifying what they don’t.  Once they figure this out then they need to find the best revision strategies to learn that knowledge.

On top of this students need to really understand the format of the tests and exams so they can actually practise under test or exam like conditions.  By doing this they can work out the best strategies for them when it comes to reading time, working out which questions to tackle first and so on.  It is important that during the reading time they actually read and understand the questions before they begin and really know what is being asked of them.  For some students they like to focus on the hardest or most time consuming working down to the easiest where as for other students they like to get the easy marks out of the way first and do the harder ones later.  There is no right strategy and is very much up to individual students to find what suits their style the best.  Practise tests or exams are a great opportunity for students to really know what works best for them and to fine tune these prior to the important test or exam.

Most teachers are also more than happy to mark practise tests and exams which then also allows the students to work on the areas that they don’t know as well to keep learning and improving before the final exams arrive.

There is research that finds students who do practise tests after a period of revision do better on the final exam than those students who didn’t do the practise exams and had just spent the whole time revising.  At the end of the day its better for students who don’t do well in practise exams to have the time to do more work, change revision strategies and develop the right skills to perform well under pressure than it all falling apart and not working for them in the final exam!

If you’d like to know more or hear how I can assist you or your child further please get in touch.




Having an exam study plan is key

Having an exam study plan is key for students about to undertake exams no matter whether they are at secondary school or university.

Ideally a student will already have an exam study plan in place however it is not too late if they don’t!  In my experience it is important for a student to put together a study plan at least 6 weeks prior to exams.

How to create an exam study plan – 10 steps

  1. Complete and finish off any core work – as soon as you can complete this so you can begin focusing on your exam study plan and what needs to be achieved in terms of revision before your exams start.
  2. Determine how much study or revision time you need for each subject – the time for each is likely to differ and it is suggested that you consider spending more time on the subjects your find difficult rather than on the ones you are good at and know much better.
  3. Review your school syllabus or revision checklists – so you know what will be covered in the exams, what if the format of the exams and what marks each will be worth.
  4. Draw or type up an exam study plan – do this for each week until exams and include exam dates and times, all your regular commitments and activities like part-time work, sporting, chores, family activities.  To assist with this you can use a draft plan I have prepared – click here to access a Plan for creating a study planPlan for creating a study plan
  5. Determine your best study times – you need to work out when your best study times are and then enter your exam subjects into study blocks in your plan and allocate time for each one.
  6. Schedule down time – make sure you schedule in some down time as well into your study exam plan as that is important.
  7. Have good sleep and eating patterns – ensure you also get enough sleep and eat well whilst preparing for your exams too.
  8. Study in shorter periods – remember it is better to study for shorter periods as they are more effective than really long blocks.  If you lose concentration, stop and have a break and the refocus and go again.
  9. Set goals for each study session – set yourself a goal at the start of each study session and what you are planning to achieve during that time.
  10. Study in the same way that you are going to be asked to do in your exams – all your methods of revision should consider this for each subject.
  11. Display your exam study plan – where you can easily see and refer to it.
  12. What are you waiting for – get started and put in the effort as soon as you can!

One important final point

Please do not let your exam study plan overwhelm you, remember what your goals are and one step at a time work towards achieving them when completing your upcoming exams.

Ensure you put in the required effort and give it your best shot as that is all you can ask of yourself.

If you are still not sure how to put all of this in place please get in touch as this is something I can assist with sooner rather than later and put you/or your child on a path to success – amanda@organisingstudents.com.au



Exams – being organised is key for students

It is that time of year again as students are about to undertake exams across many year levels including Year 12.

Being organised really is the key for students at this time as it not only assists the process but helps with stress and anxiety levels as well.

Here are 10 tips to assist:OY-Page-Student-2

  1. Start preparing early – the key is to start exam preparation as soon as you can so that you increase your chances of feeling confident of going into the exam on the day.  If you haven’t started to do this then put a plan of action into place now.
  2. Create a study environment – this should be a space that is well lit and where you can work effectively free of interruptions and distractions.
  3. Make a study plan – by putting together a workable study timetable you will increase your sense of control over the process and it will help you use your time more efficiently.  Be realistic and also factor in some down time.
  4. Organise and declutter – Clear your study area of anything that is not currently required to assist you study.  Removing excess clutter will avoid you becoming distracted.
  5. Organised your study materials – make sure you keep materials for each subject together including notes, handouts, books
  6. Having the right supplies – make sure you have all the necessary school supplies at your finger tips and don’t need to go searching for them.
  7. Don’t cram – it is better to do several reviews as that is more effective as the material will be reatined in your memory over an extended period rather than just one long cram session.
  8. Your method of revision should consider the nature of the exams – this is really important as you need to prepare in the same way that you are going to be tested eg if it is a written exam then seek copies of similar exams and revise by going through these and making notes, sitting them under exam conditions and predict possible questions you might face.
  9. Limit distractions and in particular social media – turn off notifications and try to limit the use of devices during study sessions.
  10. Eat healthy snacks – try and snack on ‘brain food’ (eg nuts, tuna, fruit) and have this handy rather than grabbing food items high in sugar.  Make sure you also have water handy at your desk.

All the best for your exams – if you put in the effort with organisation, preparation and time then you are part of the way there!

For more detailed tips and ideas then please feel free to get in touch as I regularly work 1:1 with students – amanda@organisingyou.com.au or call 0409 967 166.