Episode 11: [Part 2] Top 10 Mistakes Hardworking Students Make and How to Avoid Them
LISTEN AND FOLLOW ON:
Listen in for mistakes 6 - 10 of the top 10 mistakes I've seen hardworking students making throughout my years of teaching, external exam marking, and coaching.
I'm going into detail on mistakes around:
- answering exam questions,
- organising study and revision,
- completing essays and assignments
I'll show you how to fix them if your teen is making them (or you've ever given them any mistaken advice!) and how to avoid them altogether if they haven't.
Next Level Coaching: Open to 10WGT graduates only.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens podcast, episode number 11. And we are diving into mistakes six through ten, of the top ten mistakes I see hard working students making in their study. So stay tuned to make sure your teen avoids them, or find out if they are making any of these mistakes. And not to worry if they are; I will also be sharing how to fix them.
Hey VIPs! I am so happy to be here with you. Here we are for the second half of my top ten mistakes I see students (and sometimes their super-supportive parents) making in their study, and how you and your teen can avoid them, or fix them if this is happening for your teen.
Now, it is not a problem if you're listening to this episode first - if you're getting mistakes six to ten, before one to five. But do you make sure that you go back and listen to episode 10 right after so that you have the full collection.
OK let's get into mistake #6. This is the mistake of revising passively. Using passive revision techniques. ‘I'm going to spend 3 hours revising my Business Studies topic for example, for a test. We want to know specifically what they are doing in order to do that revision. So they need to take the information that they have and they need to transform or process it into a different form. If it's already in note form then either, yes, they could condense it. (And just putting it onto palm cards or flash cards is not transforming. It is just putting it onto a different type of paper!). They need to actually transform it. So, it could be condensing notes, but even better, it would be taking something that is in paragraph form and turning it into something like a mind map, or a flow chart, or a diagram, or a sketch, a visual representation. And I know that this can be challenging for students who have essentially relied on taking lengthy notes to help them get information down and to review it. But, if they are also students who are spending hours upon hours upon hours studying, I wanted to share this with you because I want you to know that there are much more effective and efficient ways for them to be doing that study, particularly when it comes to revision. If they are not revising actively, then they risk not having the information really go in, not knowing if they truly understand it.
I've talked previously about ‘the Familiarity Delusion’ on episode 3, so definitely go and check that out. And the way to overcome or prevent ‘the Familiarity Delusion’ - that is, thinking they know something when really it is just familiar to them - is to revise actively not passively. To transform and process information from one format into another.
OK mistake #7: not knowing why they are doing something. In other words, this is not being strategic or intentional with their study, with their actions, with their time. So, I recently shared the story in my free five day parent Facebook group, of me as a student sitting in the library. This would have been in Year 13, second year of my A-Levels back in the UK. That would be the equivalent of Year 12 in Australia, Yeah 13 in NZ and for the IB Diploma. But I was there, doing ‘reading around the subject’. Developing some wider knowledge around the topics that I was studying. And I think that advice is so often given when students are basically already doing all of the other essentials. Like, they're doing the homework, they're doing their classwork, they're doing the extension tasks, but as a study coach and from a performance perspective and getting your teen maximum return on effort, I would say there are 50 other things that I would have a student doing in order to improve their exam technique, their study strategy, rather than just doing extra reading.
Because this was something I was doing just because I thought it would somehow help. I honestly, even sat there taking all these notes on this extra case study that I was looking up, even back then, I was kind of thinking to myself ‘I don't really know how this is going to help’. But I just believed the advice and so I did it because I was the hardworking student who wanted to do everything I could to try to improve my marks and give myself the best chance of performing really well in my final exams. And so that's what I did.
And I see it in students today they say to me things like
‘Oh, I'm just going to go through and write notes on this.’
And I'm like
And they can't always answer me.
‘I'm going to do some extra research before I get started on this assignment.’
And when I ask them
‘Okay, that's fine. Tell me why what is the purpose of you doing this?’
either they don't really know, or they'll say something like
‘Oh, I think I'll just be better off if I've got some more info.’
And as we know from the ‘knowledge plus application equals success’ formula, so often it is not more knowledge that is required.
For me, as the student sat in the library, I'd studied all of the information in terms of the topic, the syllabus, that I needed. I did not need more information. I certainly didn't need information that was beyond the course syllabus. I had the case studies that matched the topics. I would've been so much better off learning and understanding and practising and honing the six elements of exam technique for example. But of course, back then I didn't know them I didn't even know that was a thing.
And the same when students are doing certain tasks that maybe they have been set for homework. The teacher most likely knows what the point of that task was, but does your teen know? And of course I understand that there are some times where students are like ‘I don't know why we're doing this. This is a pointless task.’. Can they find, can they truly find, if they really think about it, can they find the reason why they could be doing that task? And if they really can't, then it's worth having a very polite and curious conversation with their teacher. Because there likely will be a reason that they are not aware of, and it will also help them complete that task in the most effective way. So, if they've been told to make a summary on something, then if they know the purpose of doing that, then they'll be able to choose the best way to make that summary. Is it for exam revision? Is it to get them prepared for an upcoming assignment, whatever it is? They will be able to then complete it in the way that's going to best serve them. Or they'll be able to come up with a reason for doing it, come up with a way that it is going to help them and then of course see the purpose of that task.
Very closely tied is mistake #8 and I have put this one in as a parent mistake. It is coming from, of course, a really well meaning place, and I think it is also coming from a place where parents aren't always sure on exactly how to train their teen in more strategic study; in exam technique, in the ways to maximise your teen's performance. And that is advising them to do more reading. Or wanting them to read more.
Now, of course there is nothing wrong with wanting your teen to, for example, expand their vocabulary. It's totally valid to want them to be exposed to different styles of writing. And it's all good to have them aware of the news in the world today. And I'm not saying that there isn't value in just reading for pleasure, or just to expand their knowledge in general. But, if this is a recommendation to help them get better marks, then I can tell you there are 50 other things that will more likely get them more of those marks, and maximise that return on at the time that they are putting in. All the effort are putting in, in doing that reading. Whether that's getting them really clear on commands, with getting them skilled up around mark schemes. Whether that's having them planning extended responses, or fully evaluating the results that they get back and the teacher feedback, and learning from it. Or the things that I train students in, in the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program and that we coach on in Next Level.
There are so many other things that will give them bigger bang for buck when it comes to getting the results that they’re after and really having to make the most of their time. And just to be really really clear, I am not saying that doing extra reading is bad. I'm not saying that we should discourage it at all. If your team loves to read for pleasure, if they are interested in certain topics and they just want to know more about them, or you've got other reasons for wanting them to do more reading, absolutely fine. But as a strategy for increasing their results and their grades, and their confidence in exams, and that performance in assignments, it is not in my top ten. It's not in my top 50. It's probably not even in my top 100, so I couldn't resist I had to put that one in.
Okay mistake #9. This is a good one. This is trying to be creative, and is particularly in those tasks that we think of as more creative; like coming up with a short story, or a narrative, or a piece of poetry, or designing a product of some sort. Because ‘create’ is a command. It is a level of cognition on Bloom’s Taxonomy. But here's what I know from having marked hundreds of different types of assessments, thousands upon thousands of exam papers and assignment tasks… Really, the command we should see here for these types of tasks is, honestly, ‘apply’. This is just a way to have your teen apply the knowledge, the techniques, the devices that they have been learning about.
So, let's take something like a short story, a creative piece. They are not going to get an excellent mark just for having some really creative, interesting storyline. Now for some students this is great news, and for some students this is bad news. But what I can say is, for most students, it will definitely save them time. Because it can take a long time to try and come up with something really unique and interesting. And although there will potentially be a criteria that is dedicated to the theme or the idea of the piece, most of the marks will be given instead to how they are able to use specific written techniques and language devices. How well they are getting in emotive vocabulary or imagery. How good their spelling, punctuation and grammar is. How good the structure of their piece is.
That will be 90% of the mark scheme. It is not about creating a really interesting story. The story or the design, or whatever it is that they are being asked to create, is simply the vehicle for them to be able to show that they understand all the devices that they've been learning about, and that they can use them effectively.
I always remember a student I was coaching two or three years ago now. This is always stuck with me. She was in Year 12 and she had to write a short story in response to a stimulus. They were given an image and they had to write a short story that was based in some way, shape or form, had some kind of link to the photograph that was provided on the paper. And in fact this actually ties back to mistake number two, because this was a seen task that they then had to write a response to in exam conditions. So she had done lots of practise. She'd had time to come up with a story line. And she told me that in her draft that she'd shown to her teacher, they had graded it as a B. However, when she completed the assessment as the in class exam, it came out getting a D. And this was exactly why she’d come to me. She was like
‘I can't understand why this has gone wrong. I retold the story the way that I'd planned it and I ended up with a D.’
So I went through it and here was the issue. She had retold the story. She got the same characters, she had the same events happening. But the parts that she had missed out were the language devices, the imagery, the emotive vocabulary. All of the ‘show not tell’ techniques and devices that students are taught to use and identify when they're studying a text or use for themselves when they’re doing their own piece of writing. It was those tiny little things like the metaphor, the simile, the onomatopoeia. It was those things that she had missed out. What feel like tiny little details but those are the things that the teacher - the marker - is looking for. The story was not important. Yes it had to tie to the stimulus, but the most important thing was that they could use the devices that go along with storytelling or high quality storytelling. And those are the things she had missed out.
As so many students do, they’d mistaken a piece of creative writing for needing to be creative, when really, it's about being able to apply the devices and techniques that they have been learning to a new situation; something that they have come up with.
OK final mistake mistake #10 and this is really an overarching mistake that covers all of the previous nine, and that is: thinking that effort equals results. Thinking that it is a straight line graph from zero effort means poor results to huge amounts of effort means amazing results. And as we probably all really do know deep down, that is not the case. And that is why it's important to not be planning and studying in a way that is just around time, or how many pages of notes are being written. It is not just about how much your teen is producing. I think I wrote three whole pages of notes on the extra case study I was doing in the library for my exam. Doing extra reading around the subject literally added nothing to my results. I could have just spent time chilling out or doing something else that would be a lot more effective. If they are studying for four hours every evening, are they spending that time doing the things that are going to give the maximum payoff? When they're revising, are they doing it in a way that is active and means that they truly do know and understand the content, and in a way that means their brain is memorising it and will have that information flow easily from brain to paper in the exam hall? There is no straight line graph that matches effort to results and that is both a fortunate and unfortunate fact. Unfortunate if your teen is putting in heaps and heaps of effort and is not getting the results that match that effort, but also fortunate when your teen learn the skills strategies techniques and tools for super effective and strategic study. This is how the students that go through my training and coach with me report that they are studying less and getting better results. This is how it happens. We identify where they're making these mistakes, we stop them, and we get them on the right track. So they not only know exactly what they're doing and how they're going to be doing it, but they also know why they're doing it. They've made intentional decisions about what topics they need to prioritise in their revision, what types of tasks or questions or commands they need to work on their skills for. This is what gets results.
So here's what I recommend. Identify which of those mistakes your teen is making and pick one to work on, to focus on, to get curious about, to build some awareness around, and to start to take action on this week. And if you would like your teem to have the skills and solutions for overcoming all of these and more, then definitely go download, if you haven't already the free parent guide: The Three Huge Mistakes Even Smart Students Make in Exams and Assignments. It's on the website www.rocksolidstudy.com/guide and if you already have that, check out the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program while you’re there. Click on the Program tab. And if your teen is already in the 10WGT and isn't yet in Next Level Coaching and you would love to have my eyes and my brain on them and their study, then I would love to have them join us in Next Level Coaching.
And I would love to hear from you! Drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know which of these top ten mistakes you think is the one holding your team back the most and what you're going to do to overcome it. I promise to respond to you personally.
I hope you have found that these top ten mistakes and the tips alongside them really useful.
I will see you back here next week.