We know that parents care about their children’s progress in school, and academic results or grades are one of the first things you look at. That’s understandable, considering that numbers in school reports or exam results are easy to interpret. The higher the marks, the better their children must be doing in high school.  

At Kalibrate-Ed, we don’t believe that marks alone define students. Rankings or results are simply one dimension of success or measurement of future potential (of many!) we see consider when working with our students and their families. This isn’t because marks aren’t important—they are, but not for the overly simplistic superficial weight they’re often given in mainstream discussion.

Having worked with thousands of students, we know that strong academic performance is a reliable indicator of functional strengths coming together—things like effective study habits, time management, ability to resist distractions and get back on track, starting things early, consistency… and so many other fundamental skills any adult needs to be successful. So rather than focusing on only the mark, which limits your child’s opportunity for success — we help students understand how individual exam preparation components come together to help them master the exam.

By equipping students with the right tools, students become more motivated. So, it’s easier to put in the work and more rewarding when they pull out a fantastic result—and the effect positively compounds itself from there. So it’s not just about the marks — the number itself, but about the skills a child acquires, develops, and builds over time to achieve those ideal outcomes that parents are really looking for.   

The Gap: Exam Mastery Overlooked in Traditional Learning  

Traditional learning methods focus primarily on content and knowledge rather than building skills, problem-solving and resilience under pressure. Yet, exams ask so much more of students than simply what they know. There’s an understanding of knowledge but most importantly, application of that knowledge to the specific question at hand. For some odd reason, techniques for exam masteries are often given a backseat in day-to-day classroom teaching. We know what exam technique is because it’s thrown around like a buzzword and mentioned occasionally (most commonly, at parent-teacher interviews). Still, most educators don’t really focus on how a child’s gained knowledge is applied to an exam scenario, which is a completely different setting from just burying your nose in a textbook to absorb all the information you can get.  

When most schools talk about ‘exam technique’, it’s almost always in the form of a seminar or workshop geared towards a year group or cohort — not tailored to a child’s unique learning profile (also known as ULP). And even then, it will be on the “what” of an exam, not the “how.” Even one-on-one private tutoring focuses on a child’s subject-specific needs rather than overall strategy.   Wouldn’t it make more sense to reverse engineer the process, spend more time on strategies and skills to deal with exams, and understand a child’s ULP to build resilience against exam pressure?   

We’re not saying that content and knowledge are unimportant. In fact, gaining knowledge is at the heart of learning. But did you know that 55% of students admit to feeling very anxious about an exam even if they’ve prepared well? This highlights the gap between exam preparations, and skills and confidence required for exam mastery. We’ve worked with brilliant students who understand topics like the back of their hands and know far beyond necessary information. But when they’re in the exam room, it’s like their mind just blanks, or they second-guess themselves. Worse yet is when panic rises and their brain just freezes. Experts estimate that up to two-thirds of NSW secondary students are under-practised in their direct application of theoretical knowledge to unseen questions under exam conditions. 

And it’s not just problematic that most students aren’t performing at their highest potential in exams. The issue goes deeper than that because when they think they’ve put in the effort but then don’t get the result they were hoping for—that really affects their confidence and long-term relationship with their learning. And this is why they need your support, now more than ever—when there’s time to reset before the next year.   

Strategies for Exam Mastery  

So many parents and students seem to think that exam preparation only starts when the assessment notification is issued. In reality, planning to achieve strong exam results starts long before an assessment is even mentioned.  The full exam preparation process can be divided into 11 to 13 steps (depending on a student’s aspirations) distinct stages, each one building upon the last.  

Unfortunately, most students and parents are only aware of five steps in full exam preparation:  

  • Class notes.  
  • Study notes.   
  • Exam notes.   
  • Practice questions.   
  • Practice papers.  

It gets worse. Studies show that students who score below 70% only complete two of these steps — at most! Yes, this represents a huge gap where easy marks are lost but a more helpful way to flip the perspective is that it also represents a huge opportunity for us to support children in strategic and holistic exam preparation so they can develop lifelong skills for both exams and life beyond the classroom.   

female tutor with teenage student in the library studying

You may wonder, “What can I do to help my child complete all the stages of full exam mastery?”  

As their ultimate source of support, there are three key actions you can take to help them cover all bases and boost their chances for better performance and higher marks. 

Planning is key.  

Creating a process to strategise and optimise your child’s exam preparation timeline should be a collaborative effort between you and your child. Gather all the details, materials, and due dates to organise everything into a single view. Make sure your child’s assessment weights and results are tracked, too. If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your child’s assessments, check out the assessment planner our students used to get a 99 ATAR and above here 

Implement with guidance.  

Suppose your child lacks the organisation needed to implement holistic exam preparation. In that case, they might think, “I’m not sure if it’s the right way.” That makes it so easy for students to want to avoid an unfamiliar strategy, and that’s okay. If you’re trying to change something for the better, it always starts from being a little bit unsure. But with a little guidance, you can help take some uncertainty away. You don’t have to do this alone. Expert strategists like our coaches at Kalibrate-Ed can help you. We can understand exactly how they think, and we know how to coach them through getting that response on paper without feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable. Now, that’s where the magic really happens.  

Build confidence in their performance.   

Based on a 2023 survey by ACER and AERO, 20% of secondary school students in Australia had not yet mastered reading, writing, and numeracy. Without full mastery of these basic academic skills, it’s inevitable for students to be anxious about exams that highlight the need for these skills. But there are ways to inoculate your child and prepare them for stress-inducing conditions so that when they get to the real exam day, they are a lot more confident and ready.   

Student performance thrives under a healthy amount of stress. But children do need guidance in simulating these kinds of situations because studies also indicate that over-confidence (maybe from thinking they’ve already done things, feeling cocky, complacency that they know things without checking) can also hinder their performance.  

The common denominator of all these actions is that it goes beyond memorising what’s inside a textbook and hones lifelong learning skills like stress management, organisation, and problem-solving skills that come with mastering exam techniques. The benefits do not have to end there — 2021 research by NCVER found that focusing on lifelong learning can promote adaptability, critical thinking, and self-directed learning, which are essential for adolescent success in school and beyond.  

There’s so much more we can do for your child, and these three actions are just the beginning. If you want to dive deeper and foster lifelong learning for your child, we’re preparing a SECRET weapon to help parents make their children start on the right note. Happening soon, so stay tuned!