Four Forgotten Skills Your Child Needs To Master


There are many ways that teachers and parents assess children’s intelligence: problem solving skills, mathematical ability, memory, spelling and grammar skills, general knowledge, comprehension, motivation and, of course, test scores. The problem is, the more we focus on these obvious skills, the more we overlook other very important components to success. Some students do amazingly on all of their tests, have great general knowledge and amazing memories and still don’t do as well as they want to when it really matters: on their VCE exams. Why? The answer is because we assume that


This could not be further from the truth. Success is made up of many different skills and abilities. Today, I wanted to talk about the 4 forgotten skills that all successful students possess, and other students often ignore.

1. Handwriting

In comparison to students of the past, today’s students spend very little of their time actually writing by hand. Classes today are often computer based, and students just aren’t used to writing by hand for an extended period of time. This is a problem when it comes to exams. In their exams, students will be required to write almost nonstop for up to 3 hours! If they haven’t practiced their handwriting, their hands won’t be able to cope with the strain; it’s like trying to run a marathon without any training. They may not finish their essays or, even worse, their examiners might not be able understand what they have written. On the other hand, a student who is able to write quickly and clearly without any discomfort will have an amazing advantage over other students. It may seem silly, but practicing handwriting is a worthwhile investment for your child.

2. Organisation

There are a few things that students aren’t taught in high school; one of them is organisation. Teachers will assume that your child has an efficient system of storing their notes, keeping track of their assignments and revising before exams. If they don’t, their studies will soon turn into a chaotic, panicky mess. Yet its amazing how many students don’t value organisation; they assume that, if they are clever enough, or work hard enough, they will be OK. The truth is, no matter how intelligent you are, organised study will always be more efficient and productive that disorganised study.

 3. Self Awareness

Students are often terrible at this one. They lie to themselves, they make excuses, they exaggerate their abilities and ignore their shortcomings, they tell themselves that difficult things don’t matter, that small things won’t add up to big things and that everything will be OK in the end. Successful students, on the other hand, are honest with themselves. They know what they are doing well, and they know their weaknesses. They recognise when they have made a mistake and they work on improving themselves. Successful students are able to look at themselves in the mirror and ask:

  • What am I doing well?
  • What do I need to improve?
  • How will I improve?
  • What don’t I understand?
  • How can I do to find out the answers I need?
  • Am I doing enough to achieve my goals?
  • What else can I do?

This activity is not intended to make students feel guilty. Rather, it is meant to encourage them to take responsibility for their own performance and realise that they alone have the power to achieve success.

4. Creativity

Creativity is not just about being able to paint beautiful pictures or tell interesting stories. Creativity is the ability to look at a difficult situation and thing “what are the different ways that I can approach this.” There are some students out there who have one way of dealing with a problem. Whether it is a maths question or an essay prompt, they have one direct solution that they like to use every time.

The problem is, if this doesn’t work, the student becomes stuck.

A creative student is a student who knows that there is many ways to approach and interpret a question. If one formula doesn’t work, they try another. If they can’t think of enough evidence for one argument in their essay, they come up with another argument.

Creativity is not an easy thing to teach; it requires students to ask themselves questions.

  • Is that the only way I could have gotten that answer?
  • What if I had done something else? Would I have gotten the same answer?
  • How would someone in a different situation approach this question?
  • Is my answer the only answer? What might the opposing view be?

As you can see, intelligence alone is not enough to ensure success. It is far more complex.


There is no doubt that there is more to this formula that I have missed. What else do you think contributes to success? What else could we add? Let me know in the comments!

The Key To A Well Written Narrative

No matter what year your child is in at school, it is likely that they will, at some point, have to write a short narrative. If your child is sitting a Scholarship or Selective test, then narrative writing is one of the main skills that they will be tested on. There are some people who think that the ability to write a good story is something that cannot be taught. I do not agree. I believe that, while the ability to come up with interesting and exciting ideas ay come naturally to some students more than others, the ability to express those ideas effectively in a narrative form requires students to master a specific set of skills and techniques. So, if you want your child to become a master storyteller, check out these 5 tips for writing great narratives.

1. Simplify Your Narrative

One of the biggest mistakes students make when writing narratives is being over ambitious. If you have an hour, or even half an hour to write a story, it is impossible to produce an epic novel. When students try to fit in too many characters, settings, plot twists and backstories, their narratives tend to come across as rushed, confusing or incomplete. As a rule, a short narrative should be limited to:

-2 to 4 main characters

-1 to 2 main scenes

-1 main ploblem that the characters need to overcome

-1 main climax, in which the main problem reaches a resolution

By simplifying their narratives, students can dedicate their time to producing one of two well-written scene, an exciting climax and some fully fleshed out characters, instead of rushing to catch up with all the loose ends in their overloaded plot.

2. Use Contrast

When writing, students should always ask themselves “what is the difference between these two characters?” When it comes down to it, if you are going to have two characters in a narrative that are exactly the same, what’s the point? Interesting stories use contrast to highlight what is different and unique about the characters. For example, look at the following list of contrasting character traits:

Shy                              Outgoing

Trustworthy              Gossipy

Dramatic                    Casual

Easily-Angered          Passive

Generous                    Greedy

Lazy                            Active

If you put characters with opposite personalities together in a scene, it is going to be much more interesting than if you put two characters who are exactly the same. Readers should be able to tell the difference between your characters based solely on how they act and what they say.

3. Use Dialogue

Most students know how to use dialogue, but a lot of students don’t understand how powerful it can be. Dialogue is more than just conversations; there are several things you can do with dialogue. You can let the reader know what has just happened, you can build suspense and you can show people’s relationships. Most importantly, dialogues can be used to show character.

Think about the following questions: “can I have a cup of coffee?” How would a nervous person ask this questions? How would a rude person ask this question? How would a greedy person ask this question? How would a calm person ask this question? Think about how your character is feeling, and what kind of person they are, and try to show this through their speech.

“Give me a cup of coffee!”

“Can – um – can I have a glass, I mean, a cup of coffee? Please?”

“Cup of coffee please. Two sugars.”

“I’ll have a small coffee please. Is sugar free? Good; give me five packets of sugar.”

4. Use Your Senses

When we enter an unfamiliar place, we don’t just experience it with our eyes: we smell it, we hear it, we feel it and we sometimes even taste it. When we’re reading stories, the more of our senses are activated, the stronger the impression we get. Think about these two paragraphs:

Jim walked into the carnival. There was a popcorn cart to his left. The Ferris wheel loomed over him.

Jim walked into the carnival and his ears were met with a wall of music and laughter. The air was cool. Jim smelled the aroma of melted butter and salt wafting from the popcorn cart to his left. He could taste the saltiness in the air. He heard screams above him and looked up to see the twinkling lights of a Ferris wheel.

And remember, the sensory imagery used should reflect the mood of the scene. A happy scene will have pleasant smells, tastes, textures, sights and sounds. A scary scene might have eerie sounds, disgusting smells, sour tastes, rough textures and terrifying sights!

5. Show, Don’t Tell

This is one of the most common pieces of advice given to narrative writers. Basically, it means that a good story teller doesn’t tell their readers what to think or feel; a good story teller makes their readers feel a certain way. For example, let’s say we wanted to write a story about a character who is mean…

Tell: Old Mr. Johnson was a mean man. He was unkind to his neighbours.

Show: Old Mr. Johnson glared unhappily at the neighbourhood children playing next door. When the children waved to him, he shook his cane and yelled “get out of my sight you rotten kids!”

Which description do you think is more effective? In the second one, you didn’t have to be told that Old Mr. Johnson was a mean man. The author showed you he was mean by the way he acted and the things that he said.

Being a good writer is not a skill that your child can develop overnight; it takes lots of practice. The good news is, students are often full of fantastic and interesting ideas. If they keep these 5 tips in mind, it is far more likely that they will be able to clearly and effectively express all the exciting ideas that they have in their heads.

VCE Success Is Doing One Thing Each Day

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The older a student gets, the more they will be expected to work independently and set their own study habits. Whilst, in primary school and in the early years of high school, students are told exactly what they should be doing with their time, VCE students are expected to set their own study schedules. A lot of VCE students find this terrifying! To them, the task of studying hard in roughly 6 different subjects over the course of 2 years and achieving an ATAR score seems an impossibly huge task. When this happens, students can often become paralysed by the enormity of their task.


“How am I supposed to do all of this?” they often ask.

The metaphor of the mountain is a good way of thinking about this. No matter how strong a person is, there is no way that they could lift an entire mountain. Could you? In a similar sense, no matter how gifted a student is, there is no way they can possibly achieve VCE success overnight. So, how do we move this gigantic VCE mountain?

The answer is simple. We break it up, and do one thing each day.


When you think about it, the larger goal “get a good ATAR score” can easily be broken into hundreds of smaller tasks:

-Update my art folio each week

-Rewrite my notes after each English class

-Finish reading my Literature text

-Write a revision sheet for my Physics SAC

-Ask my Biology teacher to explain photosynthesis to me again

-Make a plan for my Psychology report

-Do another draft of my Legal studies essay

-Revise my Japanese vocabulary words every Monday night…

The list goes on!

The interesting thing about these little tasks is that students often don’t think they make much of a difference. They assume that, because these tasks are small, they won’t make much of a difference to the final result. People are funny like that; we don’t like doing things unless we are rewarded instantly. We are terrible at thinking in the long term. So we say things like…

“I’ll do that later.”

“I’ll study hard closer to my exams.”

“Just one day off won’t hurt.”

“That topic is easy, I don’t really need to study for it.”

But here’s the truth… Listen carefully… Print it out and stick it up above your child’s desk…

It is the small tasks that make large goals achievable.

Successful people are the people who do something small every day.

Every day, your child should ask themselves: “What is one thing I can do today that will get me closer to my goal?” It may not be a huge task, it may not seem vital. The important thing is that each day, they are doing something.



Because over the course of 2 years…


Small things…


Have a tendency to build up…


Into larger things…




And that is how VCE success happens.


Does your child do something small each day, or do they try to “move a mountain” at the last minute? What are some things that your child can do TODAY to move closer to their goal? Share your experiences with us in the comments! [hr]

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Maths: How To Catch Up If You’re Behind

Whether they like it or not, Maths is one of the most important subjects that your child will have to face at school. It is also the one that can cause the most stress for students who struggle with the concepts. At Spectrum Tuition, we meet a lot of students who, for one reason or another, have fallen behind in Maths. Some of them have missed important lessons due to holidays or illness, some were not dedicated to their studies until it was too late, and some just found particular topics confusing. However it happens, the result is always the same: students become demoralised, anxious and unmotivated. They start associating Maths with all things negative, they decide that they “just don’t get Maths” and their grades start to suffer.

So, what can you do if your child has fallen behind? How can you help them improve if every lesson seems to leave them more and more confused? There is hope. Just follow our 5 steps for helping your child regain their confidence!


Step 1. Recognise That It Will Take Time

There is no magical cure for this problem. Your child will not catch up on weeks, months or years of mathematic skills overnight! It is important to think about improvement as a long-term goal. Instead of your child staying up all night cramming for their exam the night before, it is a better idea to set aside one or two hours a week, on top of their other work, to focus on improving their maths skills. It’s amazing how much that little amount of time each week will add up in the long term.

Step 2. Work On The Basics

Often, the biggest hurdle that causes students to fall behind in Maths is a lack of basic number skills. Think about it: how are they supposed to master complex equations if they are unable to quickly perform basic multiplication, division, subtraction and addition problems? That’s like trying to write a story if you don’t even know the alphabet!

The best place to start is the basics; make sure your child knows their 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 times tables. Make sure they understand the relationship between multiplication and division, and then teach them long division. Make sure they can add and subtract numbers with a large amount of digits. For older students, make sure they understand how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions. Without these basic skills, it’s impossible to tackle more complex mathematical concepts.

Step 3. Build On What They Know

One of the good things about maths is that it is cumulative. Throughout most of high school, students usually cover the same basic topics every year: fractions, area, volume, number skills, probability, problem solving and algebra. Each year, these topics get harder and harder, but they are still founded on the same basic skills learned in previous years. If your child is struggling with a particular topic, encourage them to remember what they have learned about it in the past. This is a good time to look at their previous work and jog their memory. Once you know what they remember, what they have forgotten, and what they still don’t understand, you will be in a much better position to move forward.

Step 4. Don’t Get Overwhelmed

It is so easy for students to get overwhelmed with maths. There is a fine line between a challenging question and a question that looks like absolute nonsense. If your child is overwhelmed with too many ideas, concepts and questions at one time, they are more likely to forget everything they have learned. That’s why it’s important to focus on one topic at a time. Start with simple questions that your child is confident with. Once your child is getting all of the questions right, move up to a more difficult type of question. The trick is to find the balance between work that is challenging and work that is too difficult.

Step 5. Get Help

If Maths is hard, explaining Maths to a confused student is even harder. Often parents have trouble communicating complex ideas with their children. What’s more, some parents don’t have the time or expertise to help their child catch up on their Maths. That’s what we’re here for. We have over 10 years of experience is getting students back to being confident, happy and successful in class. When students come to us, we give them a free assessment to see what level their mathematics skills are, so that their tutor knows exactly what kind of help they need. If you would like to book a free assessment for your child, click here.

Today is the best day to start helping your child get back on track. The sooner they regain their confidence, the happier and more successful their education will be.