The Importance of Failure

No student likes to perform poorly at school; nobody enjoys finding out that they have not achieved their goals. Nobody likes to fail. For students, failure does not always just mean getting an F on a test or an exam; it could mean getting negative comments on their attitude in their reports, achieving an average mark when they expected an excellent mark, getting a detention, receiving negative feedback, or simply failing to hand in all of their assignments on time.

When I was at school, I had moments like these, moments in which I felt upset or disappointed with myself. Fortunately, I had some very clever parents. They taught me that making mistakes was an important part of education. They told me that every failure was an opportunity to learn something new, and to improve next time. Failing to achieve your goals is an unpleasant experience, but today I will share the top 4 ways that you can help your child to use their mistakes to their advantage.


Test Grade


1. Taking Responsibility

There is one very easy way to spot a student who will be successful. They are not necessarily the ones that always get perfect marks on their tests and assignments; they are the ones who take responsibility for their own failure and their own success. The worst thing a student can say when they receive a bad mark is “the teacher marked me too harshly” or “everyone else in the class did badly too” or “this test doesn’t matter anyway.” By contrast, good students are the ones that know that they are in control of their performance at school. The teacher can only do so much; it is the student who must work hard, try new approaches, plan their own study schedule and set their own goals.

Whenever your child performs poorly at school, ask them what they can do better to improve next time. This doesn’t mean you should load blame on them; instead encourage them to think about what their goals are, what they might be doing wrong at the moment and what they can do to reach their goals more effectively in the future.


2. Becoming Flexible

Famous American inventor, Thomas Edison, famously said “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” One of the main reasons that Edison was so successful in his endeavours was that he always viewed failure as an opportunity. Every time he made a mistake, he learned not to repeat it.

A good student understands that failure is not a sign that they should give up; it is a valuable lesson about what works and what does not. A good student thinks about what they have done, why it has been unsuccessful, and decides to try something new. They might create a new study schedule, use a new way of memorising notes, or form a study group. They might realise that their way of approaching a particular question does not always work, and that they need to learn new techniques. The important thing is, in all cases, they have learned something new that will help them be more successful next time.

It is a good idea to encourage your child to analyse their successes and their failures. What factors might have influenced their performance? What does/doesn’t work? Is their something they can try next time?


3. Finding Your Limits

A student that is always pleased with their performance is a student who doesn’t push their limits. I knew many people in school who easily got As and Bs on every test. They never really slacked off, but they never pushed themselves either. They never had to experience failure. They were comfortable. Unfortunately, comfortable does not equal success.

If your child always sets goals that they can easily achieve, then they might not be aiming high enough. A student who is easily getting Bs on all of their tests should aim for an A. A student who is always getting As should aim to get 100%. They may not succeed at first, but they will have a clearer idea of what it will take to succeed next time.What’s more, they will be reminded that there are things that they still don’t know, things they still have to learn. The best way to motivate a student is to set them a goal that is just beyond their reach; it is about finding a goal that is achievable, but not so much so that they can immediately succeed.


4. Getting Motivated

When a student receives a disappointing mark on a quiz or an assignment, they will have one of 2 possible reactions:

  1. I studied hard and I still got a bad mark. What’s the point in trying?
  2. I got a bad mark. I want to do better than this. I’m going to make sure I do better next time.

Guess which student will end up performing better when it comes to exam time? As a parent, one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the ability to be motivated by failure. This can be as easy as helping your child set new goals and focus on what’s next. It’s easy to fixate on a poor performance, but it is important to encourage your child to believe that they have the ability to do better next time. Do not punish failure, but use it as a chance to talk about goals and motivation.

The key to success, especially for students, in understanding that failure is not the end. It is an opportunity to learn, grow and perform better in the future. And I am not the only one who thinks so. To prove it, I will leave you with my 5 favourite quotes about failure, from 5 extremely successful individuals throughout history.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
-Michael Jordan
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
-Thomas Edison
“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.
-Bill Gates
“The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas.”
-Albert Einstein


Getting The Most Out Of Your Study

I like to think that study is like exercise; you’re working hard to train a part of your body (in this case, the brain) to perform a certain task as well as possible. The harder and more efficiently you train, the more likely it is that you will succeed on game day. At this very moment, year 12 students across the country are pushing their brains to the limits, in the final stretch before their exams.


When an athlete is preparing for a big event, they often put a lot of thought into their training; they concentrate on diet, liquid intake, tracking progress, managing the amount of sleep they get, avoiding injuries and making sure they are psychologically prepared for their event. To put it simply, athletes are very good not just at working hard, but figuring out the most efficient way of doing so. Students, on the other hand, are not.

I see too many students with very poor study habits: they pull “all nighters”, they skip meals, they fill up on sugary snacks and energy drinks and they gaze blankly at page after page of notes, wondering why the information isn’t sticking in their mind. Would a professional athlete get away with such poor habits? No. And if your child really wants to perform well on their exams, then neither should they. So, on this note, today’s blog will be dedicated to providing tips on how your child can get the most out of their study time, and make the jump from amateur to pro!


1. Take Productive Breaks

Study does not follow mathematical rules. Some students assume that if they can get x amount of work done in 1 hour, then they can get 2x done in 2 hours, and 5x done in 5 hours. This is not so. The brain, like any other part of the body, gets fatigued over time. A student that studies non stop for 5 hours will usually find that the last 2 or so hours were completely wasted; they got distracted, unfocused and forgot most of what they learned.


This is not to say that students shouldn’t do much study; it just means that they need to be clever about how and when to take breaks. In my opinion, students should aim to take a 20 minute break every 1-2 hours. This means getting up from their desk, getting snack or something to drink and getting some fresh air. Taking regular breaks has two benefits. Firstly, it allows students to refresh their minds, clear their heads and start again with renewed energy. Secondly, it means that students will be more productive during work time; it is more likely that they will be motivated to work hard if their know that they can relax later.


2. Ask Yourself Questions

People love questions. All exciting books, movies and television shows rely on unanswered questions. Will the main character survive the explosion? Will the couple fall in love by the end of the movie? Who was the jewel thief? When the brain is given an unanswered question, it creates what is called a knowledge gap. A knowledge gap is something mysterious, something just out of reach, that you don’t know, but you really want to find out.

Questions and Answers signpost

So, what does this have to do with study? Knowledge gaps, as it turns out, can also be used to make study more rewarding, engaging and efficient. Students who ask themselves questions before studying are more likely to be motivated to search for an answer. Before your child delves blindly into their notes, they should write does some questions that they hope to answer. For example:

-How do I antidifferentiate logs?

-How does Shakespeare use symbolism within his sonnets?

-What was the name of the psychologist who invented the concept of Classical Conditioning?

-How am I supposed to solve question 13 from my last practice exam?

Already, your child is becoming more focused and curious about what they are about to study. Instead of just cruising through their notes, they will be hunting for answers. These questions are also a great way of gauging how successful a study session has been; if they can answer the questions by the end of their study session, they have been successful. If they can still answer the questions a week later, even better!


3. Activate Your Feelings

Close your eyes and think of the most memorable experience of your life. How do you remember it? Do you remember the sensations: how you felt, what you saw, what you heard, the smells and tastes that you encountered? Or do you remember words? Think about the last great book that you read. Do you remember what the characters looked like, what the location was like and how it made you feel, or do you remember the exact words?


Here’s the thing: the memory doesn’t like remembering words. Memories, more often than not are made up of sights and sounds and emotions. The more sensations and emotions that are in a memory, the stronger it will be. This applies to study. The more your child can use visual and emotional cues in their study, the more likely it is that information will stick in their head. Here are a few ways that they can do this.

-Use colour-coded highlighters to identify different ideas

-Use mind-maps to organise information

-Use acronyms or nemonics to remember lists of words

-Use a spatial location to remember information. Imagine all the things you have to remember sitting in different locations in your house.

-Try to develop emotional connections to characters, events within English texts.


4. Talk About It

Quite often, the best way to learn something is to teach it. This may sound strange, but it’s true. If you have to explain a concept to someone who is unfamiliar with it, your mind finds ways of breaking it down, making sense of it and simplifying it. If you can put a concept into words that easy to understand, then it is more likely that you will remember it in the long term.


I used to use this trick a lot when I way studying for my ATAR score. Fortunately for me, my mum used to like to ask a lot of questions about what I was doing over dinner. What’s your essay about? What does this poem mean? How did you solve that equation? What’s kinetic energy? Fortunately, by that point I had gotten over my moody teenage stage, so instead of ignoring her, I tried my best to explain everything to her. Sometimes, I would have to draw her diagrams, or give her step-by-step instructions. And the more I did this, the more confident I felt, and the more things started to make sense to me.


5. Look After Your Body

 The brain is not a computer; it is part of your body. It needs food, drink, sleep and exercise. If it is looked after, it will perform well. If it is neglected, it will not perform as needed. Students forget this far too often. They forget that, quite often, a good night’s sleep, a healthy meal, lots of water and regular exercise can do just as much good as an extra few hours of study. Looking after your body can help to increase focus, improve memory, enhance energy and reduce stress and anxiety. If your child needs a reminder of this, show them the following list.

 Things that your brain likes

-8 hours of sleep each night

-Half an hour of exercise each day

-Fresh air

-Study breaks

-Big, healthy meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner

-Fruit and vegetables

-Lots of water

-Talking to people

Things that your brain hates

-Energy drinks

-Too much coffee

-Too much sugar

-Late nights


-Lack of physical exercise

-Lack of fresh air

-Looking at screens for too long

-Lack of social interraction

Too much facebook


Just like a professional athlete looks after and trains their body, your child needs to think about how they are treating their mind. Hard work, does not always equal success; it is not necessarily how hard your child works, but how cleverly, efficiently and productively their use their time that will determine how happy they will be when the ATAR scores arrive. If they can step back, think about their habits, and make plans to get the most of their study, their brain will thank them.

Last Minute VCE Study Tips

For all the year 12 students out there, it is approaching the business end of the year. Within a month, thousands of Victorian students will be sitting their VCE exams in the hope of achieving a high ATAR score in order to be offered a place in the university course of their choice. Some will be successful, others will not, but each and every one of them will probably start feeling the pressure of looming exams in the coming month.

If your child is sitting their VCE exams this year, then the next few weeks are absolutely vital to whether or not they will be successful. No matter how hard they have worked over the past year, it is what they do in the final weeks of study and exam preparation that really makes a difference. And it’s not merely a matter of working hard; it’s a matter of thinking ahead, assessing your weaknesses, planning your approach and figuring out exactly what you need to do to be 100% prepared for your exams.

Today, I will be giving 5 last minute VCE study tips, aimed to ensure that your child’s study over the coming weeks is structured, efficient and successful.


1. Figure out what you need to know

This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many students charge in blindly, reading all their notes, writing out revision sheets and attempting practice exams without actually knowing exactly what skills they will be tested on during their exams.

It’s a great idea for your child to track down the study designs for each of their subjects. These can be found on the VCAA website here. These study designs give a very clear list of exactly what your child is expected to know for the exam, and exactly what types of questions they might receive.


2. Prioritise

Once your child has found the study designs for their subjects, these can be used to figure out what areas they need to focus on. It’s a good idea for your child to look through the study design and make a note of whether they find each area easy, medium or hard. This can be done after a practice exam, or while revising notes and SACs from earlier in the year. Once your child knows which areas are the most challenging, it’s much easier for them to figure out what they should focus on first.


3. Make a plan

Planned study is good study. Before your child even starts to revise for their exams, they should have a very clear plan. They should think about the following question.

-When is each of my exams?

-How long do I have to study for each subject?

-How many different topics are in each subject?

-Which topics do I have the most difficulty on?

-When will I study each topic?

-How many practice exams do I have available?

-When should I try my practice exams?

The point of making a good study plan is that, on any given day, your child should know exactly what subject they will be studying that day, which unit they will be focusing on, and what tasks they need to complete. It’s also a great way of making sure that your child doesn’t panic; it’s much easier to feel calm about study if you have a clear plan of how and when you are going to get it all done.


4. Make the most of practice exams

There’s a good way to do a practice exam and there’s a bad way.


The bad way looks like this:

-Sitting down at the start of SWOT VAC and completing as many practice exams as possible.

-Guessing the answer to questions you don’t understand

-Ticking all the answers you got right and crossing all the answers you got wrong.

-Getting a bad score.

-Feeling sad.

-Thinking “I better study harder.”


The good way looks like this

-Making sure you know how many practice exams you have available

-Spacing out your practice exams so you can complete roughly 1 per week throughout the study period

-Making sure you have all required resources available

-Making sure you take the practice exam under test conditions

-Taking note of which questions you didn’t understand

-Carefully going over your results once you have finished to see which areas you are confident with and which areas you need to focus on in the future

-Using the examiners report to figure out how you should have answered each incorrect question


The difference between these two approaches is this: What you do after the practice exam is just as important as what you do during the practice exams. Practice exams should be used to assess your own progress and figure out which areas you need to focus on in the coming weeks.


5. Take time to reflect

Every time you sit a practice exam, you should reassess your progress. Did you perform better than last time? Did you do any better on topics that you struggled on last time? Did your study help? Why/why not? What should you focus on in the near future? How can you modify your study schedule to be more successful?

The more you think honestly about your progress, the more likely it is that you can think of ways to improve.


Good luck!


Everything You Need To Know About The SEAL Program

When I say SEAL, you may be thinking of the cute animal that swims in the sea. I am talking about the Select Entry Accelerated Learning program, an initiative run by the Victorian Education Department to ensure that talented, gifted and motivated students are given the best possible chance to achieve excellent in their education. The program runs for years 7-10 and allows advanced students a chance to work at a more advanced pace and level. If you think your child is talented, motivated, and is not currently being adequately challenged by their school work, then I recommend you read on as I answer some frequently asked questions about the SEAL program.

What does the SEAL program involve?

The SEAL program allows gifted students in a variety of Victorian public schools to progress through more advanced course work at a faster pace than they would have otherwise been able to. The program is perfect for students who are not feeling challenged by the level of the rest of their class, and are looking for a greater challenge.

Student enrolled in a SEAL program usually complete the years 7-10 of their high school education in 3 years. This leaves them with more options for how they wish to complete their final VCE years. Some students finish their VCE in the next two years, while others use the extra year to complete a wider range of VCE and university extension subjects. In the end, this extra year will ultimately give students a far greater chance of achieving the high ATAR score that they desire.

Would the SEAL program help my child?

The SEAL program is designed for students entering high school who are hard working, dedicated, experienced, creative and who have a high level of maturity and the ability to work and learn independently. If you think this may be your child, then have a go at answering the following questions.

Is your child at the top of their class at school?

Did your child perform above average on their NAPLAN test?

Are you concerned that your child is being held back by the pace of their class?

Does your child ever complain that their schoolwork is too easy?

Is your child able to work hard on their homework without being nagged?

Is your child constantly motivated to achieve?

Will your child be commencing secondary school in two years?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then your child may just be the perfect candidate for the SEAL program. A SEAL program could provide your child with the challenge that they need, as well as giving the best possible support in achieving their goals.

Which schools offer a SEAL program?

When choosing high schools for your child, it is worth checking whether they have a SEAL program. There are currently 36 schools in Victoria that offer the SEAL program, located in both metropolitan and rural areas of the state.

Balwyn HS Emerald SC
McGuire College Wodonga Middle Years College
Bellarine SC Fairhills HS
Mill Park SC Trafalgar HS
Belmont HS Gladstone Park SC
Mordialloc College University HS
Box Hill HS Horsham College
Mount Clear SC Wangaratta HS
Brighton SC Keilor Downs College
Mount Erin SC Warrnambool College
Brunswick SC Koo Wee Rup SC
Reservoir District SC Werribee SC
Buckley Park College Lilydale HS
Rosebud SC Westall SC
Dandenong HS Lyndale SC
Sale College Williamstown HS
Gleneagles SC Matthew Flinders Girls HS
Staughton College Emerald SC

Each school has different entry requirements for the program, so it’s best to deal with things on a case-by-case basis. Decide which schools are close to you and interest you, and then check their website for information of their SEAL program. This will let you know what the school offers, and how and when your child should apply.

What are the entry requirements?

Students that wish to be accepted for a SEAL program usually have to sit a series of tests and interviews. Though the exact details vary from school to school, most school use testing companies, such as Edutest to provide their tests. These tests are designed to assess a range of abilities such as reading comprehension, mathematics skills, written expression, verbal and numerical reasoning.

Quite often, students are asked to answer questions that they have never faced before. They may be challenged with unfamiliar words, complex scenarios or advanced mathematical principles. The point of these tests is to identify which students are truly able to excel under challenging conditions. The tests usually take place in the middle of the year. Most of the tests for 2014 entry will have already been completed, but if your child is entering high school in 2015, then now is the time to start researching, planning and preparing.

How can I find out more?

If you want to find out more about SEAL programs, there a number of resources you can use. The website for the Department of Education is a good place to go for all the official guidelines and information on the program.

If you want specific information about entry requirements and test dates, these can be found by checking the website of the school that you’re interested in. If you want to talk to someone one-on-one, you can also call the SEAL coordinator at each school. Here is a convenient list of their contact details.

If you want any advice or information about what your options are, whether your child would benefit from a SEAL program, and how you can prepare your child for the entrance test, we’re here to help. We provide a range of classes that give students all the skills they will be tested on, including essay and narrative writing, mathematics skills and advanced numerical and verbal reasoning. Find more information on our website here or call us for free on 1800 668 177.


Why I Don’t Like The Word “Smart”

I don’t like the word “smart” because, when you think about it, it doesn’t really mean much. We use “smart” as a stand in word for some mysterious quality that allows students to remember information, solve problems and get good marks. What’s worse is that, because it is such a vague and ambiguous term, the word “smart” is often thrown around as an excuse. Students who do not achieve their goals complain that “I’m just not smart enough,” while other students thing “I’m smart already, so I don’t have to work as hard as other students.”

The main problem with the word “smart” is that it implies that our success, our failure and our performance are out of our control. We are either born smart or we are not, and there’s not much we can do about it. That’s why I’d like us to stop thinking about our students and our children as “smart.” I would like to suggest 4 better words that can be used to describe successful students: words that remind us that we are all capable of achieving success.


1. Experienced

Experienced students are students who have seen it all. When they are given a maths problem, they have already done a similar question before. When they are doing a reading comprehension, they have seen all the words before in different contexts. When they are trying to write an essay, they know exactly how to structure it because they have done it dozens of times before. Students aren’t born with these experiences; they build them up through hard work. Naturally talented students will never be able to compete against students who complete all their homework, read a wide variety of books and newspapers, practice their writing and constantly strive to expand their experience.


2. Flexible

Flexible students are students who never give up. If they are unsuccessful with one way of solving a problem, they try another and another and another until they get the result they’re after. These are the students that, if stranded in the middle of a forest with nothing but a magnifying glass and a piece of string, would figure out a way to get home. When teaching VCE maths, I see a lot of intelligent students who give up too easily when faced with an unfamiliar problem. One of the best skills a student can learn is the ability to not give up too easily. If they’re stuck on a difficult maths problem, encourage them to brainstorm all the different possible ways of solving it and then try each of them, one by one. If they are struggling to write a story or an essay, encourage them to imagine how other people might view the subject from other perspectives.


3. Motivated

99% of the time, if you compare a naturally gifted student who doesn’t care about schoolwork with an average student who is driven to learn, it is the motivated student that will ultimately be more successful. Motivation is truly one of the most amazing skills that a student can develop. It’s the one thing that Albert Einstein, Steven Hawkins, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and William Shakespeare all had in common: the ability to set personal goals and work hard to achieve them. And this is something that every student can learn. They just have to actively think about what they want, how they can get it, and what they have to do today to start achieving their goals.


4. Curious

When children are very young, they are always asking “why?” Why is the sky blue? Why do people get old? Why can’t dogs talk? As they get older, some students stop asking why; others don’t. Successful students are often the curious ones: the ones that are always eager to learn more. These are the students who are more likely to get a more complex, and more involved understanding of everything they learn, because they are active in their learning. You should encourage your child’s curiosity; if they ask you how many stars there are in the Milky Way, or what year the Queen was born, or how to spell “constitutionally”, encourage them to search for an answer. If you can get them excited and curious about learning more about the world, the rest will take care of itself.


Let me know what you think. Do you have any words you prefer to “smart”? What qualities do you think makes a student successful?