How To Talk To Your Child About Their Academic Attitude

There comes a time in most parents’ lives when they are concerned that their child is simply not putting enough effort into their studies. They may have gotten a bad mark on a test, or negative comments on their report, or received a detention for incomplete homework. This can be a difficult time for a parent; you know that you have to be firm but, at the same time, you are worried that if you if you approach it the wrong way, if you nag, threaten, bribe or embarrass your child, they are unlikely to respond positively. So, how do you talk to a child about their academic attitude in a way that will leave them feeling supported and motivated? Here are my 5 top tips.

1. Set A Positive Tone

Children are excellent at detecting tone. From the beginning of the conversation, they will instantly detect any anger or negativity in your voice. This is likely to make your child defensive, leading them to make up excuses, deflect responsibility and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. As hard as it may be, you need to establish a positive tone to the discussion. Try starting by stating their strengths. Here are some examples…

“You got really amazing marks in English this year. Imagine if you could do that well in Maths as well!”

“You’re a really smart kid. We think you’re capable of performing well on your exams. What can we do to help you with this?”

“I know you want to get in to a Science degree after VCE. I want to make sure you have the best possible chance of being successful. You deserve it.”

2. Focus On Their Goals

As you surely know, it’s very hard to motivate your child to do something unless it is linked to something that they personally care about. Any discussion on academic improvement should start with a discussion of your child’s personal academic goals. Ask them what they want to achieve this year, what new skills they want to learn and what marks they want to achieve on their exams. Try to make this an enjoyable process, in which your child can imagine how proud and satisfied they will be if they achieve these goals. The more positive emotions you can connect to goal setting, the more successful it is likely to be.

3. Formalise An Action Plan

The goal of any productive discussion should be the formulation of a clear action plan. Once you have discussed your child’s goals, talk about what they (and you) can do to make sure they achieve the goals. This could involve formulating a study plan, organising extra tutoring, setting aside time each day to revise skills or organising resources. The more specific this plan can be, the better. For example, a good, specific action plan might look like this…

Goal: Improve my spelling by the end of the term

Things I have to do:

1. Practice my spelling words for 10 minutes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday night.

2. After each spelling test on Monday, write out the words I got wrong 10 times each.

3. Read for 20 minutes every Monday and Thursday night to improve my vocabulary.

4. Create a progress chart to monitor my improvement over the term.

4. Follow Up Regularly

There’s no point in having a productive discussion and formulating a clear action plan if it’s all forgotten by the next week. Once you have set goals with your child, make sure that you sit down with them every week or two and discuss how their progress is going. Has the action plan improved their performance, or are they falling back into old habits? Is there anything that you need to modify to improve the plan? Academic improvement is not something that happens overnight. It requires a constant process of trial, error, reflection and improvement.

5. Don’t Revert To Threats Or Bribes

As difficult as it might be, it is important not to revert to threats (such as taking away their video games or not allowing them to see friends) or bribes (such as a present or money) to motivate your child to improve. While this may motivate them in the short term, encouraging your child to focus on the consequences of their performance, rather than the feeling of pride and satisfaction they will get from working hard, will ultimately fail as a long term motivational technique. The second that the threat or bribe is taken away, their motivation will disappear as well.

If you would like any more information on how you can help your child improve their attitude towards education, please feel free to contact us at We’re always happy to help!

Student Writing

4 Adjectives That Successful Students Never Use

Words are immensely powerful. The words we use don’t just express what we think and feel, they actually change the way we think and feel about things. This is no less evident than in education. The way students talk about their studies, their strengths, their weaknesses and their plans often has a dramatic impact on their attitude and their ability to achieve their goals. Today, I wanted to give 4 examples of adjectives that a successful, dedicated and motivated student should never use, and suggest alternate words that can change the way students think about themselves and their education.


1. Unfair

This word is on the top of my list, because it is the most common word that I hear students use when they don’t want to admit ownership of their own performance. Too often I hear students complain that they received an unfair mark because their teacher doesn’t like them, or because the exam didn’t cover the topics they had learned, or because their computer crashed. While these excuses are sometimes valid, more often than not the word “unfair” is a way of deflecting responsibility.

What successful students say instead:

Successful students use every poor performance as a learning opportunity. They use words such as “Disappointing,” which reflect their dissatisfaction, without shifting the blame on to someone else. It is important to recognise that you are disappointed in a bad result, as long as you use that disappointment as motivation to work harder in the future.


2. Boring

Some students claim that maths is boring. Some claim that English is boring. Some claim that everything they do at school is boring. What do they really mean by this? When it comes down to it, the world is an immensely fascinating place, and learning more about the way the world works is one of the most exciting things you can do. The only times we describe something as “boring” is when we don’t fully understand how important it is. Everything you learn at school can be fascinating as long as you fully comprehend it.

What successful students say instead:

Successful students will accept that the only concepts that are truly boring are the ones that they don’t fully understand yet. They might describe these concepts as difficult or challenging or unfamiliar, but never boring!


3. Smart/Stupid

A lot of students get caught up in the fatalistic idea that a person is either “smart” or “stupid” and that their academic performance is entirely determined by this quality. The problem with this assumption is that it assumes that academic success is something that you are either born with or not, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. It can easily be used as an excuse by students who say things like “I’m not smart enough to understand this” or, on the other hand, “I’m smart, so I don’t need to study for my exam.” Using these phrases takes all of the responsibility out of the students’ hands, instead of focusing on what they can do to improve in the future.

What successful students say instead:

Successful students are those who use words that recognise that their achievement is not based on any innate quality, but on how successful their hard work has been. They use words such as “Productive/Unproductive”, “Motivated/Unmotivated,” “Efficient/Inefficient” that allow them to reflect on their own performance in a constructive way.


4. Impossible

Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t; you are right.” What he means is that, any time we call a goal “impossible”, we have already given up on the possibility that we could achieve it. A student who thinks it is impossible to get in to their chosen University course, or to get an A on their maths exam is unlikely to put in the effort to achieve this goal. Calling something impossible becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that often dooms students to failure.

What successful students say instead:

Successful students are those who take every difficult task as a challenge. They use words like challenging to describe a job that they will have to work extra hard to succeed at.

“No Such Thing As Bad Student, Only Bad Teacher.” Really?

In the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, wise old karate master Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that there is “no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.” Is this true?

What Mr. Miyagi is trying to emphasise is the importance of good teaching. Of course, the value of an inspiring, dedicated and experienced teacher cannot be underestimated. However, what Miyagi fails to take into account is that learning is a shared responsibility. No matter how good or bad a teacher is, a large portion of the responsibility must fall on the student. Ideally your child and their teacher are a team, working together to achieve a common goal. Today, I provide some examples on ways that teachers and students can work together to ensure that their time in the classroom is as successful as possible!

1. A good teacher… provides clear explanations.

Every great teacher I have ever had was able to explain difficult and unfamiliar concepts in a way that was easy to understand. They used real life situations, concrete examples and clear diagrams. They modelled methods and clearly demonstrate that what they are teaching you makes sense.

A good student… actively engages with explanations.

However, no matter how good a teacher’s explanations are, they will ultimately be unsuccessful unless your child is willing to actively engage with the explanations. This means they have to do more than just sit and listen. Actively engaging means taking notes, asking questions and trying examples. A good student will take it upon themselves to ensure that they have done everything in their power to understand what has been explained.

2. A good teacher… makes time to help each of their students individually.

Every student needs a bit of extra help once in a while. A good teacher is one that ensures that they set aside enough time to give each and every student the one-on-one assistance that they need.

A good student… knows how to make the most of this time.

When teachers sit down with a student to help them individually, they are usually faced with two types of questions:

1) “I don’t understand any of this. Can you help me?”


2) “I didn’t understand question 5c. I think I got the first bit correct, but I don’t know how to find the value of y.

As you can probably tell, the teacher will find it much easier to help the second student, because they have clearly taken the time and energy to work out specifically what they need help on. A teacher’s time is limited; the more your child can think ahead, reflect on their own weaknesses, and give ask specific questions, the more likely they are to receive the help that they need.

3. A good teacher… gives constructive criticism.

A good teacher never gives a mark on an essay or an assignment without letting the student know exactly why they got that mark. The more feedback a teacher gives, the easier it will be for students to improve in the future. The best kind of feedback is constructive criticism; it lets the student know what they did wrong, but also provides positive advice on how they can improve next time.

A good student… takes responsibility for their own performance.

Unfortunately, a lot of students like to fall back on excuses when it comes to feedback. They say things like “the teacher didn’t say why I got such a bad mark” or “they just gave me a bad mark because they didn’t agree with my opinion.” While this may be true in a very, very small minority of cases, these complaints more often come from students who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own performance. A good student makes sure to take all feedback on board and actively tries to incorporate it in their future work. If the feedback is unclear, a good student will politely ask their teacher for more advice on how they can improve.

Saving Time During Exams

The Victorian Selective Schools Exams will be taking place this weekend. Thousands of students across the state will be sitting this exam in an attempt to gain a competitive place in the Selective School of their choice. The exams are challenging and extremely fast paced; students are expected to produce essays and narratives in 15 minutes and sit 4 30-minute tests, each of which is comprised of up to 60 questions. In such a situation, the ability to manage one’s time becomes absolutely vital. So, today, I offer 4 tips for managing your time during high-pressure exams.


1. Prioritise

When in an exam, you have to use your time as effectively as possible. There’s no point spending excessive amounts of time on one particularly difficult question if it means missing out on getting easier points elsewhere. The important thing is to think how many marks you can get on the exam, and how many minutes you have. Then, you can work out how much time you can afford to give to each question. If you find that a low scoring question is taking you longer than you can afford, it is often a good idea to skip it and come back to it later.


2. Keep An Eye On The Clock

Don’t let time get away from you. Whether you are answering multiple choice questions or writing an essay under exam conditions, you should always be aware on how much time you have to dedicate to each task. You should know when it’s OK to keep working on a particular section and when it’s time to cut your losses and move on to the next task. If possible, bring your own watch to the exam so you can easily keep track of time.


3. Make Educated Guesses

In the multiple choice sections of the Selective Schools Exam, it is likely that some students might run out of time to answer all of the questions properly. In this case, with time running out, it is absolutely appropriate to guess. If you don’t put an answer, you have no chance of getting it right; even if you take a random guess, your odds are increased. The key, however, to making clever guesses is to try to narrow your odds as much as possible. Even if you don’t have time to figure out the correct answer, you should at least be able to eliminate some clearly incorrect answers. If you narrow it down to 2 possible solutions, your odds of guessing correctly rises from 20% to 50%.


4. Approximate When Necessary

Let’s say you’re in a multiple choice maths exam. You only have a few minutes left and you still have a page of questions that look like this.

4.02 x 6.99 =

A. 28.0998

B. 30.012

C. 24. 332

D. 45.095

E. None of these

Obviously, if you have time, it’s best to calculate the correct answer the proper way. However, if you’re under a strict time limit, you may be able to take a good guess by approximating. Instead of multiplying 4.02 by 6.99, round these numbers to 4 and 7. 4 times 7 is 28, so the most likely answer will be A. While this may not be the best idea in all situations, approximations can often get you out of tricky situations when the clock is ticking.


If you are sitting a Selective Schools Exam this weekend, I wish you all the best and hope your hard work pays off!

Good Luck To Our Selective Students!

On behalf of Spectrum Tuition, I would like to say good luck to those of our students who will be sitting the Selective Schools Exam this week. Some of these students have been working towards this goal for over a year, and we sincerely hope that their hard work pays off. The chance to receive a place in one of Melbourne’s incredibly competitive selective schools is a once in a lifetime opportunity to receive a high level education at an affordable price, and we hope that we have put our students in the best possible position to achieve this goal.

Whether they have attended our classes, used our exam packs and essay-writing guides, or attended our Simulated Selective Schools Exam, we feel that all of our students should be commended for their efforts. Because of this, any of our past students who are offered a place in a Selective School this year will receive a certificate of achievement and a gift certificate from us to recognise their hard work. If your child is successful in being offered a place, please let us know as soon as possible so we can arrange this!

If your child is currently in year 7 and is interested in sitting the Selective Schools Exam in 2015, then now is the time to think about preparing them. Our 40 week intensive program commences on the 19th of July, so now’s the time to sign up! Click here for more information or give us a call on 1800 668 177.