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.

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.

Managing Your Time During a 15 Minute Essay

If you’re planning on sitting a Selective Schools entrance test, a Scholarship exam or a SEALP test, it is likely that you will be required to write a persuasive essay under a strict time limit. On some of these tests, students are required to write a clearly thought out and well structured persuasive essay in only 15 minutes! This is not an easy task. In between brainstorming ideas, planning the structure, expressing your arguments and ensuring your spelling and grammar are up to scratch, the time can easily slip away from you if you’re not prepared.

In order to make sure that you don’t run out of time, I suggest that you practice using the following fool-proof structure.


1. Planning (1 minute)

In this minute, your goal is to come up with a contention (your opinion on the topic) and 3 main arguments. Don’t spend too long writing down all of your ideas or making for/against tables. Use short hard and dot points to get the planning done as soon as possible.

2. Introduction (2 minutes)

The introduction of an essay can often consume the greatest amount of time if you do not have a clear plan of attack. Make sure you know exactly what needs to go in to your introduction and try to follow this structure consistently every time, so that writing an introduction becomes second nature. For more information of the exact structure of a perfect introduction, check out my new ebook!

3. Body Paragraphs (8 minutes)

Ideally, a perfect 15 minute essay will include 3 body paragraphs, one of which might be a rebuttal paragraph. This is a very difficult goal to achieve under a limited time constraint. To save time, it is important to follow a clear TEEL structure and not let yourself get carried away and make your paragraphs too long. Get in, make your argument, and get out!

4. Conclusion (3 minutes)

When under pressure, students often neglect to save time to write an adequate conclusion. Make sure that you set aside 3 minutes to wrap your essay up neatly and clearly.

5. Revision (1 minute)

Once you have finished writing, it is always a good idea to save a minute to read over your work and see if you can find any mistakes or things you should change.


Bonus Tip: Practice Makes Perfect

If you are struggling to write an essay in only 15 minutes, the best way to improve is by building up gradually. Start with a time limit of 25 minutes. Make a note of which sections are slowing you down, and actively focus on how you can write those sections more efficiently. Once you can do 25 minutes, give yourself 20 minutes, and then 15. Practice makes perfect!

For more information of how to plan, structure and write a high-quality persuasive essay in only 15 minutes, check out my new guide in the Spectrum Learning digital bookstore.



Spectrum Tuition Talks NAPLAN On SBS News

Last week, Spectrum Tuition’s Thuy Pham spoke to SBS news, sharing her experiences and opinions regarding the upcoming NAPLAN test. The story, which features on Monday night’s broadcast, questions whether the test puts undue pressure on students whose teachers are overly focused on improving their scores.

Thuy explains that problems arise primarily when teachers focus too heavily on preparing students for the test without providing a more general and productive understanding of the fundamental concepts behind the questions: “If you just give students the test, and you just go through the test, without teaching them any of the content before that, then it’s all going to be a waste of time.”

On the other hand, Thuy suggested that, in classes, such as those at Spectrum Tuition, that focus on the fundamental skills required by the NAPLAN, and not just on how to get through the test, studying for the NAPLAN can be a productive and valuable activity:”Regardless of whether you’re coming specifically for NAPLAN training or not, we find that it’s a very worthwhile experience, to do NAPLAN style questions.”

You can view the full story here. If you would like to know more about the NAPLAN test and what it means for your child, please visit our website for more information.

New To The Book Store: Write A Persuasive Essay in 15 Minutes

If you’re preparing for an entrance exam (e.g. the Victorian selective schools exam or an accelerated learning entrance test) you’ll know that a vital part of the exam is the persuasive writing component. This part of the exam is extremely tricky and requires you to craft an amazing response in just 15 minutes! Having seen many students struggle with this component of the exam, I have designed a book to show you a dead simple way to write a compelling a well structured essay in just 15 minutes.


I understand that many students leave preparation to the last minute. That is why I’ve made this a short simple and straight to the point book with no ‘page filler’ – only techniques that work under the 15 minute time constraint. If you’re feeling the pressure of an upcoming exam, or if you just want to learn how to write a high quality persuasive essay under a strict time constraint, then pick up your copy of “Write a Persuasive Essay in 15 Minutes” today.

Sign Up For Our Simulated Selective Schools Exam

On the 31st of May and the 1st of June, Spectrum Tuition will be holding a Simulated Selective Schools Exam. If your child plans to sit a Selective Schools Exam this year, or if they want to get a good impression of what is required to succeed on the exam, then don’t miss out on this event

What Does The Exam Involve?
Over the course of the two days, students will be involved in a 6 hour immersive experience carefully designed to  prepare them for the Victorian selective schools exam.

Day 1: Students sit a fully supervised exam under full exam conditions. Overnight, our exam marking team will go through each student’s exam paper and correct it. Further, we’ll provide detailed feedback on the essays you wrote during the simulated exam.

Day 2: Students will participate in a 3 hour workshop that will go through answers to the more challenging questions. Prior to this workshop, we’ll analyse the questions students struggled with and devote time in the workshop to answering those specific questions.

Check out our website for more information!

How Much Does It Cost?
The full 2 day program costs just $150. This includes
– A full 3 hour exam, including all the areas covered by the Selective Schools exam
-Full correction and written feedback on all exam questions and written tasks
– A 3 hour feedback session, aimed to clarify the more difficult questions on the exam.

Click here to secure your ticket today!

How Will It Help My Child?
If your child is preparing for a Selective Schools exam, then this is the program for them! Most students who are preparing for the Melbourne High, MacRob, Nossal High and Suzanne Cory High School entrance test have never sat a 3 hour exam. In fact, for most students the first time they’ll ever sit such a long and high pressure test is on the day of the actual exam! By sitting our simulated exam, the fear and anxiety is likely to be reduced so that on the day of the exam, students are relaxed and ready to do their best. Our feedback session is designed to allow students to identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to make a plan of attack to help them achieve their goals.

How Can I Learn More?
If you would like more information, please visit our website for everything you need to know. Alternately, you can email us at or call us for free on 1800 668 177.

3 Puzzles To Wake Your Mind Up

After the long holiday we’ve just had, most students’ brains are still probably fast asleep. Sometimes it’s hard to get our brains back into gear and working productively. In that spirit, today I would like to set you 3 brain teasers to wake up your mind. Have a go at them, share them with your friends and when you think you have the answer, check out our Facebook page for the full solutions.


1. A Startling Puzzle

STARTLING is an interesting 9 letter word. You can remove one letter from the word to leave STARTING, a proper 8 letter word. You can remove one letter from this word to give a proper 7 letter word, and so on until you only have a 1 letter word left. See if you can remove 1 letter each time to find the 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 letter words. You can remove any letter, but the remaining letters must be left in the same order.



_ _ _ _ _ _ _

_ _ _ _ _ _

_ _ _ _ _

_ _ _ _

_ _ _

_ _



2. Two Doors

There are two doors in front of you. Behind one, is a man-eating tiger. Behind the other is a pot of gold. In front of each door stands a guard who knows which door leads to tiger and which to the gold, but one of the guards always lies and the other one always tells the truth. You are allowed to ask one guard only one question that can be answered “yes” or “no”, but unfortunately, you do not know which guard is the liar. How do you make sure you open the door with the gold behind it and not the tiger?


3. The Liars’ Club

A valuable painting was stolen from the Liars’ Club, but the police are having a hard time identifying the culprit because every statement made by a member of the Liars’ Club is false. Only four members visited the club on the day that the painting was stolen. This is what they told the police:

  • Chris: None of us took the painting. The painting was here when I left.
  • Shaun: I arrived second. The painting was already gone.
  • Jenny: I was the third to arrive. The painting was here when I arrived.
  • Tom: Whoever stole the painting arrived before me. The painting was already gone.

Who of these four liars stole the painting?

SEALP Exam Packs In Our New Book Store!

Our new online bookstore, Spectrum Learning is now officially open for business! This digital bookstore is a place where you can purchase materials geared towards helping your child prepare for the selective entry accelerated learning program (SEALP or ALP) exam in May and the selective schools exam (for entry into Melbourne High, The Mac.Robertson Girls’ High, Nossal High School and Suzanne Cory High School) in June. We also have many more titles planned for release over the next few months.

All materials available on the site are provided as digital books. This means that as soon as your payment is confirmed (which only takes a few minutes) you’ll be able to download your book and start studying.


To coincide with the launch of our new store, we are also launching our SEALP exam packs. This is one exam pack that many parents have been asking about and we’re happy to have it available for purchase. These exam packs have been specifically designed for the upcoming SEALP and ALP exams. We’re offering two exam packs (a Basic and an Advanced package) at launch. Both provide great value for money. Here is what you receive with each package.

Basic Package – $49 (Can be purchased HERE)

Our basic pack includes:

  • 1 x Numerical Reasoning Exam Sections;
  • 1 x Verbal Reasoning Exam Sections;
  • 1 x Mathematical Reasoning Exam Sections; and
  • 1 x Reading Comprehension Exam Sections.
  • 1 x Writing Prompts
  • Basic Answers

Advanced Package – $149 (Can be purchased HERE)

Our advanced package includes:

  • 3 x Numerical Reasoning Exam Sections;
  • 3 x Verbal Reasoning Exam Sections;
  • 3 x Mathematical Reasoning Exam Sections; and
  • 3 x Reading Comprehension Exam Sections.
  • 3 x Writing Prompts
  • FULLY WORKED answers to all sections (not including the writing prompts).

In total, you receive 3 FULL exams with FULLY WORKED answers.

All packages are delivered as digital books (PDFs) and can be downloaded for immediate use. So what are you waiting for? Come check us out!


How to Keep Your Brain Active

The brain is like the rest of the body; it needs to be regularly exercised if you want it to be in good shape. Bad memory, mental blanks, inability to concentrate, confusion, stress and lack of focus are some of the inevitable consequences students face when they don’t treat their brain right. If your child is having any of these problems, then check out my top 4 tips on how to keep your brain active!

1. Watch Less TV
Television is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a very passive form of entertainment. Have you noticed how easy it is to drift off into a mindless stupor while watching the TV? This is because the television is notoriously bad at activating your mind; it does not challenge or engage your brain. Watching more that 1 or 2 hours of television each day has the same effect on your brain as sitting on the couch all day has on your physical fitness; you get lazy and unable to focus on tasks for an extended period of time.

2. Stay Healthy
It’s amazing how often people forget that the brain is part of the body. This means that it needs what every other part of our body needs: good food, water, exercise, rest and fresh air. Students, especially VCE students, often develop unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating badly, not exercising and getting fresh air and drinking too many energy drinks. Not only are these things bad for their bodies, they also affect students’ ability to concentrate and focus. Remember, a healthy brain is a powerful brain.

3. Challenge Your Mind
A runner training for a race will constantly focus on improving their time. Every time they train, they will try to push themselves a little bit further than last time. This is because we can only improve at something if we challenge ourselves. If you want to get the most out of your brain, you need to keep it constantly challenged. There are many ways you can keep your mind challenged: do crossword puzzles, take times tables challenges, write a story, try to memorise shopping lists, try to solve complicated maths problems in your head, learn a new language, learn how to play an instrument, learn all of your friends’ birthdays off by heart. If keep your brain challenged on a regular basis, it will stay sharp for when you need it most.

4. Read Widely
The ability to read well is one of the most valuable skills your brain can develop. Reading improves our language skills, our spelling, our expression, our general knowledge, our comprehension skills and our imagination. Students should try to read as often and as widely as possible. They can read comic books, websites, recipes, novels, poems, plays, blogs, letters, emails, instruction manuals, magazines, brochures, maps and even the fine print on the back of the cereal box. The important thing is that your mind gets used to reading and understanding everything it can.

Top Test Taking Tips

Whether you’re about to sit a Scholarship exam, preparing for an upcoming Selective Schools entrance test, starting to worry about VCE exams or simply wanting to improve your quiz marks in class, check out our top 5 tips for test taking!


1. Be prepared

This is an easy one, but it is an important one too. Before you sit a test, you need to ensure that you have all the pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, protractors, calculators and reference sheets that you will need. It is also a good idea to make sure you have had a good meal, are well hydrated and have had a good night’s sleep.


2. Be strategic with your time

Before you start your test, it is important to do some simple maths. How many questions are on the test? How many minutes do you have to complete them? Are some questions worth more than others? It is always a good idea to figure out exactly how much time you can commit to each question. For example, if I had an hour to complete 30 questions, I would know that I can afford to spend 2 minutes on each question. Once you know this, you can priorities your time easily. If a question looked like it might take me more that 2 minutes,  skip it, complete the quicker questions and come back to it later.


3. Take educated guess

If you are unsure about a particular question, it is usually a good idea to skip it, focus on another question, and make sure that you come back to it before your time is up. However, if you are nearing the end of your exam and you still can’t work out the question, it’s time to take a guess. When you have to guess an answer, the trick is to be as clever about it as possible. If you are sitting a multiple-choice test, try to increase your chances of guessing correctly by crossing out any clearly incorrect answers. Then, look at the remaining solutions and ask yourself “do any of these answers seem more likely than the others?”, “does this number seem too big, too small or just right?” or “is there a way I can substitute in this answer to confirm that it is correct?”. While there is nothing wrong with guessing on a question you are unsure of, try not to leave it entirely to chance.


4. Highlight important information

Careless reading is one of the biggest causes of incorrect answers in most exams. Students who skim over worded questions and misinterpret what the question is asking of them are likely to make silly mistakes. When your are reading through a worded question, it is a good idea to highlight important information. This includes any names, important figures, as well as the actual question. Keep an eye out for words such as not and don’t. Students often misread questions such as “which of the following is not one of the author’s arguments” with “which of the following is one of the author’s argument.


5. Relax

A lot of students struggle under test conditions due to nerves. When you’re not relaxed, it’s hard to focus and you can panic and make silly mistakes. Though it’s not always easy to relax when taking a test, there are some things that can help you manage your nerves, such as arriving early to make sure you aren’t rushed, taking deep breaths to calm yourself down, and making sure you sit comfortably and with good posture.

How to get the most out of homework

Homework is a tricky topic. There are always some educational experts that argue that homework tasks does not actually help students improve at school. Other experts however, argue that homework is a valuable way of revising and retaining information.

What I have come to learn, over my many years as both a student and an educator, is that homework can be a very productive learning tool, but only if done correctly. Students who rush through their homework carelessly, one eye on the television, and forget about it the moment they have handed it in, are unlikely to benefit much from the task. However, students who consciously use homework as a tool for revising, recapping and learning new ideas will have a natural advantage in their classes. So, here are my top 4 tips for getting the most out of homework.


1. Get away from distractions

Students who complete their homework in front of the television or while browsing the internet are unlikely to benefit from their efforts. In order to get the most out of their homework, students should set aside a time and a place, free from distractions, in which they can focus solely at the task at hand. Check out this post for more information on how to set up a productive study space for your child.


2. Look over notes

One of the main points of homework is to revise the skills that students have learned in class. Problems occur, however, when students have already forgotten what they did in class by the time they get around to doing their homework. When this happens, the student is likely to be confused and unproductive. It is a good idea for students to look over their notes from class before completing their homework, so they are able to recall and revise all the important skills they have learned.


3. Make a list of questions to ask

In my opinion, a good student is one who isn’t afraid to ask questions. Homework is a great time for students to figure out what areas they understand, and what they need the teacher to clarify for them again. I always encourage students to make a note of any questions or problems they have during their homework, so they can remember them later.


4. Reflect upon your mistakes

Finishing your homework is only the first step. One of the most important stages of any homework task is reflecting upon your mistakes. Once the homework has been corrected by the teacher, students should see which questions they got wrong and figure out how they can improve in the future. Is there a particular skill that they need to relearn? Is there a common mistake that they are making that they can avoid in the future? Reflecting upon the mistakes made during homework tasks is one of the most effective ways for students to improve in the future.


Book Your Free Assessment With Spectrum Tuition

At Spectrum Tuition, we recognise that every student is different. Every student has a different range of skills, experience and strengths. In order to make sure each course is tailored to your child’s specific needs, we make sure that every student who comes to us is given a Free Assessment test.

This test is designed to give us a clear indication of each student’s abilities, skills and experience. We use this information to ensure that students are placed in an appropriate class, and that their tutor has all the necessary information required to give each student effective personalised attention.

Most students are required to sit a test for both English and Maths. Each test takes roughly an hour and covers a vast range of topics across up to 3 levels. This is to ensure that we pinpoint your child’s exact level. For example, a student in Year 5 will sit the Grade 4 – Grade 6. We use this information to ensure that your child is placed in a class that is challenging, but not too difficult.

If you think you might be interested in signing your child up for an entrance test, read on!

What To Expect From The Entrance Test:

Each entrance test should take roughly an hour. Students who wish to attend classes in both English and Maths should set aside roughly 2 hours to complete their tests. The only thing that students need to bring along is a pencil, an eraser, a drink and a snack. Spare pencils and erasers can be provided if necessary. As the test is intended solely to assess the student’s strength and weaknesses, it is not necessary or beneficial that students study for the test in advance.

Because the test takes up a reasonable amount of time, you are welcome to drop your child off for their test and pick them up when they have finished. If you plan to do so, please provide us with your contact details on the day so we can contact you if your child finishes early.

Once the test is complete, we sit down with both the student and the parents and discuss the results. We provide advice on the areas that the student needs to focus on and the things that they can do to improve in the future. These discussions are a great way of helping parents understand how they, and how we, can help their child achieve success.

You can sign up for your child’s free entrance test today. Just click here.


10 Different Approaches To Getting Your Child Excited About Reading

Some children need no encouragement when it comes to reading; they bury themselves in a pile of books and need to be dragged away from their latest novel whenever it is time to eat or sleep. Other children, for whatever reason, are not nearly as enthusiastic. Some students view reading as a boring and pointless task, to be avoided at all costs. If this sounds like your child, check our my 10 tips to get your child more enthusiastic about reading.


1. Read aloud to your child.

Most people who read for pleasure were read to as a child. This is where we first develop our love of stories. The more you read to your child at a young age, the more enthusiastically they will pursue their own reading.


2. Read joke books.

Reading doesn’t always have to be serious. If your child is reluctant to read, try reading joke books together. Reading jokes engages our reading comprehension and interpretation skills and our ability to interpret subtle uses of language. Best of all, it’s much more fun than reading an encyclopaedia!


3. Give reading a purpose.

Some children complain that reading is pointless. Prove them wrong by linking their reading to an activity. For example, you could find a book that explains how to make the best paper planes, or you could encourage your child to read brochures to help you plan an upcoming holiday!


4. Get rid of distractions.

Reading is fun, but it also requires attention. As such, it is easy for readers to be distracted by the TV, video games and the Internet. Try to set aside an hour of “distraction-free” time each night, which can be dedicated to reading individually or as a family.


5. Vary the reading material.

Reading is reading, no matter what the medium. Though it is important for children to read novels, often other material such as joke books, comic books, picture books or poems can be a great way of getting them interested.


6. Ask questions.

Show interest in what your child is reading. Ask them to explain what is happening in the story, who the characters are, and get them to predict what might happen next. The more a child discusses what they read, the more engaged they will become, and the more motivated they will be to continue reading.


7. Set a good example.

Reading shouldn’t just be something that students have to do because their parents are making them do it. Set a good example by letting your child see you reading for pleasure; show that reading is something enjoyable that everyone can do.


8. Use subtitles.

Does your child watch a lot of movies? Want to help them improve their reading whilst also giving yourself a valuable bit of peace and quiet? Turn off the sound and put on the subtitles!


9. Get your child a library card.

Getting your child a library card encourages them to take responsibility over their own reading. Young children will feel very grown up when they are given their own card, and are likely to be enthusiastic about using it.


10. Don’t turn it into a chore.

Above all, try not to turn reading into a boring, stressful or strenuous task. The worst thing you can do is nag and berate your child to read; this will only cause them to associate reading with negative feelings from then on. Instead, encourage your child to read what they enjoy, praise them for their efforts.


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A Week Of Writing Prompts For Scholarship Exams

When he was asked what the key to being a good writer was, famous American fantasy novelist David Eddings gave the following advice:

“Start early and work hard. A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.” -David Eddings

What does this mean? It means that learning to write a good story is hard work; if you want to become a good writer, the only way to do so is to write story after story after story after story. Practice makes perfect. For students sitting their scholarship exams in the coming month, Eddings’s advice is particularly relevant. When they sit down to their exam, they will be required to write an engaging narrative, based on an unseen prompt, in only 15 minutes. Not only do they need to be able to write a coherent narrative in this time, they also have to write a story that will stand out from the crowd and attract the attention of the examiners. I have already given some advice on some ways that your child can improve their narrative writing in this blog post. It’s definitely worth looking at if you haven’t already. But, as David Eddings suggests, all the advice in the world will not help if your child does not practice! So, in the weeks left before the scholarship exam, your child should be writing as many stories as they possible can. Even if they can put aside just 15 minutes each day to write a story, their writing skills are likely to improve dramatically before the exam. Below are 7 prompts that your child can use to practice. See if they can get through them all this week!

1. Write a narrative based on the following image. image1 2. Write a narrative that uses the following words: dark, bear, lightning, forgotten.

3. Write a narrative that begins with the sentence: “When I woke up, I looked around the room and came to the conclusion that I had no idea where I was.”

4. Write a narrative based on the following image.  image2 5. Write a narrative called “The Biggest Mistake of My Life.” 6. Write a narrative based on the following image.  image3 7. Write a narrative about a difficult decision.


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How Can I Help My Child Get The Most Out Of Tutoring?

Term 1 starts this weekend! I thought this would be an excellent time to give some tips on how parents can help their children get the most out of their classes at Spectrum Tuition. Obviously, as tutors, we try to make your job as easy as possible. We do the hard stuff. We ensure that each student know exactly what they have to do and has all the necessary information required to get the most out of their classes. However, there are a few simple ways in which you, as a parent, can help.

Young Boy Being Tutored by His Teacher

1. Make sure your child has all the necessary resources.

This includes any pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, rulers and calculators that they will need throughout the lesson. If your child is attending more than one class, it is also a good idea to make sure they have a snack and a drink. For more information, check out this post on our help centre.


2. Make sure they complete their homework each week.

Each week your child will be given an amount of homework to complete before the next class. The point of this homework is to ensure that your child retains the information that they have learned during the class and to prepare them for the next week’s quiz. Students who do not complete their homework are unlikely to get the most out of the class, so students, parents and tutors have to work together to ensure that this task gets done.


3. Make sure you sign the homework schedule every week.

On the second page of each week’s book is a homework schedule. Each week, students will be required to write their homework in this section. There is a space for the schedule to be signed by the tutor, the student and the parent each week. It is important that you sign your child’s book each week. This is not just so you can see what homework they have; this section of the book is also a valuable place for the tutor to write messages for you to read or for you to write messages for the tutor to read. See this post on our help centre for more information. By signing it every week, you can ensure that a line of communication is established between you and your child’s tutor.

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New Updated VCE Program

Spectrum Tuition have been hard at work throughout the school holidays, updating our popular VCE courses. We are pleased to announce that, starting in 2014, we will be introducing a brand new, updated, VCE program and a new line of course books for VCE Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths Methods and English.

The new course is more exam-focused than ever before. Through a close analysis of the previous 5 years of exams and examiners reports, we have devised a course that focuses on the most important topics and questions types that consistently come up on the exams. The new course, developed by our highly talented and experienced tutors, is designed to ensure that, by exam time, each of our students are as prepared as they can possibly be to face the challenge of their final exam.

One of our brand new course books.

One of our brand new course books.

In order to achieve this, we have developed a considerable amount of brand new exam-style questions that are designed to prepare our students for even the most challenging exam question. Each week, students will be required to complete a set of exam-style questions and, each five weeks, they will be given a cumulative mock exam, to reinforce everything they have learned in the course up to that point.

We have worked extremely hard to ensure that our VCE course not only provides our students with the knowledge they need, but also give them practical experience in how to approach, interpret and master even the most challenging types of exam questions.

If your child is starting year 11 or 12 this year, and you want to give them the extra advantage they need to succeed in Physics, Maths Methods, English, Chemistry or Biology, then give us a call or come in and see us this weekend. Term one starts on Saturday, so now’s the time to start!


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Last Minute Preparation For Scholarship Exams

We’re at the end of January already. You know what this means? It means that in just over a month, thousands of year 6 students across the start will be sitting their exams in hope of gaining scholarships to the private school of their choice. For these students, the chance of getting a scholarship is often a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a high-quality education at an affordable price.

For this reason, many students have been preparing for this moment for the past year. Others are going in having never seen a practice test in their lives. If your child fits into either one of these categories, whether they have been attending scholarship classes for a year or whether they are at the first stage of their exam preparation, there are some very specific things that they can do in the next month to maximise their chances of success!

1. Get Informed

Before you start preparing your child for a Scholarship exam, it’s important to have all the possible information at your disposal. There is a lot of information out there about the specific areas covered by each of the exams. It is important that you look at this information carefully to find out exactly what your child has to prepare for.

Check out our website for a useful summary of each of the scholarship exams. It is also a good idea to check out the website of the exam that your child will be sitting.


2. Practice Writing Under Time Limits

One of the most difficult parts on the scholarship exam is the writing component. Students will be required to produce a creative narrative and a well-structured argumentative essay under an incredibly strict time limit. As a guide, students will only have around 25 minutes to plan and write each of their writing tasks. For students who are unfamiliar with writing under a time limit, this can be a nearly impossible task. But, as always, practice makes perfect. Start by getting your child to write a practice essay in 40 minutes. Once they are able to do this, shorten the time limit to 35 minutes, then 30, and then eventually 25. As a guide, here is a suggestion for how long your child should spend on each section of their essay.

Planning – 2 minute

Introduction – 3 minutes

Body Paragraphs – 16 minutes

Conclusion – 3 minutes

Editing – 1 minutes


3. Focus On Essay Structure

This relates to the point above, but it deserves emphasising. If your child is going to be successful in the argumentative writing component of their exam, then they need to have a clear sense on how to structure an essay, and what to put in each section. This will make their essay clearer to read, and also help your child to structure their ideas in the strict time limit. Every essay should include the following sections.

1. Introduction.

-Usually around 5 sentences.

-Introduces the topic.

-Clearly states the contention, or main opinion of the piece.

-Summarises the 2-3 main arguments that support the contention.

-Concludes by linking these argument to the contention.

2. Body paragraphs.

-2-3 paragraphs, one for each argument. Each paragraph should focus on just one argument.

-Should start with a topic sentence that links the contention to the argument. For example “Smoking should be illegal (contention) because it is bad for your health (argument).”

-Gives evidence and reasons why the argument is correct.

3. Conclusion.

-Summarises all the arguments given in the body paragraphs.

-Ends by restating the contention.

For more information on structuring and writing creative pieces, check out this blog post.


4. Get On Top Of Mathematics Skills

When it comes to maths, the scholarship exams can get a little rough. They aim to single out the best of the best, so they often cover work that may be over complicated or even unfamiliar to most grade 6 students. It is important that your child is on top of their basic mathematics skills. They should be able to solve times tables quickly, add and multiply fractions, deal with percentages, follow the orders of operation (BODMAS) and interpret patterns and graphs. The exam also relies of some basic algebra, which is often not taught until high school, so it may be a good idea to introduce your child to the basic concept of x’s and y’s before they sit the test.


How Can We Help?

This may sound very daunting. It’s hard to face such a task alone. Fortunately, Spectrum Tuition offer a range of options for students who want some last minute help preparing for their exams. Though it’s too late to enroll for our Scholarship Preparation course for this year’s exam, there are still a number of options available.

Exam packs

We offer a range of custom-made practice Scholarship exam packs. These practice exams are based on our years of experience preparing students for the exam, and cover all the areas that the Scholarship exam covers.

Our exam packs can be used as general study tools, but they can also be tailored to focus on specific areas of weakness. In addition, we offer an extra essay feedback service, in order to give your child a chance to dramatically improve their argumentative and creative writing skills.

Check out our website for more information.

Private tutoring

If your child still has a specific area of difficulty and needs a bit more personalised attention, then private tutoring is a great option. Many of our university educated private tutors have sat similar exams themselves and are able to give specific feedback and instruction where your child needs it the most. For more information on private tutoring, check out our website.


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4 Educational Goals For The Christmas Holidays

When February comes around and students shuffle back to the classroom, there are always three distinct types of students…

The first type of student is those who have spent all of their holidays staying up late, sleeping through out the day, playing 10 hours of video games each day and forgetting everything they learned in the previous year. These students don’t know how to cope with the sudden challenges of the school year and usually take the first term just to get back into the rhythm. The second type includes those who have spent all of their holidays being drilled on maths problems, writing practice essays, attending language and music lessons and gazing blankly into textbooks with no time for relaxation. These students are already exhausted, and are not likely to start the school year with any great enthusiasm. The third type of student is the best. These are the ones who have had a relaxing holiday. They have seen friends, got fresh air, watched movies and played games. But they have also read lots, revised their skills, developed good habits, set goals and are prepared for the year ahead.

The key here is finding the balance. School holidays should be about relaxation, but they are also a great time for your child to establish good habits, in a low-pressure environment, that will help them throughout the year. As such, I recommend that all students should set the following 4 goals for the Christmas holidays, to ensure that their summer break is both refreshing and productive.


1. Read Lots

Reading is a wonderful thing. On one hand, it is one of the most effective ways that students can improve their vocabulary, comprehension, analytical, spelling and grammar skills, as well as their general knowledge. On the other hand, it can also be one of the most enjoyable activities to do on a lazy summer’s day. If your child is not already passionate about reading, then now is the time to get them hooked. They can read anything and everything: fantasy novels, science fiction novels, adventure novels, picture books, autobiographies, poetry, choose-your-own-adventure books, newspapers, magazines or non-fiction books. The important thing is to find something that interests your child. A trip to your local library is a great way to start the holidays on the right foot.


2. Master Your Times Tables

It’s amazing how many students struggle with their times tables, not just in primary school but even in the later years of high school! And yet, the ability to quickly answer single-digit multiplication questions is a skill that will help them throughout their education. Even in VCE, when students rely heavily on calculators, complete intuitive mastery of the times tables can give your child that little extra edge in answering complex questions quicker and more efficiently. The good news is that you can easily make a game of the times tables during the holidays. Maybe each week you can hold a times tables competition between siblings, or encourage your child to beat their previous records. The winner can be rewarded with the choice of movie, dinner or game for that night. The more you turn it into a fun, rewarding and competitive game, the more likely it is that your child will be engaged.


3. Use A Diary

The ability to use a diary or calendar effectively is one of the most important skills that a student needs to succeed in their education. Effective diary usage is key to your child being able to plan and organise their study schedule, keep track of homework and complete assignments on time. However, diary usage is also one of the most often neglected skills. The summer holidays can often be a good, low pressure time to develop this skill. Why not buy your child a 2014 diary and encourage them to start recording important dates and events (sleeping over with friends, family holidays, Christmas parties, days at the beach). Encourage your child to remind you how long it is until these events and to use their diary to plan their holiday activities. The holidays are a great time to develop these skills, as your child will have so much fun looking ahead and planning all the fun events and activities for their summer break, they won’t even know that they’re learning a valuable life skill.


4. Be Creative

In my previous blog post, I spoke about how being “smart” is not the only factor that contributes to academic success. In fact, what we call “smart” is actually a combination of many different qualities, such as dedication, flexibility, organisation, curiosity and creativity. The latter quality, creativity, is something that your child should be developing over the summer break. Whether they are drawing, painting, shooting home movies, making Christmas gifts, writing stories, making animations on their computer or playing music, creative activities will expand your child’s imagination and allow them to look at the world from a number of different critical perspectives. The great thing is that children of all ages love to be creative! All you have to do is provide them with the necessary resources, encouragement and positive feedback, and soon, without knowing it, your child will be developing important imaginative skills that will help them throughout their education.



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The Carrot and The Cane.

A few summers ago, I visited the Greek island of Santorini. The beautiful villages on this island are located on top of 200-metre high cliffs, which look over the Mediterranean Sea. The only way to get up to these villages is to sit on the back of a well-trained donkey as it slowly climbs up the narrow, winding paths to the top of the cliff. These patient donkeys climb up and down the cliff 20-30 times a day, and they never seem tired, bored, or unwilling to do so. The entire community rely on these donkeys, and the donkeys never let them down. But how are they so well trained? Is it because their owners use canes or whips? Is it because they know that they will be punished if they do not climb?




The reason that the donkeys are so happy to climb up and down the steep, narrow tracks, is that every time they make it to the top, they get a treat. The donkey trainers of Santorini have been leading donkeys up and down cliffs for hundreds of years and they know the secret that so many other people do not: donkeys respond better to treats than to threats. They work harder when offered carrots than when threatened with the cane.



But what does this have to do with education?

I don’t mean to be rude when I say, students are a lot like donkeys. They respond far better to the carrot than to the cane. Unfortunately, too often, in schools and at homes, teachers and parents try to use negative reinforcement to motivate students:

“Do your homework or you will get detention!”

“If you do not get an A+, I will be very disappointed in you!”

“If you don’t work hard this year, you will have to work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life!”

Does this sound familiar? The problem with this approach is simple: it doesn’t work. When faced with negative reinforcement, students (and donkeys too) feel confused, stressed and unhappy. They are likely to associate schoolwork with negative feelings and they will focus on not getting punished, as opposed to focusing on actually improving their academic performance.

So, what are the other options?


Many studies have shown that the clever use of positive reinforcement is the best way to motivate students. Here are some great ways that you can use positive reinforcement to motivate your child today…


1. Set a positive tone.

Before encouraging your child to begin their homework, try to get them feeling good about their education. Praise them on their past achievements, recognise their talents, and express an interest in the areas that they are studying.

“I’m very proud of you for getting a good mark on that quiz last week.”

“You should enjoy this homework task, you have a great imagination.”

“I can’t wait to read your story when you’re finished.”

At Spectrum Tuition, we like to start each class with a fun, engaging activity, which encourages the students to take an interest in the week’s content.


2. Be vigilant in your positive reinforcement

Students often become unmotivated if they feel as if their hard work is going unnoticed by parents, tutors or teachers. When it comes down to it, all children want to make their parents proud, and they always work harder if they know that you will notice. The problem is, parents and tutors tend to be more consistent in their negative feedback than in their positive feedback; we’re more likely to notice bad behaviour than good behaviour. Make sure you notice when your child is working particularly hard, or doing particularly well, and commend them for it.


3. Talk specifically about your mutual goals, aims and expectations

Talk to your child about what goals they want to achieve. Do they want to get a particular ATAR score, or get into a particular course? Do they want to get a scholarship so that they can attend their preferred school? Do they want to get better at expressing themselves? Do they want to feel less confused during maths class? Talk about ways in which you can work together towards these goals. Discuss fair expectations regarding homework and study times and make sure to write these down. At Spectrum Tuition, we start each term by forming a set of “Class Rules and Expectations” with our students. What we find is that, if students participate directly into setting their own goals, rules and expectations, they are far more likely to follow them.


3. Set achievable goals and fair rewards

Does your child want to get an ATAR score of 95? This is what we call a “big goal.” Often, “big goals” can be intimidating, as students don’t know where to start. Encourage your child to break down their larger goals into smaller, more manageable goals. It is a good idea to have a list of smaller “Goals of the Week” or “Goals of the Month,” such as working on assignments, practising spelling, completing all homework, etc. You can make this process more fun by offering a reward if your child achieves all of their goals for the month. Rewards can be anything: a day at the beach, a trip to the movies or Luna park, a new book. Make sure you specify in advance exactly what the reward will be and what your child must do to deserve it. At the end of each month, your child will feel proud and happy that they have accomplished their goals and earned their reward.


So remember, use the carrot over the cane. Whilst threats of punishment, groundings, loss of pocket money or guilt may motivate students in the short term, positive reinforcement is ultimately the best method for encouraging your child to achieve their goals.


What effective methods have you used to motivate your children?


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A Summer Holidays To-Do List For All Year 11 Students

The year is almost at an end, summer is on its way and the Christmas holidays stretch out welcomingly in front of us. It’s the perfect time for students to kick back, relax, unwind and let their brains unravel, right?

Not exactly. Especially not for year 11 students.

Though the summer holidays are an important time for students to see friends, catch up on sleep, get copious amounts of fresh air and give their minds a well-needed break, for year 11 students it is also a very important time for preparing for the busy year ahead. Students who hibernate through the summer, who ignore their textbooks and forget all of the skills they have learned throughout the year are in for a nasty shock come February. Year 12 starts suddenly, and students are expected to be on the top of their game from day 1. Though I certainly don’t recommend students work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week throughout the holidays, I do believe that all year 11 students should set some goals for the holidays. These goals will put them in a good position to approach the final year of their high school education feeling prepared and confident. So here are my 5 suggested goals that every year 11 student should set for summer.


1. Read Your English Texts

This is an absolute no-brainer. When year 12 starts, English classes will be moving through texts at a rapid pace. If your child has not read their text at least once before the year begins, they will be playing catch-up. A strong understanding of what happens in the text, the ideas that it raises and the style of the writing is invaluable. Summer is a great time to read texts for the first time, because it’s a low-pressure environment. In the summer, your child can actually try to read the book for pleasure, to engage with the characters and become involved in the action, as opposed to rushing through it to meet a deadline. If possible, your child should read their text twice throughout the summer: once to enjoy the story and figure out what’s going on, and once to think about what ideas are being raised, what some of the significant quotes might be, and how they could talk about the text in their English classes.



2. Brush Up On Your Mathematics Fundamentals

When it comes to maths, no year is a blank slate. Come February, year 12 students will be expected to already have a vast array of skills. In particular, fundamental skills of factorisation, expansion, algebra, simplification of fractions, index laws, log laws and differentiation are, to a large extent, assumed knowledge. It is my experience that students who haven’t mastered these basic skills will always be on the back foot when it comes to learning new concepts. The summer holidays are a great time for your child to take a step back and revise some of the basic skills that they have been developing throughout high school. Going over the chapter recap sections at the end of each chapter in the year 11 textbooks is a good way of doing this. Even just an hour each week of revision can make a big difference.


3. Get Engaged In Issues

There is one magic device that most people have in their homes right now, that nearly all students ignore, a device that can dramatically increase the extent to which your child is able to engage in their English and Humanities classes. What is it? A newspaper. VCE students are expected to be engaged in local and global issues, have a basic understanding of important political and cultural figures and have the ability to interpret and analyse a variety of articles, opinion pieces and editorial cartoons. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on a regular basis is one of the easiest ways to develop these skills. And it’s something that your child can easily do over breakfast, or on the bus, every day.


4. Get Organised

The most valuable gift that a year 11 student can give themselves this Christmas is a fool-proof system of organisation for the year ahead. By this I mean that by the start of the school year, your child should be able to answer “yes” to the following questions.

Do I have a dedicated study space for the year ahead?

Do I have all the resources I need for all of my classes?

Do I have a system for organising my notes?

Do I have all available information about assessments for my subjects?

Do I have a study schedule organised?

Have I set myself goals for the coming term?

It is important to ask these questions early, because by the time February rolls around, it may just be too late.


5. Don’t Forget How To Write

People often forget that VCE exams do not just test the mind; they also test the hand. Students are required to write non-stop for hours at a time. Unfortunately, the more reliant we become on using computers for communication, research, organisation and assignment writing, the less likely it is that our hands will have the strength and stamina to write legibly and efficiently for this time. This may sound silly, but I have met many students in the past who have excellent ideas but simply aren’t able to adequately express them within a given time frame due to their inexperience with handwriting. The brain was capable, but the hand was not. It is important that your child does not forget how to write over the summer. It doesn’t matter what they write: letters to Grandma, short stories, lists, love letters, notes to self, holiday journals or letters to Santa. The important thing is that they keep their writing hand in good shape for the year ahead.


The summer holidays should be about relaxing. This is certainly true. But most students know that there are two types of relaxation. There is the blind relaxation of the student in denial, who closes their eyes and refuses to think about the stressful times ahead. On the other hand, there is the relaxation of the student that thinks ahead, does a little bit of work each week, and is free to enjoy their summer, confident that they have done everything they can to prepare for the year ahead. It is this kind of relaxation that will ultimately lead to success.


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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!


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?


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.

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.


Top 5 Tips For Starting High School

If your child is currently in year 6, then no doubt they are excited about beginning their first year of high school in 2014. Beginning year 7 is an exciting time in every student’s life, but it can also be a stressful experience. There are many reasons why your child may be anxious about next year: having to make new friends, having to find your way around an unfamiliar school, learning difficult and unfamiliar topics and managing a larger workload. Today, I will provide 4 tips that you can use to ensure that your child’s first year of high school is as happy and productive as possible.


1. Get On Top Of Organisation

One of the biggest differences between primary school and high school is that, in high school, students are much more responsible for their own organisations. Teachers will not explicitly tell students what materials to bring to class, what to take home each day, and how to store their notes; it’s up to each student to figure out their own way of keeping organised.

Before your child starts year 7, it is important that you make sure they have all the material they need to stay organised. They should have a folder and a notebook for each subject, a pencil case with all the materials that they will need, and a student diary to keep track of assignments. You should also talk to your child about how they will store their notes, what information they need to write in their diary, and how they will decide what material to take home and what to leave at school.


2. Become A Homework Master

Year 7 is the time that homework starts to pile up like never before. Your child will most likely be expected to complete homework for each of their classes each week, as well as keeping up with long-term assignments. If you want your child to excel in high school, then now is a good idea to start setting good study habits for them.

Each week, ask them to think about what tasks they have to complete by the end of the week and construct a study timetable. When year 7 starts, they should be doing a bit of homework at least 4 nights a week, so it’s important that they have a clear idea of what needs to be done and when. Make sure your child is using their diary effectively to write in all of their homework.

Extra: Have a look at our blog post on setting up a productive study space for more tips on how to make sure homework time is as productive as possible.


3. Don’t Get Caught By Maths

In year 7, one of the most terrifying things that students have to face is algebra. Some students find it easy, but for some students, the idea of introducing letters as pronumerals into maths is very intimidating. Unfortunately, students who struggle with algebra are likely to fall behind in mathematics. The best thing you can do as a parent is to make sure your child is on top of their maths. If you are concerned that they may not be ready for the challenges of year 7 maths, it is a good idea to talk to their teacher or a tutor about what you can do to get them up to the right level. There’s still plenty of time to get the basics under control.


4. Start Reading Now!

In year 7, your child will be expected to do more independent reading than ever before. This can sometimes come as a shock for students, who may have never read a novel on their own before. It is a good idea to get your child used to reading before then. Throughout the year, and in the summer holidays, try to find books that your child might enjoy. There are an excellent range of Young Adult novels out there. It’s just a matter of finding something that will engage your child.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to read any texts that the school sets before starting year 7. In their English classes, they may be expected to respond and interpret these texts in ways that your child may be unfamiliar with. The sooner they become familiar with the novel or text that they will be studying, the more comfortable they will be with the new ideas that they will learn. It might also be a good idea to read their texts yourself, so that you are able to discuss ideas with your child.

The most important thing you can do, however, is to ensure that your child views the transition from primary school to high school as a positive thing. It is a fantastic opportunity to make new friends, learn interesting new ideas, and challenge themselves. I will you and your child the best of luck in the coming year!

S.M.A.R.T Goals

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken quite a lot about how goal setting is one of the most important skills for any student to learn. The ability to set goals, plan how to achieve them, and learn from your success or failure is a skill that all successful students possess, whether they are in prep or university.

But, as I’m sure you know, goal setting is not as simple as just saying “I want to be a doctor” and hoping that it will magically happen. It probably won’t. If you want your child to achieve their dreams, then now is the time to teach them to set smart goals, using the S.M.A.R.T principle.

The S.M.A.R.T principle states that goals should be

Specific – It’s all well and good to set larger general goals such as “I want to be a doctor,” but it’s important to recognise that these larger goals do not happen all at one; they are made up of many small specific achievements: organising your study notes, creating a study timetable, getting an A or A+ on your next test, creating useful study notes, performing well on an exam. Encourage your child to think about the smaller, more specific short term goals that they can focus on.

Measurable – There is no point in making goals if we can not learn from them. In order to learn from them, you need a way of knowing how successful you have been. For example, if your goal is to get 95% on your next SAC, you can easily measure whether or not you have achieved this goal, and how far off you are from achieving it next time. This information should be used to modify study plans, set new goals and learn what works and what does not.

Achievable – If you were training up to run a 10km race, would you go out tomorrow and try to run 10km? No. If you are getting D’s on all of your Maths test, would you expect to get an A+ for your next one? Possibly not. If your child sets unrealistic goals for themselves, they are likely to become demoralised and give up. However, if your child sets goals that are too easy, they are not likely to be particularly motivated to work hard. The trick is to set goals that are both challenging and achievable, so that your child can feel what it’s like to work hard and achieve their objective.

Rewarding – People are more likely to work hard towards goals that make them feel good. When your child achieves their goal, you should make sure they feel rewarded for their effort. This doesn’t mean that you have to give them money or buy them a present. Sometimes a simple “good job! I’m proud of you” can make it all worth it.

Timely – Students are very bad at thinking about the future. This is how procrastination works. It is so much easier to say that you will do something “tomorrow” or “next week” that do it right away. If your child’s goals are too long-term, then it is likely that they will put off working until it is too late. This is why it is important for your child to set goals with short time frames. Instead of looking ahead to the end of the year, encourage them to think about what their goals for the term, or even the week are.

Here’s an activity for you. Talk to your child and discuss their long term educational goals. Then, use the S.M.A.R.T principles to break these goals down into smaller, more specific and short term goals. Perhaps you’d like to share these goals in the comments section. We would love to hear them.

5 Steps To Motivating A VCE Student

There are a lot of very intelligent students out there who, despite their natural talents, perform poorly in VCE due to a lack of motivation. Often, when faced with the immense pressures of year 12, students can become apathetic and lose energy. They say things like “there’s no point in trying” or “I’m just going to hope for the best.” Does this sound familiar? If you think that your child is struggling to motivate themselves, these 5 steps are sure to help them get back on track.

1. Discuss Their Long Term (Personal) Goals
At the start of VCE, it is a good idea to sit down with your child and discuss their goals for the year. Encourage them to think of long term goals, such as getting a particular ATAR score so they can get into their chosen University degree. Share their excitement with them; it is important that they understand that VCE is an exciting chance to open up a range of opportunities for themselves.

2. Discuss Their Short Term (Academic) Goals
Once your child know what they want to get out of the year, the next question is “Ok, how do we get there?” Getting a good ATAR score does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. For this reason, long term goals should be broken down into shorter, easier short term goals that your child can focus on throughout the year. For example, if my long term goal is to get an ATAR score of 95, some of my short term goals might be: get an A or higher on my SAC next week, develop a system for organising my notes, do a little bit of exam revision each week and learn how to structure an essay. Once you have discussed your child’s goals, write them all down. It is important to keep hold of these and refer back to them throughout the year.

3. Make An Action Plan
Next, it’s time to work together to figure out how your child should go about achieving their goals. Do they need to study for two hours every night? Do they need to dedicate an hour each week to reviewing their notes? Do they need to read their English text by the end of the holidays? Make a list of tasks that need to be done, and figure out when they will be done. This is also a great time to make up a homework/study schedule for the year.

4. Leave Reminders
When your child has developed a study schedule and an action plan for the year, make sure they stick it up above their desk so they can see it as they study. It is important that your child can remind themselves throughout the year why it is that they are working so hard, and what it is they hope to achieve.

5. Revisit Goals
There’s no point in making goals if they are going to be forgotten. Make sure you revisit your child’s goals throughout the year. If they have been reaching their goals, then make sure to praise them. If they are not living up to their own expectations, then it might be a good time to discuss their study habits and priorities. You can always make new plans and update goals throughout the year.

If your child is in year 11 and 12 this year, don’t wait until it’s too late to get them motivated. To be successful in VCE, students need to be working hard throughout the whole year. If your child is not, then now is the time to get them motivated.