How to get into University with a bad ATAR

 “Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.”

– Stephen Covey

I’m gonna be real with you; sometimes life throws you curveballs. And for some of you, one of those curveballs might have arrived by SMS at 6am this morning.

Maybe the news wasn’t what you had hoped. Maybe you’d had a bad exam and it had cost you.

If you had hoped for a higher ATAR than you received, it is ok for you to feel disappointed.

When I got my ATAR ten years ago (or a ‘UAI’ as it was called then) I was pretty bummed out. The day before I had got my HSC marks and they were good. But then the UAI came and it was lower than I felt I deserved – and perhaps more importantly, lower than I needed to get in to the University course I wanted to do (even if that course was insanely high).

That feeling of disappointment is one that I know well.

But ten years on and I promise you – it is not the end of the road. Like removing a bandaid, the initial sting may hurt, but with each day it will hurt less and less.

The beautiful thing is there are many ways to get in to University that aren’t dependant on your ATAR. That 4 digit number will not determine the rest of your life. Some of my most successful friends went terribly in their HSC, and inversely some of those with the best ATARs began pursuing the ivy league careers before deciding they were happier working jobs that didn’t need a degree at all.


Note: These are all purely opinions and suggestions. You should speak with your University about the options available to you.


Ok, I should preface, that my ATAR (UAI) wasn’t bad by any means – but it was lower than I needed to get in to my first course preference. But, I waited it out and lo and behold, on UAC offer day, that very course had dropped down and become the EXACT mark I got. I’m not even kidding – it was exact – down to the nearest 0.05.

The moral of my story is that even if you feel the ATAR doesn’t fairly represent your effort, wait it out before you stress, as the University entry marks change every year (and sometimes pretty significantly) so you might still get in to that course you want.

If you do find yourself falling short of the entry requirements then you should consider alternate pathways:


There are about a billion of these colleges around, and they will give you direct access to University for a bit of extra cash (although still usually FEE-HELPED). One of my best mates missed out on his dream course at Macquarie University, so he enrolled at a private college that was on the Macquarie campus and then after finishing the first year he got spat out in to 2nd year Uni. No time lost. Great friendships gained. I think they even had the same lecturers teach him that taught the main University, so it was exactly the same. The only difference was the price. A year at a private institution will usually cost more than a year at University, but as mentioned, most of them are usually government supported so you won’t feel the pinch right away. They also usually don’t require an ATAR to get in.

I don’t want to plug any individual colleges, but they aren’t hard to find. As mentioned, they are everywhere, and provide a great pathway to getting in to the University course you want.


If you do a semester at University and maintain good enough grades they will allow you to transfer in to almost any degree you want. So you could enter in to a course with a low ATAR, nail those first 3 or 4 subjects and then transfer to the course you really want. The only disadvantage is that the subjects you do might not match up with your new course requirements, so potentially you may have to do an extra semester at the end of your course to make up on lost ground.

This is one I saw done a lot at University. There are limitations – I don’t think you can just freely transfer in to Law or Medicine, but check with your University about the options available to you.


Much like a mid-year transfer, but this one you do the course you want, only the first semester marks won’t count. You just need to prove you can get high enough marks to stay in that course, and then from there, they let you in. Similarly, it might put you a semester behind, but in the scheme of things that is not a big deal to enable you to pursue your dream career.



Do you really need University? Of course, if you are going to be a doctor or an accountant or a lawyer or a teacher – or any job that specifically requires formal education – then of course you do. But for those who don’t, have you considered the other options available to you? I’m talking in particular to those thinking of entering the business or marketing world. I reflect on my time at University and wish I had instead approached businesses that I was interested in and asked to intern there for free so that I could learn exactly what was involved. Most people will turn their nose up at unpaid internships, but hey, it is much cheaper than University and often much more productive because you are building the relationships and learning the tools of the trade that are relevant to that industry or job. Other than the class I did on DJing and Mixing, very little of what I learnt at University has helped me run an actual company. I learn from doing it – making the mistakes and learning from the experience. That is what I would do if I could do my early 20’s all over again.


Once reserved for high school dropouts, TAFE has really lifted its game in recent years and is now an excellent alternative to University, especially in anything trade or creative. Don’t reject TAFE just because your friends might joke about it – it is a great and affordable way to get ahead.


There is nothing wrong with going out and getting a job first year out of school. Depending on what you use as an indicator for success, there is no reason someone who gets a job straight away can’t find as much success as someone who goes through Uni. Imagine first year out you become a real estate agent, and that whole first year you hustle hard and make your first sale. The next year, you make ten sales. The next, it is 30. By the time your mate graduates University you could be making 50 sales a year which would earn you some great money and give you a huge head start on life. Meanwhile your friend takes a graduate position where he is earning what you earned in your first year, and it will take him a long time to match what you are earning – especially if you keep hustling.

Working different jobs can give you a great idea of what you really love. My best mate had no idea what he wanted to do after school, so worked a ton of different jobs before realising working with young people was his thing, so went to University in his mid-twenties to study education. He has never been happier!

Your ATAR will not define you. If it was a disappointment, try not to worry yourself – you still might get in to the course you want – and if not, there are plenty of ways around it.

Keep learning,


Central Coast Tutoring, Central Coast Tutor, Central Coast English Tutor, Central Coast Maths Tutor, Central Coast HSC Tutor, Central Coast Private Tutor

Private Tutor shares 7 steps to being an incredible student

In this blog we talk a lot about what we as parents can do to help our children succeed. But at some point, it comes down to your child being willing to put in the work. This is something written specifically for the students – for those who want to be at the top of their game. These 10 tips will put you in the right place to perform at your best: 

Challenge yourself

When given a choice between easy or hard, choose hard. You will rise to the challenge and it will put you outside your comfort zone. In your assessments, set your own bar a little higher and work a little harder. When choosing your subjects, choose those that will challenge you – it will feel even more rewarding when you conquer it.

Be in class

It sounds obvious, but as you get to year 12 you will realise that each class missed leaves you behind – and they get consecutively harder to catch up on. By being present in class you are giving yourself the greatest opportunity to excel. Say no to commitments that will take you out of class, and take pride in being there on time.

Put aside distractions

Choose your seat in class strategically away from friends that will distract you. They might be hurt in that first class, but after that they will get over it. Put your phone in your bag during class and if using a laptop, keep other apps and sites closed. If you get distracted for 10 minutes in each class you are throwing away +50 hours of content each year – and that makes a huge difference in your academic performance.

Ask questions

An engaged student will ask questions – both when they don’t understand but also to understand an idea better. Questioning is one of the best learning methods and will allow you to learn much better than simply being told. If your teacher is too busy, then a private tutor can answer your questions for you. Having someone to bounce ideas off can be invaluable.

Create your study space

Whether it be a desk in your room, a spot on your dining table or a patch on the couch, your study space needs to be yours. Keep it distinct from other activities so that you know when you are there, you are studying. Make everything easily accessible and conductive to studying – comfortable, quiet and distraction-free.

Go above and beyond

Do your homework – and then do a little more. Do more than just the minimum expectation and you will get more than expected in your assessments. Cover everything you did in class and then go through the upcoming content with a Maths tutor or English tutor.

Use a diary

Staying organised is one of the most important things you can do. Use a diary – either paper or digital and stick with it. Schedule all upcoming assessments and give yourself regular reminders to stay on top of things.

These are 7 simple steps that will mould you in to an incredible band-6 student. Apply them and you will see the results come!

Keep learning,

Private Tutor

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5 ways to inspire a love of reading from an English tutor

Whenever I meet a student who hates reading it breaks my heart. The books I read growing up taught me about life and adventure and friendship. As a kid (and before the days of video games) I used to stay awake at night and let my imagination come alive with these characters that I felt like I knew personally. I read John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow when the war began’ series in year 6, 8 and 10 – and then again a few years ago as an English tutor and it made me realise how much the values shared by Ellie and the gang-influenced my view of the world as a teenager.

I don’t need to go into the benefits of reading – if you read then you know them already. It allows you to understand different people’s lives. It encourages imagination. It is like having a personal discussion with someone and enables you to learn from their wisdom.

But with the rise in technology, students are spending less time reading and more time on their phones. Attention spans have reduced, so getting a teen to sit down and read a book can be a challenge.

To cultivate a passion for reading try these 5 steps:

Work at their ability level

If a student struggles with reading it won’t be fun for them. Find something that they can handle, and work up from there. There are some great easy-to-read books, such as ‘the diary of a wimpy kid’ series that gets younger students reading. From there they can tackle some of the popular teen series, like Harry Potter, and then on to young-adult series like The Hunger Games or Twilight. Don’t expect them to jump straight to the top of the reading ladder – it requires steps that can take time. The support of an English tutor can certainly help!

Read what interests them

Find books that relate to what they love. There are books out there that target every different niche – really EVERY niche. It is a great opening to reading and will naturally interest them. If sport is their thing, find a novel on sport or give them a biography of their hero. If they are already passionate about the subject it will be easier to get them reading.

Get them thinking critically

When you talk to them about what they have read, ask them questions that go beyond simple recounts. “What would you have done in that situation?”. “How do you think that made her feel?”. “What is the message of the book?”. Teaching them to think critically will help them stand up for themselves and ultimately see a reason for reading.

Make reading a necessity

I always tell the parents of my students that daily reading is key. An hour here and there is not going to help – it has to be a daily discipline, and the easiest way of doing this is by making it a necessity. Get them to read things that will help you – get them to read a recipe for dinner, or get them reading you the weather report for the next day. Integrate it in to their daily life and it will get easier, making reading for enjoyment much more likely.

Set an example

If they see you reading, they will do the same. If all they see is you watching TV, they won’t be interested in reading. Turn the TV off one night a week and have a reading night, or read together for the last half hour before bed each night. As with everything, your children will do what they see you doing, so make reading something they see you doing regularly.

Hopefully these 5 tips will inspire a love of reading in your child. If you can cultivate that passion now they will thank you for years to come!

Keep learning,

English tutor

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Guiding high performance students through academic blunders

We all make mistakes. All of us. There are those mistakes that have a significant impact upon our life, but luckily, most mistakes we make are fairly insignificant in the scheme of things. Sure, that’s an easy statement to make, because I know that at the time it can feel like your world is crumbling around you, but a few days later it will hopefully be a faint memory that will soon become just a story to one day share with friends.

I want to talk specifically about when high performing students make mistakes because they are the ones who usually feel them the hardest. As a private tutor, in the last ten years I have worked with every type of student you could think of – Type X, who couldn’t care one bit less about school, Type Y, who wants to do well but really struggles with the concepts, and Type Z, the A-range student who just wants fine tuning. Of those three it is the latter who will take the longest to bounce back from a mistake they make. They put just as much pressure on themselves to perform as there might be from external sources, so a mistake is perceived as a failure in their eyes.

To a high performing student, their academic ability (and result) is part of their identity. If they mess up an exam or assessment it can be a huge hit to their confidence and self esteem, and in some cases, if it is left unaddressed can lead to a downward spiral of disappointment which will often reveal itself in disinterest, social isolation or academic withdrawal. It is crucial that if your child falls in to the high performance category that you are there to support them when they make mistakes at school and show them that there are lessons to be learnt.

Here are the 5 steps I use with my A-range students when an exam or assessment doesn’t go to plan:

1. Remind them that mistakes are universal.
The chances are that they will be feeling lonely and isolated – like they are the only ones stupid enough to make that mistake. Step one is reminding them that they are not alone – that we all make mistakes. I will share with them some of my own failings so they can see that these things happen to everyone.

2. Identify exactly what went wrong.
This an important process as it can help the student pinpoint the reasons for the disappointment. This is also something they can work on to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It could be time management or crafting a stronger argument; whatever it is, it needs to be actionable and improvable.

3. Reassure them of their strengths.
I remind them of what they are good at. At times of discouragement it is really important to let them know that you think they are amazing and capable.

4. Let them know I am there for them.
As mentioned, they will probably be feeling alone, so knowing they have someone who is on their side makes a huge difference. I am someone they can trust and depend on. I equally trust them and believe in their ability. Note – this is a unique benefit that a private tutor can bring – a parent will often be seen as disappointed, but the private tutor is in their court standing with them.

5. Let them know that they are more than their mark.
This is not always what they want to hear, but it is worth letting them know that they are far more valuable than the mark they receive. An ATAR does not define the future, and high performing students will often forget this.

As I said, it is important that when things go wrong at school that this is swiftly addressed. Failure to do so can result in much deeper problems for high performing students. These 5 steps will ensure they learn from their mistakes and bounce back stronger next time.

Keep learning,

private tutor

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Teaching yourself the area of study: Discovery

If you’ve just started year 12 then you are probably gearing up for a huge year. It will be one of the biggest schooling years of your life and it demands constant and ongoing focus – but it will also be hugely rewarding as you learn what you are truly capable of.

Whilst each student has their own subjects and within each of those, their own modules and texts, every single year 12 student is going to have to go through the English area of study; Discovery. It is the only part of the HSC studied by every student – and therefore, your markers read 80,000 Discovery essays at the end of the year making it hugely competitive and challenging.

If you want to get an unrivalled head start on your class, take yourself through the area of study before your teacher does. You will spend a whole term on it at some point, but if you are looking to maximise your marks use the following guide to get ahead.

The module.

Discovery. The process of learning new things about ourselves and the world around us.

The first thing you need to do is get your head around the concept of discovery.

Here is the text from the Rubric. I’ve underlined the most important parts that would make excellent topic sentences or thesis statements and will probably form the basis of your HSC question.

Discovery can encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Discoveries can be sudden and unexpected, or they can emerge from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder. Discoveries can be fresh and intensely meaningful in ways that may be emotional, creative, intellectual, physical and spiritual. They can also be confronting and provocative. They can lead us to new worlds and values, stimulate new ideas, and enable us to speculate about future possibilities. Discoveries and discovering can offer new understandings and renewed perceptions of ourselves and others.

An individual’s discoveries and their process of discovering can vary according to personal, cultural, historical and social contexts and values. The impact of these discoveries can be far-reaching and transformative for the individual and for broader society. Discoveries may be questioned or challenged when viewed from different perspectives and their worth may be reassessed over time. The ramifications of particular discoveries may differ for individuals and their worlds.

By exploring the concept of discovery, students can understand how texts have the potential to affirm or challenge individuals’ or more widely-held assumptions and beliefs about aspects of human experience and the world. Through composing and responding to a wide range of texts, students may make discoveries about people, relationships, societies, places and events and generate new ideas. By synthesising perspectives, students may deepen their understanding of the concept of discovery. Students consider the ways composers may invite them to experience discovery through their texts and explore how the process of discovering is represented using a variety of language modes, forms and features.

In their responses and compositions, students examine, question, and reflect and speculate on: 

  • their own experiences of discovery 
  • the experience of discovery in and through their engagement with texts 
  • assumptions underlying various representations of the concept of discovery
  • how the concept of discovery is conveyed through the representations of people, relationships, societies, places, events and ideas that they encounter in the prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing
  • how the composer’s choice of language modes, forms, features and structure shapes representations of discovery and discovering
  • the ways in which exploring the concept of discovery may broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.

It is worth finding out what text your teacher is choosing (all the options are here) and begin reading/watching/studying it as soon as possible. You will also want to find one or two related texts that closely link to the themes of your set text as you will need them soon.

Create small tasks for yourself by writing mini essays on texts that explore discovery. You will find this easiest if you focus on texts that you have done in the past rather than trying to learn new ones because you really do have enough going on. Some suggestions:

  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (novel)
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (novel)
  • The Road not taken, Robert Frost (poem)
  • The Descendants (film, starring George Clooney)
  • The Divergent series

The sooner you start working with Discovery the better you will go later.

The area of study exam.

This is often referred to simply as Paper 1 as it is the very first HSC exam you will do. It consists of 3 parts – a comprehension section, a creative writing piece and an essay on your prescribed text plus at least 1 related text. You have a total of 2 hours to complete the exam and each section is worth 15 marks. This will also follow the same format in your trial exam.

Practice paper 1

Practice paper 2

Practice paper 3

Practice essay questions

To prepare for the exam you will need to:

Recognise techniques and know how to construct analysis in a succinct manner.

Have 1 or 2 creative writing ideas. You want to have full stories mapped out before an exam – don’t go in empty handed. I’ve seen it go wrong way too many times.

Know your discovery text really well, have a related text that shares similar ideas and be able to adapt your essay to a specific question.

Whilst this is the exam structure, your in school assessment might be different – so find out what it is going to be and get practicing as soon as possible.

It is worth noting that of the 4 previous areas of study, Discovery is my favourite. I think it is the most engaging and some of the text choices are excellent. Try to enjoy it, have fun and hit it out of the park!

Keep learning,


Central Coast Tutoring, Central Coast Tutor, Central Coast English Tutor, Central Coast Maths Tutor, Central Coast HSC Tutor, Central Coast Private Tutor

How many units should you do in the HSC?

If you are about to start your HSC year you will probably know that you have the freedom to drop a subject when the new year begins. This is because the Board of studies requires 12 units in year 11, but only 10 in year 12.

However they don’t enforce this – you are very welcome to take all 12 units through if you want, and they will only count the 10 units you do the best in.

Choosing what and even if to drop a subject is one worth considering. On one hand, you have fewer subjects to prepare for, more free periods and an opportunity to off-load that subject you hate. On the other, doing just 10 units means that every single assessment, exam and mark counts and you have no room for mistakes.

I’m going to outline the different arguments and wrap up with my recommendation – but of course, your situation might be very different, so be sure to think really hard about it before making any decisions.

Why drop a subject in year 12?

For me, the greatest reason to drop a subject is that it will give you more time to focus on your other subjects. For example, if you are struggling through Physics in year 11 and it takes you an average of 10 hours a week to stay on top (study, revision, assessments and exam preparation) – by dropping that subject you will free up an extra 2 hours each week to focus on your other subjects. That is an extra 100 hours over your HSC year that you can give to every other subject!

Another enticing reason is that you will gain a whole lot of free periods. This is ultimately a double edged sword as it is really easy to waste your free periods laughing with friends in your common room. If you use them wisely you can claim back even more time to focus on your other subjects.

Finally, if there is a subject you hate, you can cast it away like an old couch in a council cleanup. I dropped Visual Arts after year 11 and it was a glorious day, because I just did not like the subject. If there is a subject you really struggle with or really dislike, this is your opportunity to get rid of it.

Why hold on to all your subjects in year 12?

The main reason would be damage limitation. As mentioned, if you do 12 units in your HSC, they will only count your 10 best subjects. It gives you a bit of wiggle room, and if you don’t do too well in one subject you don’t have to worry about it.

Another reason might be that you are simply interested in or enjoy all your subjects – and I hear this one a lot. Some students really like all their subjects and they don’t want to get rid of any of them.

Many students think that they need to do certain subjects to do a specific University degree. Whilst they might be very helpful, any prerequisites can usually be bypassed by doing a short catch up course. For example, a lot of University degrees will work at the mathematics level – so naturally doing it in your HSC will be hugely helpful for later on. But if you don’t, your University will run a bridging course to get you on the right path.

So what do I recommend?

Drop it. Hands down. I’m sorry for being blunt, but take the hardest subject in year 11 – the one that took the most time and attention – and get out of there as soon as possible! As you begin your HSC you will realise that your assessments come in waves – you’ll have 3 or 4 weeks with nothing and then suddenly they will all hit at once. Why make things even harder by doing an extra subject that won’t even count at the end of it? In my opinion there is nothing to be gained from doing more than 10 units – you will take time away from other subjects to put towards something that won’t count.

That is just me – you need to decide what is best for you. Ultimately you have to do what you know you are capable of and what will give you the best result over all.

Keep learning,


Central Coast Tutoring, Central Coast Tutor, Central Coast English Tutor, Central Coast Maths Tutor, Central Coast HSC Tutor, Central Coast Private Tutor

It’s HSC time: here’s your English Paper 1 Checklist

The first English HSC paper is just 2 weeks away. It is serious crunch time! Here is a quick checklist to ensure you are ready to tackle it head on!

Section 1

Revise all your techniques and features

Be prepared to use 1 idea or example per mark

Remember that time management is key ‐ you have 2 minutes and 40 seconds per mark ‐ do not go over ‐ and even better, if you can shave some time here you can put it into section 2 or 3.

Whilst you can’t prepare, you can practice. Practice like crazy!

Section 2

Have 2 or 3 story ideas that you can mould around various stimulus.

Focus on character transformation ‐ your character needs to want something and has to overcome obstacles to get it.

Remember to write a story your marker will be interested in ‐ not just what you like. Horror and violence can make a good movie, but are hard to do effectively in a 40 minute story.

Write about what you know. It sound like such boring advice but it is the most effective way of telling a story. Take a simple idea of discovery and tell it well.

Section 3

Organise your quote bank ‐ line up all the examples you are going to use with a quick explainer.

Have 2 related texts lined up ‐ just in case they surprise you this year. Know 1 really well, and the other just well enough to whip it out if you need to.

Practice wrapping your ideas around different questions ‐ the top responses will show an ability to adapt their thesis to a question.

Refine your introduction ‐ it is the most important part. It is your first impression and will set the tone for the rest of your essay.

Use 1 mark per example as a good guideline ‐ so you are going to want to aim for 15 examples/techniques to maximise your opportunity for marks.

Ultimately, the more prepared you are, the better you will do. Study hard!

Keep learning,


Central Coast Tutoring, Central Coast Tutor, Central Coast English Tutor, Central Coast Maths Tutor, Central Coast HSC Tutor, Central Coast Private Tutor

Ten tips for HSC exam success (that you might not have been told yet)

In the lead up to HSC exams there is a lot of the same old advice going around. I want to give you some tips that you might not have heard before – gems that I usually reserve for my own students. I know these will make a difference if you put them into action!

  • Start each exam with your greatest strength

Just like a runner in a race, you will always do your greatest work at the start. Maximise the opportunity for marks by working with your strength first. As time goes on you will get fatigued, you will feel pushed for time and your hand will tire – so make sure you give your greatest skill the opportunity to shine. In Paper 1, if you are a great story teller then start with creative writing. In Paper 2, start with the module you feel best in. You don’t have to do any exam in chronological order.

  • The clock is your greatest friend (and foe)

Be sure you know how long you have to spend on each question, paper and exam. Mastering the clock is absolutely crucial. I’ve seen many students neglect the clock and all of a sudden they look up and have 10 minutes to do a whole essay. In Paper 1, section 1 you have 2 minutes and 40 seconds per mark – be ultra aware of this and don’t exceed it.

  • Find the study method that works for you

Not everyone learns the same way. Just because your friend can read a quote and remember it doesn’t mean you will be able to also. Try different methods and see what works best – read, write, listen, speak, explain – use a range of different techniques until you find the best study method for you.

  • Don’t try to remember an essay word for word

Some students are really good at this – but it doesn’t usually have the best outcome. Band 6 essays will demonstrate an ability to embrace the question and this is hard to do when you go in with a complete essay. It is much better to go in with your C.E.C (see next point) and build that around the question.

  • Prepare your C.E.C (Critical exam content)

C.E.C is the most important information you need. Imagine if you could only write 100 words to answer an essay question – what would they be? For most essay based subjects, this might be an outline of an introduction, your topic sentences and your quote/example bank. This is all you really need to write a great essay – but you really need to know it!

  • Nailing your introduction is crucial

With 80,000 discovery essays to read, you need to ensure that your essay reaches out and punches your marker in the face – even if it is the last essay they read at 9pm on a Friday night. This is achieved through an incredible introduction. I like to compare your essay intro to meeting a girl or boy for the first time – that first impression is crucial, and will setup the expectations for the rest of the essay.

  • Make it easy for your marker to give you marks

You don’t want your marker to have to hunt around for your techniques and examples – make them clear and easy to see. Some like to underline them, some highlight them. You don’t have to do either, but just make them easy to see. Your marker will be scanning your essay looking for keywords – ensure you keep coming back to the essay question and use the words in the question in your essay.

  • Essay writing is a formula that can be mastered

Even if you don’t feel like an incredibly gifted essay writer you can still learn the formula and put it into action. We all know that we need an intro, body and conclusion, but there are other formulas that can make your life easier. You might have seen PEEL or PETAL or PEAL. These are simple methods but they make a great foundation for your essay (for more details head to our blog at

  • Learn when you are at your most productive

You are on study vacation, so you have the freedom to determine when you study. It doesn’t have to be a 9am-5pm thing. For me, my most productive time of the day is between 10pm and 2am – it is when I get the most done because the house is quiet, everyone else is in bed and I’m not going to get any phone calls or emails. One of my friends prefers going to bed early and getting up at 5am and studying straight away. Find ‘your’ time and don’t be ashamed to milk it.

  • Avoid study burnout

Nod with me if you have done this when studying: get restless, walk to the fridge, open it and find nothing, open pantry and find nothing, return to desk, repeat every 5 minutes. There comes a point in your study schedule where you will hit a wall and the very best thing you can do at that time is do something else. Watch a TV show or go for a walk. Cook a meal or call a friend. You need to break up your studying or you will burn out. Refresh and then get back to it.

Questions? I’m here to help. Tweet me @nrothquel or email

Keep Learning,


Helping your child build confidence

Supporting your child to build up their confidence can be tough, because so much of what influences it happens outside of your realm of influence. You might have the world’s most loving and peaceful home, but it just takes one kid at school to give your child a hard time to offset the hard work you have done.

Over the years as a private tutor I have worked with a huge number of students who have lacked confidence and self-esteem, inhibiting their social experience and forcing them to withdraw from those around them. It can be really tough on everyone: the parent feels like they are not doing enough and the child feels like they have no one to talk to. I guess it is a rite of passage of the teen years – to feel isolated and alone. Here are five strategies that I have seen work with students – hopefully they will help you too.

1. Help them find their thing.
They might be terrible on the sports field and this is what is getting them down – so instead of trying to work out how they can improve, help them find their ‘thing’. They will naturally have strengths in specific areas and we are always happiest when we are succeeding at something. For me that was music. I was a terrible athlete, but a good musician. The more time I spent playing music, the less I cared that I was a bad football player and it naturally built up my confidence. It is about finding that sweet spot – even as adults we need to do it – find the thing we excel at and not let ourselves get disappointed at those we are not.

2. Support them in developing friendships.
If you can remember back to being a teen you might recall that it was characterised by those around you – unlike the pre-teen years where it was about family holidays and dinners, 12-18 becomes about the people you spend your time with. I know this can be dangerous, because you want your kids hanging out with the right people, but ultimately teens need their friends. Don’t be afraid to get involved in this and actually get to know your kid’s friends.

3. Understand the value of daily moments.
There are moments in your child’s day where they will want to know you love them – it is important that you maximise these opportunities as a way of boosting self-esteem. For most teens, these moments will be before they leave for school, when they/you get home in the afternoon and just before bed. Make it a habit that in these moments you give them a hug and remind them that they are special.

4. Get them involved in their community.
Sometimes the best way of growing is by giving back. Find a cause that they can contribute to and allow them to experience the joy of selfless giving. They can volunteer in an aged-care home or hospital, help feed the homeless – anything that gets them out of their comfort zone and allows them to think outside their own problems and insecurities.

5. Change their environment.
This is really the last option but it can be very effective. I have seen students who were really isolated and alone come alive as soon as they get to a new school. In fact, even for me, a change of schools in year 10 made a huge difference in forming my identity and academic performance. This is a big step – and not one that you can repeat over and over, but if you really feel like your child is not progressing where they are, consider a change in scenery.

Keep learning,

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5 ways to handle “I hate school” moments

If you’re like most parents, you probably take the responsibility of getting your kids to school very seriously and get angry and frustrated when they refuse to go. This can easily turn into a power struggle if you feel this is a battle you have to “win.” It’s all too easy to react to your own anxiety and emotions about the situation rather than acting in a well-planned, effective way that will get you (and your child) where they want to be.

When your child chronically refuses to go to school, you can start to feel like a hamster in a wheel—putting in a heck of a lot of work, effort, sweat and tears, but not really getting anywhere.

I’ve seen and sympathized with frustrated parents who resort to physically putting their younger child (still in pajamas) into the car and driving them to school, then carrying them kicking and screaming into the building before being left with a staff member. Parents are at their wits’ end with this problem and I get it. The key is not to get drawn into a power struggle with your child over school, but to address the underlying problem. Your child will not learn the appropriate coping skills to change their behavior if you keep engaging in this fight with them. Instead, it will only add to the negativity of the situation.

I’ve also met parents of defiant teens who respond to their child’s refusal to attend school by yelling, screaming, and taking everything away. These parents are trying to hold their kids accountable, but they’re setting up a dynamic of “I’ve got nothing to lose” in their child’s mind. Their kid actually becomes motivated to refuse school even more because it’s one of the few things he can control. Instead, these parents need to get to the root of the problem and coach their child out of it.

Other parents get worn down by their child and simply give up; they let their child stop going or drop out of school because they’ve had it.

Why Kids Refuse to Go to School

In my experience, most kids who refuse to go to school fall into one or more of these four categories:

  • Kids who are being bullied or those who are having trouble getting along with  peers, either for the short term or the long term
  • Kids who are struggling academically and therefore school becomes a symbol of this
  • Kids who have problems with authority and following the rules
  • Kids who are experiencing some anxiety—separation anxiety, (usually in younger kids), or worry about tests, what’s happening at home, or whether or not they’ll be picked up that day, etc.

Parents of kids who hate school end up frustrated, exhausted, and grasping at straws. The key is to meet the problem head-on and focus on solutions that will resolve the issue in the long term, which includes teaching your child how to be a better problem-solver with a healthier outlook on their responsibilities.

Also remember that when kids are having trouble socially or academically, there is always something that can be done to make the situation better. The goal is to empower your child to be a confident and creative problem-solver who believes he can have some control over what happens to him.

How to Respond Effectively

When parents get stuck in a power struggle with their child over school—and in that constant negative cycle of fighting, yelling and nagging—school becomes a very negative thing for everyone involved. Rather than reacting out of emotion, try to step back, put your feelings of panic and anger aside, and focus on responsibility and solutions. Ask yourself, “Who is really responsible? What steps can each responsible party (including my child) try in order to change the situation?”

How to Turn Things Around

1. Get to the heart of the issue. Sometimes it is actually a child’s lack of problem solving skills that are the root of the issue. For example, your child might be falling behind in class, but doesn’t know how to approach her teacher and ask for help. Spend some time talking with your child to really dig deep into the problem. Ask open ended questions—these usually start with “what,” “when,” or “how.” You might ask, “When do you have the toughest time in school?” or “What goes on for you when the teacher assigns something that seems really difficult?” You might also get input from the teacher at your child’s school or an Alchemy Tutor as well—they often see things you don’t see, and report things your child won’t report to you.

2. Work on solutions at home and at school. Think of the people who work at your child’s school as your teammates. While they often bring a different perspective to the table, I can tell you that most all of them have the same goal—they care about your child and they want to help your child learn and grow, academically and personally. It takes commitment from the staff as well as commitment from you in order to help your child through a challenging time—just because the problem is taking place at school does not mean that you get to sit back and let the teachers handle it. And believe me, I know that most of you are thinking, “Well yeah! We know that!” But trust me—there are some parents that don’t think that way. So talk to the teachers and work as a team to come up with a plan for home and school. When you are feeling lost about what to do, teachers often have great, effective ideas that you can try—don’t be afraid to ask for some guidance. Teachers might also refer you to the school counselor for additional support and ideas or recommend the support of a private tutor.

3. Meet your child where he’s at and coach him forward. Change is not an overnight process.  Your child will most likely not make a complete turnaround and start liking—or even tolerating—school in the of an eye. Start where your child is right now and gradually increase your expectations over time until you’ve achieved your goal. Be patient and check in with the school often. Talk with your child often as well to see if things are getting better, and come up with new ideas to try if needed.  Continue to draw upon your support system for ideas and possible solutions. Children with peer challenges might need some assertiveness training—a lot of kids don’t know how to speak up respectfully when another student offends them. I teach my students to use XYZ statements: “In situation x, when you do y, I feel z.” I then have them follow up the XYZ statement with a request to tell the other student what they want such as a simple “Please stop.” Role-playing the situation with them is an important part of the process that will give them some practice and build their confidence so they are ready for the real deal.

4. Be supportive and use positive incentives. Recognize your child’s progress, even “baby steps.” Let your child know you can see she is trying, or let her know you noticed that she cried a bit less (or fought a bit less!) this morning and she’s on the right track. Frame your accountability system in a positive way: “For each day that you do _______, you get an extra 15 minutes of computer time.” Or “Once you do _____, you earn your _________ for the day.” Notice I am not saying never to use consequences. I suggest offering extra incentives first and if that doesn’t work, make a current privilege dependent upon your child going to school each day. Every time you offer an incentive there is a built-in consequence—they don’t earn the incentive. No school today, no _______ tonight and they can try again tomorrow. If they don’t go to school at least 4 days out of 5, they don’t get to ________ over the weekend. So while it’s framed positively in the first two examples above, there is a consequence, and this can be used with ODD kids as well. Kids who are dealing with anxiety-based issues especially benefit from positive incentives such as earning something special on the weekend once they go to school each day.

5. Be empowered. If you’re seeing some seriously defiant behavior and your child does not respond to these strategies after a week or two, then it’s definitely time to reach out for some support—locate a therapist or counselor who can help you get your child’s defiance under control.

Also, keep a record for yourself. In the event that you do have to explain your situation to anyone for any reason, a log of your child’s absences, absence reasons, and your response will help you to explain your situation and identify patterns. Contacting the school each time your child is absent is another wise move—let them know when your child is sick as well as when he is straight up refusing to go (and don’t lie to cover for your child!). Keep in mind, while these ideas will show that you are an active parent who is making an effort and who is honest and well-meaning, they won’t necessarily keep you out of trouble with the board of studies etc.

A lot of this is “selective attention”—you get more of what you pay attention to. So teach your child how to cope, set up a system to motivate them, and make a big deal out of positive behaviors, ignoring the unwanted behaviors.

I’ve worked with so many kids who struggled for the first few weeks of school and improved so much over the course of the year. Were there setbacks? Yes, of course! But kids are resilient and they can learn and adjust with some coaching and support from you. Also, don’t forget about your school counselor or the individualised care of a private tutor as they can be valuable supports for you along the way. Working together with your teammates at your child’s school you can achieve so much more than trying to go it alone. Speak up, reach out, and ask for help. It might be just what your child needs.

Keep learning,


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