A few thoughts about the parent’s role as the child prepares for examination 

  A few thoughts about the parent’s role as the child prepares for examination 

 I’m writing to share one or two thoughts with you about your child’s education as I believe that you are one of those parents with high expectations for your offspring.

This particular message is not necessarily about the courses we offer or directly related to the message we sent to parents recently about revision for the summer examinations. This conversation is broader, and it’s really about the differences that make the difference.

I am a little selective in the parents to whom I send this kind of message. With this sort of rather deep conversation, it’s too long for most people to read as there are more important things to do, such as checking their Facebook page and perhaps watching East Enders! It is my opinion that every parent who has a teenager or younger children will benefit from what I have to share in this message, but I guess that only about 20% of parents, or less, will be prepared to invest 7 to 12 minutes in reading this – perhaps more if you include the thinking process after reading the message. I mention 20% and it’s a rather interesting figure I’ve quoted here. I must confess that I just made an educated guess before I wrote this figure, but then I checked it and below is a quote from the government regulatory body, OFQUAL.

“…. about 20% of those students achieving grade 7 or above will achieve a grade 9. The proportion for an individual subject might be higher or lower than 20%. In summer 2017 GCSE maths, for example, 19.9% of students achieved a grade 7 or above, and 3.5% achieved a grade 9 ….”

Please the bottom of this message for the link on the website for more detail

The same OFQUAL webpage also speaks about A-levels and, when you research, the figure of twenty something per cent or thereabouts keeps cropping up. One question you may want to ask is whether only 20% of people are intelligent enough to achieve the top grade. My answer to this is simple: No. There is a rather interesting principle called the 80/20 rule established by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian sociologist, economist and philosopher, who said that 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. It is a fascinating principle with a very deep and wider implication in society and, in case you are interested, feel free to indulge as it is too broad for the purpose of this rather short discussion! I won’t go too much into philosophy, but the reality of any society is that only the top 20% of people do really well – in terms of real happiness, educationally, financially, health and so on.


What I do know is that not all the 20% who achieve the top exam grades are among the top 20% in terms of natural ability. Also, not all the bottom 80% are dumb, as nurture plays a more important role than nature. I’ve been very fortunate to have taught Physics, mainly in grammar and independent schools, since the early to mid 1990s and I’ve seen young people of average or just above average academic ability achieving top grades. Sadly, I’ve also seen too many very bright young people coasting and achieving poor or mediocre exam grades in subjects that really matter.

Now that the summer examinations are approaching, for many teenagers and their families there is a great deal of anxiety as so much hinges on the results of the examinations.  However, so much can still be achieved in terms of improvement to the outcome of this summer’s examinations – despite that fact that there are less than five real teaching weeks left in most schools.

For GCSE, from now to the exam time in May-June, there can still be up to two grade boundaries, or perhaps more, of improvement. For A-level, at least one grade boundary improvement is still achievable

Is there a magic bullet for a higher exam grade?

I’d like to say that there are just one or two things that a student can do and, magically, he or she will just achieve the top grade. The truth is that there are several things and not two or three. It is not just about studying and revising, attending revision courses or working with past exam questions. All these three things are very much involved, but what is more important is how each aspect is done. There are, however, three areas for the parent and students to perhaps look at: having clarity about objectives, taking the right action and nurture – the last very much involves parents, but not them alone.


The words and phrases that come to mind in all these three areas include behaviour, habits, perseverance, conversations, observations, encouragement, investment, and leveraging human and material resources. I’m not going to go deep into any of these words – some of which are very uncool, but necessary for success, but I will pick on one or two of the words I’ve listed above. Let’s start with investment. When the word ‘investment’ is mentioned, the first thing that comes to most people’s mind if financial, but I’d argue that this is not the most costly of all investments. For the parent, nurturing their child to success includes financial investment, such as feeding them and perhaps paying for additional tuition and so on. For the child, it is investment in time and being disciplined to use technology wisely and not to allow the curse of technology to distract them too much – but, rather, to exploit technology and use it to their own advantage.

Please see below for a link to the blogpost on the Curse and Blessing of technology

As a parent, I would say that the most costly investment is not money, but, just as for the child, it is time. One notion I use is emotional investment, which is more costly than the energy investment and also more than the financial investment. I’m not going to define what I call emotional investment, but I’ll leave that for each parent to work out how it applies to their own situation.

Why do they call it ‘present’?  Because it is a ‘gift’

Yes, young people have more time than we adults; however, so much hinges on the results young people achieve at the age of 16 and 18. It is not at all my intention to make you panic, but please remember that resits for exams do not work in over 90% of cases. There are all sorts of reasons why resitting exams does not work and I’m not going to go into these here. What I will do is refer you to an article that I wrote and published as a blog a few months back. This article also include links to the original sources of this information, such as the BBC and The Sunday Times, in case you are curious to read more about this.


Below are just a few recommendations that I’ll like to suggest to you as a parent at this critical time as your son or daughter prepares for his or her examinations


  1. Have several discussions with your child with regards to clarity of objective and how their goals for the summer examination will manifest themselves – start today
  2. Help and encourage your child to develop good habits in relation to how he or she invests time
  3. Help your child to think carefully and use computers, smartphones and the internet Yes, the computer is a brilliant piece of technology, but it can also be a huge distraction. Examinations are in writing with a pen on a paper
  4. Help to find the additional help to reinforce their knowledge and develop exam skills – only if required!
  5. Be a source of encouragement: try to convince them that it’s all about them and not about you and show them that you are there for them – no matter what.

The purpose of this message is just to share one or two thoughts with you about a conversation which I’m sure is already going on in your head. I hope you found the points I’ve highlighted here of use and please do make comments on the blog page of our website as we value your opinion and what you have to say. We will be writing to you quite a bit in the next two to three months as the preparation for the summer examinations are in full swing.

In addition to sharing our thoughts with you, we at Excel in Key Subjects will also be informing you about courses we are offering which we feel may benefit your son or daughter. Please remember that, in addition to the courses we provide, which are paid for, we also provide impartial, independent advice and success tips to parents on matters that have to do with their children’s school and education. There is no charge for this advice and material and we will also send items to you without even asking you to pay for postage.

I wish your child all the very best in her summer examination and I look forward to reading your comments after you have read this rather lengthy, but hopefully useful, message!




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