“Better than school” – Annette and Erin’s Extraordinaries Club Story
Annette and Erin were some of our founding members of The Extraordinaries Club, from the end of year 10 to year 13, and recently agreed to take part in interview with me.
This blog is a summary of my conversation with them about the lessons they learnt about the Club, themselves and what they took away from their shared experience. To listen to the full interview, click play on the podcast player above.
Why Annette and Erin joined The Extraordinaries Club
As parents, Annette and her husband realised they didn’t have the skills to help their children revise and prepare for GCSEs and A-Levels. When they did their O-Levels, the equivalent to todays GCSEs, they were not taught how to study. No teachers advised them how to take an exam, let alone how to prepare for it.
Like many people, Annette started her family's Club journey by first reading my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, and then sharing it with them. She then got her family to follow the Facebook page and watch some of my videos.
At first, Erin was sceptical about joining the club. She thought, “Do I really need this; nobody else is using this in school. But, I had no idea what I was meant to be doing. And I sort of felt like I was just like swimming in the middle of the ocean and just had no idea on how to do anything and I wasn't happy with my year 10 marks.”
They made a family decision to sign-up and embark on the journey together which gave them all an environment in which they could discuss, share and support each other. Annette believed joining the club would “help take the stress out of things, so they (daughters) can focus on the content and be less “uptight and anxious” and she was right. Although Erin and her sister “didn’t want special treatment” they admitted that applying some of the learning approaches enabled them not to “feel like they were swimming in the middle of the ocean” not knowing what to do and how.
Getting settled in the club
Annette said to her family, “If we're going to do this, we're either all in or we're all out because we do need to do this together.”
“So what we did do was do the modules together. It took a bit of getting together and persuasion. We used to sit there on a Saturday morning and say, right, we're gonna get breakfast, and we'll sit here and eat breakfast and do the sessions.”
Erin says that if they hadn't had the family sessions to do the modules she would probably have, “Just put it off and put it off and put if off. But actually making that time was really helpful.”
She goes on to say, “Having a support sytem around doing the modules meant we could actually discuss it and think things through a bit more. And that will calm you down if things got a bit too stresful.”
One of the first Study Skills modules in the club is Boost Your Motivation. Erin says that she experienced a lot of anxiety, not knowing what she wanted to do.
When they did the Motivation modules together, Erin's sister was very clear about what she wanted to do. But, Annette said it was helpful having another perspective, thinking about how Erin could envisage her future lifestyle, to help her think about her goals.
Coaching calls confidence boost
It only took a couple of coaching calls for Erin to feel comfortable and committed to the club.
Coaching calls helped her with confidence. She says, “It was reassuring to know I was on the right track, and if I wasn’t, then I could get advice. The coaching calls were great, because any little thing I was struggling with, I could just ask about and that was fine. Hearing other people gave me tips on things that I didn’t realise I was struggling with”.
“Everybody in school puts on a bit of a front where even if somebody is failing, or not doing very well, or slightly struggling a bit, they'll be like, ‘Oh, it's fine. I don't really care,' or, ‘Oh, no, I'm doing totally doing fine'. So you can feel almost alone, because everybody around you isn't really that bothered about getting a bad grade.”
The coaching calls helped Erin see that she wasn't alone in her struggles, but also gave her the practical solutions so she could move forward positively.
All parents are in the same boat
Erin and her sister were not the only ones with mixed confidence feelings; Annette benefited from the parent coaching calls as it put her mind at ease and gave her perspective. “You can’t do this for them, so that’s something you have to learn. You can’t put your past exam experience onto them, because actually they are doing okay”.
Annette’s other daughter didn’t want to join the coaching calls, it wasn’t how she wanted to do things. Annette felt that was fine, because she took the tools and techniques from the club and used them in a way that worked for her. Realising both daughters had “different styles” of study helped Annette achieve “that balance between helping them to do the work and put the work in but also maintain good wellbeing”.
Better than school
Annette didn't think her other daughter was taking much from the club. However, when their grammar school put in place some study skills sessions she said, “I don't know why they're wasting their money putting those in place, mum, because Lucy Parsons's stuff is the best.”
Taking care of mental health
Erin says, “We had a study skills day at school and even with things like that, if I hadn't been involved with The Extraordinaries Club, my mental health would be a lot worse than it is because I wouldn't have had a clue what I was doing.”
Through her daughters' GCSE and A-Level years Annette focused on creating the “conditions for success”.
The Extraordinaries Club helped with this, even during lockdown. She said, “You need the right tools, the right setting and to be used to the right conditions. Studying on your bed with a laptop is not going to prepare you to write an exam sitting at a desk. Annette ended up dedicating areas of the family's shared living space as individual study areas for her daughters, as Annette said “it’s not forever – it was important that they have the space they need to learn the best”.
Annette says that she liked the strong focus around wellbing in the club, “For me, that was really important because, bottom line, nobody learns well if they're not feeling good about themselves and feeling well in themselves.”
The reassurance of a clear methodology
Annette was reassured with the Club's methodology around exam preparationg saying, “There was no guessing game anymore. The girls knew what to do, they were revising and used the techniques they had learnt”.
Erin and her sister benefited from the methodology of the Club as well as the structured, systematic, step-by-step approach.
Both Annette's daughters achieved A*s in their EPQs and she puts this down to the support of the EPQ Masterclass and the Summer Award in the club.
“The EPQ masterclass was really helpful in terms of Helen's approach. You can create a great product but that's actually only 40% of the marks. And actually, where people fall down is where they don't use a really strong research base, and where they don't give a good evaluation. The EPQ masterclass does not do it for you, you still have to do all the work, but actually creating the structure and an approach to say, great, you can spend all your energy creating a product, essay or artefact but if you haven't embedded it in some good research, and if you haven't really looked at the evaluation appropriately, then you're not going to sweep up all of those marks.”
What Erin would say to people considering joining the club…
I asked Erin what she would say to other people who are thinking about signing up for The Extraordinaries Club but, like Erin, may be having doubts. This is what she said:
“This is about helping people to be the best they can be, it isn’t necessarily all about A*’s, this is about making sure that they’ve done the best they can possibly do”.