Steve Bailey, The Sensible Study Toolkit

They say a good magician should never reveal their tricks.  But should a coach ever reveal to their coachees the tools and approaches they are using, or should they continue to remain hidden ‘behind the veil’? 

This is one of many facets of the art of coaching which fascinated me through my initial journey with the Academy of Leadership Management and through the completion of my ILM coaching qualification – and continues to this day during my ongoing practice. 

My own natural instinct has always been to share.  Yes, of course, during the coaching session I will use the coaching techniques we are all familiar with in the background to help frame the session as each situation demands.  But I have also always found my clients to be very receptive to me also taking the time to explain what it is that we have just done, how it works and in what scenarios it can be useful to apply it. 

Study strategies

There’s a well-known mantra: ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime’.  This is a concept that is at the heart of good coaching, in that we are there to facilitate people finding their own way and being able to stand on their own two feet long after our sessions have reached their natural end. Clueing a client in on the process can be a very positive factor in allowing them that kind of agency and provides them with the tools to be able to help themselves when they face new challenges in the future. 

It was this thinking which led me to apply my coaching knowledge to the field of exam revision and good study practice.  Like many parents, I had become increasingly concerned at the level of pressure that all young people now find themselves under in terms of academic assessment. More and more, we are hearing of the impact on teenagers’ mental health being impacted by the stresses and strains that school and university exams inevitably bring.

This thinking brought me round to the idea of how my experiences and training gained at the Academy could be of benefit. I quickly realised that both young people and indeed anyone studying for any kind of test, could benefit from the kind of insights and support which coaching brings. This, together with a desire to support as many learners as possible, led me to write and publish The Sensible Study Toolkit: The self-coaching model for balancing personal wellbeing with study success.

Motivation to study

It is of vital importance that students consider the ‘why’ question when it comes to forthcoming exams.  By that I mean a consideration of why they are studying which moves beyond the kneejerk ‘because I have to’ response. All too often, we can find ourselves driving towards a particular goal or achievement without ever really understanding why we are doing it. It’s little wonder then, that something like exam revision can become such a grind, even when it shouldn’t have to be. If a result becomes the be all and end all, with no real focus on why it is so important, it can hardly be a surprise when enthusiasm wanes and stress levels rise.

Instead, students should be encouraged to seek an understanding of those exams as a stepping stone towards whatever goals in life they may have (questions that are just as applicable for the GSCSE pupil as the Degree student). Tapping into these internal motivators not only helps sustain effort and resilience, but can also then be used to help inform the study process by taking an action planning approach based, in part at least, on consideration of the implications of the long term goals that have been identified.

Setting study goals

Once a student has examined those elements, they are then more capable of considering the path that will lead them to actualise their goals. Again, this is an area where good coaching can be invaluable. Whether it is the encouragement of setting rewards, monitoring progress or managing relationships, the act of being aware of motivations and challenges greatly increases both the enjoyment of studying itself and the chances of achieving the desired result at the end of it. 

There is also the need for assurance and realisation to take into account. When confidence is waning, brick walls are hit and finding the motivation to continue can be difficult, so having the assurance that the goal is not only still attainable, but worthwhile is crucial. Similarly, being aware of what exam day itself will entail allows effective coping strategies to be set in place.

At it its core, effective coaching with regard to studying should allow students to discover what is important to them and them alone.  To set goals which are truly aligned with their goals in life, to remind them of the things that really motivate them and to be comfortable with acknowledging those that don’t. These are all simple coaching techniques which I found greatly beneficial myself while at the Academy and feel a natural fit when applied to studying.

As a result, students will hopefully be capable of planning more effectively and able to keep a reassuring eye on how they are progressing, ensuring that their stress levels remain in healthy balance and their mental wellbeing remains strong.

Keeping motivated in the run up to an exam is crucial, as is ensuring that a student reaches the day of assessment ready to operate at their best, whatever that may be. Equally though, making sure that study remains a proportionate and connected part of the rest of the student’s life is of vital importance too and cannot be overlooked.

The power and usefulness of such techniques has not just been invaluable to me in my academic and later working life, but I could not have written The Sensible Study Toolkit without the insight that my coaching training at the Academy has given me.

The Sensible Study Toolkit: The self-coaching model for balancing personal well-being with study success is available to buy from Amazon. To get in touch with Steve and to find out more, please contact