Joe’s Jotter: The Challenge of Choosing Subjects for 3rd & 4th Year Students

Choosing subjects for 5th Year can be a daunting enough task. A Transition (4th) year student will have had more time to contemplate options and so sometimes make more considered choices than those coming straight from the Junior Cycle (3rd year), and this is something Parents need to be aware of. It is important to put thought into how your subject choices may influence your career options later. Students should consult with all their teachers and ask them about the level of work that’s required for success in a given subject at a specific level.

Third Level Considerations

Students: If you have a third level course or career in mind, have a quick look at its content online and see are there any minimum entry requirements to gain access to it. It is important to note that no matter what points you achieve; you will not be allowed onto a course unless you achieve its minimum entry requirement (if it has one). This may guide you to choose a particular subject. In the case of compulsory exam subjects like Maths, you will be studying these anyway so there is no choice to make there. However, if there is a requirement on your desired course to score a certain grade in a foreign language or other subject, you will need to opt for this subject when decision day arrives.

In relation to specific college requirements, it is useful to know that the NUI colleges (UCD, UCG, UCC, Maynooth etc) require a pass in a third language for many of their courses. However there are now exceptions to this: UCD has dropped this requirement for Engineering and Ag Science, and Maynooth has removed it for Business, Accounting, Finance and Law. Trinity, UL, DCU and the IT’s do not have this third language requirement, except for those studying a language course.

There are also ‘Subject requirements’ on courses. For example, to study Primary teaching, you need a H4 in Irish, Engineering courses may require honours Maths and sometimes a science subject, Medicine can require two science subjects (one being chemistry) and Nursing may also require a Science subject. The savvy student will do some research on or to get a handle on exact requirements of potential courses.

If business is something you are really interested in, for example, you could choose Business and Accounting (assuming they don’t clash on the school timetable). Similarly, if Science is your area of passion, you could opt for two from Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Applied Maths or Agricultural Science may also be other options here.

The best advice I can give about choosing subjects is to select ones that keep your options open. You can best do this by choosing one foreign language and ensuring that at least two of the other three subjects picked are ones you have some sort of interest in or flair for. Remember you will be spending a lot of time studying your chosen subjects over the next two years and the nightmare scenario would be dreading going to that class each day.

Subject Statistics

While reflecting on subject choice, I did an analysis of Leaving Certificate results (Table 1) from August 2018. From the point of view of choosing subjects, the percentage of students scoring a H4 or above (A H4 being between 60% and 70% on a higher-level paper) has thrown back a very interesting breakdown.


Table 1: The percentage of students that scored a H4 or above per given subject 2018*
Subject Percentage of Students achieving

a H4 or Above

Music 89%
Technology 72%
Engineering 70%
Irish 70%
Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) 70%
Home Economics (S&S) 68%
Accounting 63%
Biology 61%
Chemistry 61%
Maths 60%
Politics and Society 59%
Physics 59%


What I find interesting here is that the top half of the table (the first six subjects) are those that have a practical, project or oral element to them. Whereas the bottom half (the second six subjects) have solely a summative final exam. As is clear from the table, there is quite a big disparity in the results between the top and bottom half of this table, leading me to wonder is there an imbalance in the system towards subjects that are currently including some form of continuous assessment. This trend has broadly continued into 2020 and 2021. Eventually all subjects will have continuous assessment, but this is not the case as we speak.

From this table and for these subjects, it is true to say that, statistically, a student would be better off leaning towards the type of subjects where some element of assessment is performed before the final exam. Some may say that I only analysed twelve subjects: but it’s an interesting viewpoint none the less. From these statistics, I certainly think that it is yet another consideration students’ need to examine when choosing subjects, one I wouldn’t have contemplated previously.

All in all, when it comes to subject choice, students should think a little about their futures, talk to teachers, look at courses they may have an Interest in and discuss with their peers gone ahead how it all worked out for them. Take your time and choose well. It may be wiser to choose subjects you have an interest in, as oppose to ones you feel you must choose in order to get into a certain career later. It’s a balancing act.

The Eight ACE ‘Do’s’ for choosing Subjects

  • Choose subjects you will enjoy studying
  • Discuss it with as many people as you can. Teachers/Parents/Friends etc
  • Try and keep your options open as much as possible
  • Choose subjects you have some kind of a flair for
  • Research each subject’s content on
  • Choose subjects linked to a possible future career you are considering
  • Write down the Pro’s/Con’s on paper if you are trying to select between two
  • Students should make the final decision (not friends, teachers, or parents)

Enthusiasm for any subject will foster a desire to learn more about it. Studying these subjects won’t even feel like learning. Wishing you luck with your decisions. Joe.

To view last weeks feature on the ‘Importance of Breakfast for Students’ click here.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!



#:    #JoesJotter


© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: The Importance of Breakfast for Students

Students, You have heard your parents and other adults say many times that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that indeed is a hard fact. A decent breakfast will give you the energy to start each morning, help balance your weight and allow you to complete the tasks and challenges you face every day more efficiently. Breakfast is equally as important for children as it is for adults and a healthy one is a vital part of our health and wellbeing. The importance of breakfast as the first meal of the day has been scientifically proven; so your parents are actually correct.

Imagine food is the fuel for your daily activity. During exams and indeed school time, your body will demand good quality clean fuel and regular refuelling in order to nourish itself and maximise your concentration, starting first thing in the morning. I’ve had my own experience in relation to eating breakfast. In my early career, I didn’t eat anything in the morning until my first small break at work (eleven o’clock). During the early morning, I found myself regularly on edge and low in energy. I noticed that just before this break, my body was actually craving food. Basically, what was happening was my blood sugar levels had dropped too low and my concentration was poor during my first two hours teaching, and I knew it.

Morning Habits

As a teacher, I am familiar with students’ poor eating habits in the morning. It seems that sometimes students don’t feel like food or their stomach is unsettled early in the morning. Having eaten late the previous night, their stomach may be telling them that their body is still living off those energy stores. That’s OK. But students, please just eat something, no matter how small, to kick-start your system again. If you think about it logically, the body has not fuelled up for eight to ten hours during the night, so denying it any longer makes no sense at all, especially from a blood sugar and energy point of view.

There are hundreds of good breakfast options that aren’t that time consuming to prepare. These include: Smoothies containing fruit, plain yoghurt or chopped fruit with whole grain cereals and milk. A mixture like crushed nuts, a small dollop of organic honey and plain yoghurt can be quickly made and eaten. Homemade granola bars are great for when you’re on the go and better than the sugar-packed store-bought ones. Personally, I would recommend the following foods for breakfast: Oats, Muesli, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Greek yoghurt, Smoothies, Wholemeal bread, Scrambled eggs, Bananas, Low sugar cereal, Actimel, Low sugar orange juice and Low sugar multivitamin juice. If there are healthy wholesome foods you find hard to consume for breakfast, put other foods on top so that their unpalatable taste is masked. An example of this is to put bananas, fruit, yoghurt or honey on your porridge (cooked oats). I have found that my performance, energy, and concentration has improved greatly in school during the day now that I have introduced porridge into my diet. I recommend you try it for just three weeks and see.

Your Role as Parents

Parents, if your child skips breakfast before school, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and will have reduced concentration levels. Preparing and encouraging them to consume a breakfast that is packed full of fibre, carbohydrates, grains, and protein will help boost concentration levels, improve memory and will stop complaints of hunger as the morning progresses. If breakfast is a busy time of day in your house, then feeding your children what they need quickly might be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By stocking up on all the ingredients you need beforehand, you can deliver quick healthy breakfasts that they will enjoy. By preparing breakfast the night before, or getting them to prepare their own, you can cut wasted time in the morning. Here are my:

My Top Six Reasons to Eat Breakfast

  1. The Gap: Breakfast is the first meal you eat after sleeping through the night. You may not feel it, but your body is actually craving food and needs refuelling.
  2. Fighting Sickness: Skipping breakfast weakens your immune system and may increase your chances of becoming ill quicker as a result.
  3. Concentration Levels: A correlation between concentration and our ability to perform tasks has been proven through research. Food is known to enhance concentration.
  4. Serotonin Boost: Eating breakfast boosts levels of serotonin (a mood enhancer chemical).
  5. Increased Variety: Breakfast foods like whole grain cereals, eggs and porridge contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre, and add great variety to your diet.
  6. Good Start: A scheduled healthy breakfast will help your body run like a well-oiled machine all day. It is a good start to any busy day. Joe

To view last weeks feature on ‘Tips on Preparing for any Maths Exam’, click here.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!



#:   #JoesJotter


© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: Tips for Students Preparing for Maths Exams

Hello Students.

At this stage of the year, many of you are starting to think about your mock examinations in Maths. No matter what happens in the mocks, try not to be too hard on yourself as you still have plenty of time to improve in the subject. Please keep in mind that you have had little exposure to exam style questions, have not completed the full course and will not have attempted that length of any exam paper up to now. Go into the mocks and just genuinely try your best in all subjects. Use it as a way of getting used to the time available for each question. i.e. In Maths, always divide by two; you have twenty five minutes at most to complete a fifty mark question. Every subject has its own ‘time scheme’.

For those of you who may have Dyslexia or a learning difficulty, I would like you to view your exams as a challenge, not a threat. Thousands of students gone before you have achieved their wildest dreams so aim high and keep believing in yourself. Whether you are sitting the Junior Cycle or Leaving Cert, I would advise you to put a plan in place now so that you can revise efficiently and prepare properly. Start by listing out all the sub-topics you need to do for subject like Maths and tick them off as you get them covered. ‘Covering’ them means re-writing examples your Teacher may have given you in class and also trying an exam question on the given topic from a recent past paper. Testing yourself on short and long exam questions is the only way you will know if you truly understand it.

Twelve Top Tips to ACE any Maths Exam

Here are my top twelve tips to ACE any Maths exam – both in preparation along the way and facing the paper on the day.

  1. Do out a lifestyle (study) timetable to start next week. Make sure each weekly timetable contains variety, different ways of learning and plenty of breaks/rewards on it. Adjust it each week. Allocate thirty minutes to each topic revision slot. Give Maths extra time slots if it’s a subject you find difficult.
  2. Buy a small hardback and enter all the keynotes, new information learned and formulae’s that are not in your log tables into it. Divide it into the main topics on your Maths course so that you can easily find what you want when you need it.
  3. Make a note of all new words you learn in class each day. If you don’t fully understand the meaning of them, ask your teacher or google them. Write down (in your own words) their meaning into your hardback.
  4. Practice as many past exam questions as you can to get used to the wording, layout, style and marking scheme of them. Start with the easier ones you know.
  5. “Homework is the best form of study”. Approach all Maths homework as you would tackle an exam paper question. Complete it with pride, showing all steps.
  6. Practice questions at home. Time yourself on each question to familiarise yourself with ‘exam hall pressure’. Stick to the timing for each question. For Junior Cycle Maths, the time for each full question is written on the paper. It is extremely important to stick to the time for each question, as there may be a question you know well at the end of your exam and you won’t even get to it.
  7. Get a “Study Buddy” that will complete past exam questions for you and with you. You can meet up/e-mail and share your Information. This tactic can be used in all subjects.
  8. On the day of the exam, read the wordy questions three or four times and then re-read them again line by line. Underline key words with a red or green pen.
  9. Prepare for all exams the night before by checking you have all the materials you need. Always, double check any exam timetable for the next day.
  10. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in simple English if you don’t have the Maths for it. Remember that the State Exams Commission (SEC) encourages creativity and different ways of answering Maths questions.
  11. Buy yourself a detailed Exam Paper Solutions Book. Use it to double check against the attempts you are making. It will also help you to get started on more challenging ‘wordy’ exam questions. This is one of the biggest issues faced by Maths students right now. Practice and perseverance really help here.
  12. Start preparation today.

Lastly, the language of Maths is extremely important especially since the advent of Project Maths in 2008. The SEC now place more of an emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean instead of just been able to do numerical calculations. There are more words than ever on our Junior and Leaving Cert Maths exam papers, and it is crucial that you start familiarising yourself with them. Start now by recording the key words that have appeared on exam papers over the last six years.

Not being familiar with key words could mean not even being able to start a question. This would be an awful shame given the amount of time you have spent building up your core Maths skills. You need to be aware that different words have a different meaning on the paper depending on the subject. For example, the word “Evaluate” in Maths is quite different to what it means in an English exam. I believe that knowing the key words and phrases is now a key component of “ACE-ing” any Maths exam paper. Use this as your starting point now, no matter what year you are in. Joe.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘How to Prepare for Your Less Favourite Subject’, click here.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

#:    #JoesJotter


© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: How to Prepare for your less Favourite Subject

Junior and Leaving Certs,

As you prepare for your upcoming mock exams, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears. From talking to students, I find it’s not the full set of exams that cause concern; it is usually only one or two subjects. Naturally everyone has their own talents and subjects they prefer. Personally, I was better at the Sciences than the languages, but I persevered and got the grades I wanted in the languages I chose. Sometimes subjects you are not looking forward to are the ones that have you on guard and you end up doing better in; A paper on the day can go well in an exam you were dreading. I regularly hear welcome surprise coming from students on results day, with comments such as “I didn’t expect that result in xxxxx”. The moral of the story here is that too much concern about a subject could end in false worry and be draining you of energy; energy you need for studying and getting your head right.

Not crazy about this subject

Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’ i.e. ‘Eating your Frog’. Of course, it is easier to study and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others. Studying and preparing your ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face during your exam year. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said:

One of the secrets in life is making steppingstones out of stumbling blocks”.

Prioritise Subjects

In order to deal with a subject you find difficult, you need to prioritise it on your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable. It should therefore be ranked in your top three subjects and entered first onto the timetable with the possibility of including more study blocks for it than other subjects. In subjects you struggle with, you need to: ask for plenty of help from your teacher, work with a study buddy, find ways of learning that best suits you, break topics into manageable chunks, write a good set of notes that you can relate to and understand, think outside the box and ultimately dig in and persevere. These are all the characteristics of successful students when they face obstacles. This is on of my favourite quotes and is relevant here:

Someone once told me not to bite off more than I could chew; I said I’d rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity”  Unknown

Train as you will play

Practising past papers is a vital part of revision. It allows you to test what you have learned, what you need to revisit and gives you a taste for the pressures of the exam ‘environment’. The weekend is the best time to practice past papers as you have more flexibility then to create ‘exam timing conditions’. You should train as you play; if you get used to timing yourself and keeping an eye on the clock, it will come naturally on the day. This is one of my ACE tips for success. Remember; only test yourself on material you have studied from the course. The earlier you get practising exam questions against the clock in all subjects, the better.

Use small (A5/A6) hardback notebooks

Use a small hardback for each subject, writing down the keywords/phrases and vocabulary for each topic as you meet them. This will help to improve your knowledge and understanding of a subject. The beauty of a small hardback is its portability. It can be carried around with you, adding variety to your learning. I always give my students one at the start of each year and prompt them to input important information into it every so often. By the end of the year, they have a pocket size set of keynotes that is great for revision. When revising a topic from your textbook, select the key words or phrases which will help you to remember what the topic is about, and then transfer them into your hardback. Your hardback will be a useful resource that you can dip in and out of as the exams approach and it won’t seem as daunting as a big refill pad! Joe.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!



#:    #JoesJotter


© Joe McCormack 2021