Joe’s Jotter: How Summaries and Self-Testing will Prove Worthwhile

As students adjust to the reality that they must now try to find the best ways to study at home that suit them, the two main pieces of advice I have for you this week are timely. These are the benefits of re-writing your own key notes and testing yourself at home.

Just reading through your textbook is not an effective form of revision; we need to be clear on this. I strongly believe you need to actively engage with a piece of text, and this involves making some notes at the side, underlining in red or green, highlighting or maybe even just making markings on the page to signify whats Important. Successful students constantly summarise notes into something manageable and run little tests at home to monitor their progress. I will now detail the reasons why I believe having your own summaries and self-testing will improve grades. I also will discuss the importance of adding variety in your revision. This is definitely more in focus now due to the current ‘home constraints’.

Re-write your own key notes

Re-writing your notes is a study method that has been tried and tested over many years and I feel it is one of the best. To recall information later, it is vital that you make good notes and highlight core Information, both in class and during home revision. Re-writing these initial notes later copper fastens what you think are they key elements of what you have flagged. Doing this is a really good way of getting facts to ‘stick’ and will help you learn faster. Rewriting notes in your own words is a short cut to understanding material on your course; as writing something down forces one to think more about the subject matter, thereby increasing retention of that information.

The key to doing well in exams is adaptability and being able to think critically about topics in the exam hall. If you can adjust to change, cope with the unseen poem or unusual Maths diagram, the examiner will view you as standing apart from the rest. Your key notes should reflect you viewing a topic from all angles; finding holes in it, praising it, picking out the main points from it, seeing where it links with other topics and most importantly, evaluating its usefulness. An insightful set of key notes have delivered excellent grades for my students over many years.

How to Self-Test

We are never sure we understand something until we are properly tested on it. Am I correct? You don’t need to wait for class tests or mock exams to see how you are progressing in each subject; you can examine yourself at home. You can start off by testing yourself on one full exam question, ensuring you follow the time allowed. Eventually you can build up to sitting a full past exam paper under the time pressure of a real exam.

There is no substitute for doing past exam questions within an allocated time. The students who do one exam question a day (no matter how small it is) are very tuned in to whats required once exam day arrives. At this point, ask your class teacher to give you some extra class tests or unusual past exam questions so that you can try them under these conditions.

During exam revision times, it can be difficult to find a friend or family member to quiz you, which is why you may need to do it yourself. Learn how to test yourself and do it in as many ways that you can. These include setting questions, answering revision questions at the end of each chapter in your textbook or practising do-able past exam questions.

Quizzes are a brilliant way of making sure that all the information you need for your exams has been completely covered. Ask your friend to write you a quiz; they may think of an angle on a topic that you won’t. Re-do last years’ class tests that your teacher set for you. Your parents can help too by examining you on material you need to remember i.e. facts or bullet points. My own mother was extremely good at this; helping me improve in subjects I wasn’t amazing at, namely History and Irish.

Use Variety in your Revision

Ongoing creation of revision cards in your subject will greatly enhance your learning. This type of revision is now very popular with students. Make revision posters, laminate them, and stick them in the shower, the bathroom, the kitchen; everywhere. When writing revision cards, split the card in two and write short phrases on one side and its explanation in your own words on the other. Colour code your quotes, dates, names, and theories. Keep the colours consistent so that you will recognise them easily. Developing your own colour coding system for topics will help you recall information quicker. Find out what works for you and repeat the trick. Every year, I see former leaving certs passing on notes to their friends. This has some obvious advantages, but there is no substitute for writing your own set of notes. Writing a summary of existing information switches your brain into content analysis mode and you will remember much more of the notes you write, compared to reading and trying to understand someone else’s.

Surround yourself with positive people in exam year. Without sounding harsh, sometimes you are better off without ‘friends’ that let you down. To quote the author Hans F. Hanson:

“People inspire you, or they drain you – pick them wisely”.

Friends who are always in good form can really give you a lift. If your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend aren’t supportive of your work and aren’t giving you room to prepare properly for your exams, it may be a warning sign of where the relationship is going down the line. The opposite can also be true. In this regard, every day is a school day. Joe

To view last weeks feature on ‘The ACE Guide to Exam Prep from Home (Part 3)’,  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!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: The ACE Guide to Exam Preparation from Home (Part 3 of 6)

Dealing with Motivation Issues – ‘I Don’t Know Where to Start’

Students, if you are struggling for motivation at home right now, put a half day’s timetable in place tonight and try it tomorrow. Time will fly, with each revision block being only thirty minutes. As you begin to see progress, your motivation will grow. An alternative approach to developing a timetable would be to create a task list. Each night you could write down a list of ten to twelve challenges you would like to achieve in various subjects the next day. Tick them off then as you get them completed. If you currently feel you are swamped with work and worry, this is your ‘get out of jail’ card. It is so important to set targets, otherwise timetables and lists are just ‘drive by’ and ‘hopeful’ preparations that you will never be answerable to. We all need targets to help us achieve things and it is also a fact that we are more likely to reach them if they are written down.

Once you set a measurable target (example: eight pages from a textbook to be summarised into your own words), assess how much progress you have made. On completion, tick it off the sub-topic list on your A3/A2 subject summary sheet. A short term target could be as simple as ‘understanding emotions’ from two English poems or practicing writing letters to an imaginary pen pal in whatever modern foreign language you study. Remember if you don’t know where to start, commence with the basics of a topic. i.e. view the first few chapters of your textbook or the first set of notes your teacher gave you on it. Start small and then when you get up and running and notice progress, you will be encouraged by your own efforts. Just get a routine going somehow, and then rinse and repeat.

Write out a List of Motivations in Your Journal

Another tip to improve motivation is to write out a list of targets in your Journal and then write ten reasons underneath explaining your motivation to ACE them. On lazy days, open that page and read your ‘motivational list’,  thinking about how you felt when you wrote them. This will inspire you to get started or keep going. Revising and preparing may seem like it is solely for your upcoming exam, but you will discover that learning is a lifelong process. Try to enjoy the challenge of getting that timetable completed or ticking off those tasks; you have nothing to lose and all to gain. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it your all.

For those of you who continue to struggle to get started on revision, start by writing down the activities you lean towards to dodge study. Put this list on your wall and be fully aware of the times you drift towards them. Being aware of this list will remind of what you really should be putting your mind to at that given moment. Any effort or movement towards starting a short revision block should motivate you to commence a second one i.e. The hardest part of being successful with any task is often just getting it started. Imagine yourself, on your side, rolling down a steep hill. You will gain momentum as you go.

The Many and Best Ways to Learn

The key to any successful Lifestyle (Study) Timetable is keeping your brain fresh by completing different tasks every thirty minutes. Rotate your learning between different subjects but also within subjects. What I mean by this is: Revise in all the different ways possible. You only need five or six ways that work for you but won’t know which ones suit until you actually road test them yourself. The below is a sample list of the many ways we learn. I am sure you could add even more creative and interesting methods to this list below that match your personality. Pick out three or four of these approaches and give them a try:

  1. Write a bulleted list to explain and summarise a short book extract.
  2. Summarise a chapter of your textbook into your own words.
  3. Create flash cards with a list of facts. Limit each card to seven key points.
  4. Record a summary using the voice memo function on your phone. Replay back.
  5. Put keywords and their definition for each subject (per topic) into a hardback.
  6. View a YouTube video of an expert or listen to audio/podcasts on topics.
  7. Teach or discuss what you have learned with a member of your family.
  8. Get your parents/siblings to ask you questions on a topic you have just revised.
  9. Read a summary out loud to yourself.
  10. Rotate your place of study to retain freshness. e.g. the garden or kitchen table.
  11. Create Bubble diagrams with Microsoft PowerPoint to illustrate topic linkages.
  12. Create a visual Mind Map for a sub-topic you are struggling with.
  13. Stick nine postits onto an A4 sheet. Write a summary with keywords onto them.
  14. Use different coloured pens (red and green) to draw attention to key points.
  15. Use different coloured highlighters to mark relevant details of note.
  16. Chat to friends to find out how they are approaching certain subjects/topics.
  17. Stick stickies/sheets on your wall for memory. Rotate content every five days.
  18. Research topics on the Internet to give yourself that extra piece of information.
  19. Continually test yourself with sample tests, online quizzes & past exam papers.
  20. Use Graphic Organisers to create a more visual set of notes (samples below).

Sample Graphic Organisers*

*Source: Using Graphic Organisers in Teaching and Learning (SLSS)

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home’, 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!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home

In light of the current health threat and for the first time in a long while, students (and indeed their Parents) need to examine more closely the daily routine to ensure effective learning is happening as much as possible. Maths is a subject that tends to take up more time than others and hence 3rd and 6th years should use these circumstances to consolidate what they know and spend time on past exam questions and the use of language in it.

From this point of view, I would recommend that all exam students start a ‘Maths hardback’. Fill this hardback with new words, formulae’s not present in the log tables and keynotes. Divide the hardback into fifteen-page sub-topic sections. Secondly, being at home full time is a good opportunity to test yourself against the clock on full or partial past exam questions. Set these as your two main targets prior to returning to school.

Algebra is the Language of Maths

In Junior and Leaving Cert Maths, you need a good solid Algebra foundation to build on in order to excel in topics like Geometry, Trigonometry, Functions and Graphs and Probability. I estimate that Algebra is linked to at least twenty five percent of Maths exam papers at all levels now. Take time to understand the rules of Algebra especially those linked to expressions, functions, and graphs. I, one hundred percent think that Algebra is the most important topic in Maths. The words and phrases that appear on the course and in your past exam papers are equally as critical. The State Exams Commission (SEC) now place more emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean in Maths, than just being able to do numerical calculations.

There is more ‘English’ than ever on Maths exam papers, and it is crucial that you start familiarising yourself with these words. If you are not familiar with the words and phrases that appear on the paper, you may not even be able to get a question started. This would be an awful shame given the amount of time you have spent learning mathematical concepts on your course. If you have dyslexia, I understand that dealing with words in Maths is doubly difficult. You need to be aware that different words have a different meaning, depending on the subject you are studying. For example, the word ‘Evaluate’ in Maths is very different to its meaning in the subject English.

In my book ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects, there is a full chapter advising how you can improve your Maths. In  the book, I present and explain one hundred sample key words and phrases to kick start your understanding of the language of Maths. This list is suitable for both Junior and Senior Cycle students, remembering that some of the more difficult words would not appear on a Junior Cycle paper. I would strongly encourage you to add to this list, investigating the exact meaning of words you come across. You will learn loads through your own investigations, thereby learning by doing.

I advise that every time you encounter a new Maths word or formula that you write down what it means to you in an A5/A6 hardback. This idea can be applied to all subjects and these hardbacks can be carried with you (literally) all the way up to sixth year. Using simple explanations that you understand in your hardbacks will help you recall what the words mean later. Being familiar with the words that appear on a Maths exam paper has now become a key component of success in the subject.

Test yourself at home in Maths

The more ‘exam smart’ you are, the better you will perform on exam day. I have seen the best students do their homework to perfection and really know their stuff but ultimately not reach their potential In Maths come June. Every year loads of super students misjudge the timing on the paper. It is imperative that you stick exactly to the allocated time for each question. In Leaving Cert Maths, you have twenty-five minutes to do a fifty marker (always divide the amount of marks by two to get the time).

You should now start timing yourself on past exam questions at home. At Leaving Cert level, part a’s and b’s of Section A are a good place to start. Attempt questions that look familiar first, maybe even consulting your book/notes from time to time. It’s all learning. Once completed, check your workings out against a good exam paper solutions book. If you have struggled to make reasonable inroads into answering, I suggest you re-write the steps of the full solution on a page, really thinking about why each step is important as you write it. Every few weeks, tackle some longer questions and write out the steps (in English) how you would solve it. This verifies the order of steps and method in your head.

There are many advantages to creating your own ‘home test environment’. You should constantly test yourself on material revised. During these mini home tests, I would use a stopwatch to ensure you are ‘sticking to time’ for each individual question part. This is vital across all subjects, but especially in Maths. In creating this little bit of time pressure, you are replicating the exam hall environment. Train as you propose to play is the idea here.

I am currently conducting Online Maths classes (via the comfort of your own home) for 3rd and 6th year students. For 3rd or 6th years who are not sitting a Mock examination in Maths this year or for those of you who want a Professional opinion on where you are at in the subject right now, check out the ‘ACE Maths Assessments’ section of my website below to see how it could suit your current needs. Get in touch with me If I can help you in any way. Stay healthy during these uncertain times. Joe

To view last weeks feature on ‘My Top Forty Benefits of doing Transition Year’, 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!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: My Top Forty Benefits of Doing Transition Year

 

I had heard transition year is a doss, but you do more practical work, like projects. You are a lot more tired than in Junior Cycle because you are doing so much. You don’t realise it until you look back.
Former Transition Year Student

Transition year (TY) is a unique one year Programme that links Junior and Senior Cycle together. It is now completed by the majority of students who finish secondary school in Ireland, with seventy five percent of schools offering it. Each school is given the flexibility to design their own TY Programme within a broad set of parameters. Some schools view it as an additional academic year of senior cycle; but most schools design it to allow students express themselves and develop and explore new talents.

Will Transition Year benefit me?

The question that all 3rd year students and parents struggle with at this time of year is: ‘Will TY be beneficial to me?’  I feel there are a number of factors determining the success of Transition year for a given student. These include how well the school structures it, the enthusiasm the student has for the Programme and how much they buy into it, and the level of variety in the Programme, to name but a few.

There is no doubt that if a student does immerse themselves in TY, they can benefit greatly both from a social and developmental point of view. As is evident from the quote above from this former TY, students are engaged in a range of different activities compared to the more academic Junior Cycle. As a teacher, it is easy to spot the 6th year students who have completed TY, as opposed to those who went straight into 5th year. Aside from the obvious fact that students look a year older, they are much more confident in themselves and are a few more steps down the road to maturity than their counterparts. In my experience, this is especially pertinent to boys.

My Top Forty Benefits of Doing Transition Year

Listed below are my top forty benefits (in no particular order) that a student may gain by opting for TY. Hopefully it will allow you to make an informed decision if you are a parent or a 3rd year in the process of contemplation. It may also get you thinking about your future options if you are currently in 1st or 2nd year.

  1.  It is an opportunity to mature especially if you are younger than your classmates
  2. You get a taste of working in everyday jobs in Industry and services
  3. You are given more licence to show and develop your individual personality
  4. Your confidence around meeting and dealing with people will improve greatly
  5. You may get to experience a trip to another country
  6. You may get to sample activities you wouldn’t normally e.g. sports, music, or drama
  7. You will be involved in outdoor experiences beneficial to fitness and mental health
  8. The friends you make in TY often turn into lasting relationships
  9. You will be allowed time to reflect and think about possible future careers
  10. You will get an opportunity to research courses and third level options
  11. You will get more of an opportunity to work in a team during activities
  12. You will feel part of a group, which may have not been the case at Junior Cycle
  13. Having an Identity (being a TY) will increase and enhance your personal self-worth
  14. You will learn to think more independently and listen to instructions better
  15. You may discover new talents and skills through engagement in new activities
  16. It should inspire you to take on more responsibility in senior cycle
  17. It will give you time to select the subjects that suit you for senior cycle
  18. You will get an opportunity to express yourself more with an expanded curriculum
  19. You may get an option to sample new subjects. e.g. Home Ec or Woodwork etc
  20. You may get a chance to visit places of cultural significance e.g. Museums or Gallery’s
  21. You may get opportunities to accomplish certs. e.g. Gaisce, Driving, ICT or First Aid
  22. You will learn research skills and how to approach employers for work experience
  23. You will get a chance to create, enhance and develop the quality of your CV
  24. You may get to experience debating, which will help your public speaking confidence
  25. You may be lucky enough that your school is involved in a TY exchange Programme
  26. There won’t be as much academic pressure on you during this year
  27. You will have more time to join school groups e.g. student council, sports council etc
  28. You will be more mature and a year older heading into senior cycle
  29. More experiential learning during the year will mean more hands on and more fun
  30. You may attend workshops or talks e.g. Drugs, Alcohol or Community groups
  31. You may do a career matching or aptitude test to discover potential career paths
  32. Students may be involved in setting up mini companies (great for teamwork)
  33. Teachers will be more open to exploring what you are personally Interested in
  34. Students may get opportunities to enter local enterprise competitions
  35. You will still work on academic subjects and can continue to develop your knowledge
  36. You can investigate what type of learner you are (useful going into senior cycle)
  37. You will leave TY with a whole new set of skills and experiences to kick start your CV
  38. At the end of TY, you will be more mature and ready to make better future decisions
  39. TY’s often tell me that it was their most enjoyable and rewarding year in Secondary
  40. The fun, the bonding, the laughs, and the treasured relationships. Joe

To read last weeks feature article on ‘The Challenge of Choosing Subjects for Senior Cycle’, 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!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021