Joe’s Jotter: Preparing for Exams ‘Home Alone’ (Chapter 1)

Being able to work alone is becoming an even more important skill, as third level institutions increasingly develop their online learning platforms. Getting used to notetaking and revising at home, however, is proving challenging for many students. In school, your subject teachers are present to keep you on task, class-by-class each day. This contrasts sharply with the amount of distractions and ‘extra-curricular’ activities vie-ing for our attention at home.

Episode one of this feature article contains recommendations and practical advice to get a revision routine going at home. Preparing notes and revising at home is alien to most students unless they have been home-schooled. These guidance articles, which come in six parts spread over the year, will provide you with tools and ideas to help you get organised, advise on motivation, and explore the role your parents may have during ‘home revision’ periods.

Next Day’s Plan

From an exam student’s point of view, the first thing you need to look at each night is your plan for the next day. If your plan is to ‘do a bit of study’, a large part of the day could well pass you by. At this stage you need to develop your own workable home routine. To do this, I would recommend getting up at the same time, showering and having a structured plan for revision, meals and breaks to facilitate that pattern you need. Organising yourself the night before is key. Knowing what to expect the next day will increase your productivity.

Learning Successfully at Home

To learn successfully at home, you need to investigate new ways of finding and using material online, including being familiar with new software and websites. You will definitely need to be more self-disciplined and more efficient at managing your time than ever before. Planning next day’s ‘Revision timetable’ each night with thirty minute blocks for each sub-topic will certainly help. Use breaks and little rewards to motivate yourself. With your teachers not around, you will need to challenge and motivate yourself minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour. Hopefully you will look back later and view these changes you have made at home as a positive period in your life. Without knowing it, you will effectively be turning yourself into independent thinkers and learners, and these skills will stand to you at third level and in the world of work to come. Even during term time, there is only so much your teachers can do for you. You must do the bulk of summaries, testing and revision at home.

Your Study Area

Ask yourself the following questions: Is my revision area free from distractions, comfortable, and spacious? Is there natural light in the room and is the desk and chair I am using the right height for me? Is my study desk full of ‘non educational material’ or is it clutter free? Is this a place to prepare notes and learn? Your answers to these questions will indicate if you need to make changes to this area or not.  Up to now, your study area was only used for three to four hours each evening, but now it may be required more, and you need to ensure you are happy with how it is setup. Ideally, I would locate my revision area outside the bedroom, in order to disassociate revision with sleep. Depending on your circumstances, all of the above may not even be possible – but just do what you can. Link in with your parents to try and get as many of these elements in place as possible. I will publish the five subsequent parts of this feature at Christmas, February Mid-term, Easter and just prior to June’s State Exams. Stay tuned for more useful Insights on ‘Revising at home’ as time progresses. Joe

“Check the plan the night before for tomorrow. Adjust and make it achievable.”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: Two Short Tips to Improve Your Revision

I believe a good attitude is so Important when it comes to commencing a year culminating in state exams, but also those preparation years before. It’s wise to work consistently through 2nd and 5th year, preparing and summarising your notes so that when your exams come along, you have a good bank of work written in your own language and style. Along any journey, there will be highs and lows and your exam year will specifically be full of excitement and surprises. You will learn so much about yourself. Like any marathon, you need to complete a certain amount of training to be successful in it. Read these two practical tips below and try and take some Inspiration from them for your upcoming homework and revision schedule. It’s only October, so start small and build.

Pay Attention to Detail

You will practice many past exam questions in preparation for your exams, so get used to paying attention to every single word to ensure you don’t misread them. This applies to all your routine class tests also. The mind has been known to play tricks when under stress, so be clear on what the instructions are. I always get my students to circle or underline keywords in past exam questions that we do together. Watch out for questions with two or three parts in them and be careful how you write things down. Layout your paper well and use arrows and notes to signpost your teacher around your answer page as required. Two acronyms that you should stick up on your wall at home are “Read the Full Question” (RTFQ) and “Answer the Full Question” (ATFQ). If you attend to this level of detail in class, Christmas and Mock exams, it will be second nature come the Junior Cycle or Leaving Certificate.

Good Days and Bad Days

As we settle back to school, you are sure to have good days and bad. There will be days that you will not want to study, see notes, or maybe even go to school. It is how you deal with these feelings and situations will be the key to your success. You will learn lessons of perseverance during the year and will need to dig deep, draw on your energy reserves and show determination also. Remember, energy comes from the five e’s; exercise, endorphins, enthusiasm, exuberance and excellence. You will need to take ownership of your work for the first time ever. Try and stay positive during the bad days as things can turn around very quickly in life.

When I look out sometimes at the rain pouring down from grey skies, it seems never ending; it does end though and sun can follow very quickly thereafter. If you don’t feel like doing anything for a day or two, do so, but then reset your goals to be back in top shape afterwards. Conversely, if you are having a great day and feeling good about the world, hit the books hard and go all out to maximise your notes and learning on that day. In general, be focused, determined, committed and persistent. Good luck, Joe.

“Do the preparation work for you. Not your Parents, Friends, or Teachers”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: How After School Study Is Beneficial for Your Child

I am a big advocate of after school study, with many schools now running it after class time finishes. Parents, I would highly recommend you enrol your child for these sessions (assuming it is affordable for you). I believe that (from second year upwards) this daily routine will help them settle into positive habits of completing their homework and getting some revision done each day.

Here are my top ten reasons to engage in regular after school study:

  1. Quiet Place

In this noisy world, it can be difficult to find quiet times in the home; meals to be cooked, chores to be done and siblings running around. At school study, students are assured of quiet time to concentrate and put goals and preparation in place for whats upcoming that week.

  1. Learning Environment

Being in school, students are in the place they are used to learning in. In the study hall, they will be assigned a proper table and chair with good heating and lighting for sessions. Their study environment at home may not be as good. Study in school could turn out to be more productive than efforts to concentrate at home. Their friends studying with them in the hall may provide extra motivation also, fostering a ‘we are all in this together’ group attitude.

  1. Proper Supervision

After school study will usually be supervised by one of the subject teachers (who students will know), and this ensures they will be required to get on with their work and revision during the session. It may also be handy to have someone knowledgeable present that they can ask questions of if they are unsure about homework or notes. 

  1. Homework Opportunities

After school study should be looked at as an opportunity to get all homework of the day done to a high standard. Exam students should always complete every piece of homework like an exam question. I view homework as the best form of study.

  1. Revision Blocks

Sometimes if a day contains free class periods, much of the day’s homework may already be finished. In this case, students should set out two or three study blocks of thirty minutes in after school study to maximise their revision time. Getting some extra revision done during the week will give a great sense of satisfaction for that day and will take pressure off their workload for other days that week (including your weekend). After school study is the ideal place for this preparation.

  1. Home Unsuitability

Sometimes good quality study and revision at home may not be feasible; there may be just too much going on. Parents knowing that their children have these extra hours in school will be reassured of genuine work being done and can of course check in on this with teachers.

  1. Catch-up Time

Just before after school study is a great time to get notes from your buddies for any classes you may have missed over the previous few days. Prior to study, you will have a chance to discuss with them what homework needs to be done and clarify any issues for the next day’s school also.

  1. Leisure Time

Putting a big effort into after school study should leave you with more free time when you get home. Even during the week, every student needs a little bit of down time, whether that be, going to the cinema, visiting friends, playing sport, or just hanging out. This free time should be viewed by parents as a reward for their child’s efforts during the day.

  1. Minimal Distractions

After school study is now even more important given the emergence of the smart phone. As you well know, social media and phone access is a big distraction now, especially when trying to revise at home. Not having devices in after school study will make it much easier for your child to concentrate on tasks at hand without being disturbed by notifications.

  1. Early Finish

Going into after school study soon after classes finish will ensure all homework will be completed earlier in the evening. This should improve productivity with their mind being fresher at this time. It should also give more opportunities for family meals and getting into good sleeping habits during the week. Joe.

‘Do not Ignore the subjects you are good at. Nurture them too.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: Taking the Anxiety out of Maths 2023

Grasping a subject of difficulty is always a big challenge for even the best students. One of those subjects is too often Mathematics. Maths seems to have developed a ‘bad boy cred’ over the last twenty years, but I feel things are getting better slowly and I know students feel more positive about it since the introduction of Project Maths in 2008. In general, I think students are enjoying the more practical approach in the subject since these changes. The existing course is however still quite long, and you need to box clever in order to pin it down. Many students are still trying to come to terms with the amount of words on Maths exam papers and indeed how they link to the concepts. I totally get this. However, I still believe you can learn to grasp the key concepts without being born a Maths genius.

Can Anyone Be Successful at Maths?

People regularly ask me about this, and I believe Maths is a subject everyone can do well in by being willing to try different methods. For sure, parents have a role to play here, so students should get them involved. Parents can get involved in homework from an early age and should be encouraged to send notes to the teacher if there is a particular area their child is struggling with. Above all, it is imperative that Parents pass on a positive attitude about Maths early on. A ‘can do’ attitude gives the student belief that they can face problems in the subject and come through them. Encouragement and positivity are the most constructive way any parent can help boost their child’s ‘Maths conviction’.

Maths is Learning by Doing

To me, Maths is a subject where you need to be continuously ‘learning by doing’ and the importance of attempting exam style questions cannot be underestimated. Reading through questions and text like you do in other subjects will not work in Maths. Having access to a structured solution book for exam questions is important. Inevitably with some challenging questions in the subject, you will run into difficulties getting started and this is where having the first line or two of the solution can be extremely helpful; a detailed solutions book is ideal for this. I believe that referring to the first part of a solution and then revisiting the question yourself is a very efficient way of developing key Maths skills. This technique isn’t one much practiced in other subjects, but Maths is unique in itself as we know.

Skills That will Improve Your Maths

You must adopt different approaches to improve success in Maths. A genuine attempt to start a question in Maths will allow you to gain momentum and progress to apply the concepts you have learned in class. In my experience, the biggest stumbling block to achievement in Maths is getting the question started; but a single grain of rice can tip the scales. In general, if you are finding it difficult to get started and feel lost in Maths, start by practicing the part (a) questions in your past exam papers and work your way upwards to part (b) and so on. If you are an exam student, go back on your 2nd or 5th year notes to refresh those key basics. The majority of students just fire notes from previous years in a corner. Past notes should be stored carefully for ease of access later. It’s amazing how much you will recall about what you wrote down and what advice your teacher gave you back then. This is a good starting point. As you always hear me say, Algebra is jewel in the crown at all levels. Maths is about having a go, knowing the tricks, when to use formulae, consistent practice and really believing in your ability and the work you have done. Joe

“The harder you work, the luckier you get. Optimism will grow with effort.”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: Parents & Primary School Children: Working in Accord

With Primary school students having spent much time recently learning from home, parents are now taking a greater role and Interest in their children’s education. This is a difficult task, as many parents are working from home and trying to support their child’s learning also. Creating a consistent routine, keeping positive, keeping calm, putting rules and consequences in place, allowing time for your child, talking to, and reassuring them are all factors that will contribute to producing a more harmonious learning environment.

I have worked with a Primary Teacher to develop this feature and I hope you will find it helpful as we move to a new normal and different ways of learning and communicating. In this feature I have included some areas we consider important to you as a parent. I hope they are of some help and create a safe, happy and loving environment for your child.

It is important to plan a daily structure and involve your child in this process. With your child, sit down together and draw up a balanced timetable of learning, fun and breaks. A child will follow a timetable better if they help plan it and this will also build their confidence. In doing this you are giving them a level of ownership to control and determine their own routine.

Tips on planning a routine and timetable

  • Set times to get up and go to bed
  • Agree a timeline including structured work, recreational/practical activities, and breaks
  • Choose activities the child enjoys
  • Plan short sessions e.g. 20 mins and always allow flexibility. There is no set time if the learning is balanced and varied
  • Identify times you can work with them and times they can work independently
  • Aim to include movement breaks regularly throughout the day
  • Ask your child what they like to do and include this in the daily schedule
  • Introduce a positive reward system e.g. choice time, sticker chart. treats etc
  • Decorate the timetable and display it at your child’s eye level

Supporting Schoolwork at Home

Junior Infants – 2nd Class

The best way to support children of this age is to:

  • Sit with them as they work
  • Work for short intervals
  • Take movement and snack breaks
  • Use the outdoors to break away from tabletop tasks
  • Use a reward system
  • Encourage your child to focus on the task in front of them
  • Read words/questions carefully
  • Form letters correctly
  • Check correct pencil grip
  • Have concrete materials readily available for number work
  • Provide practical experiences for Maths work, e.g. Shapes around me, weighing food from the cupboard, counting, checking etc
  • Challenge them by asking different types of questions in various subject areas
  • Try and relate topic areas to your child’s own experiences
  • Always give praise and encouragement

3rd Class – 6th Class

  • Allow children to work independently as much as possible
  • Offer support and assistance as needed
  • Assess learning by observing, questioning and correcting work
  • Monitor presentation of work and handwriting
  • Look at their school workplan beforehand to familiarise yourself with the different subject areas
  • Use age appropriate actions from the ‘Junior Infants – 2nd Class’ list above

Outside the Classroom

It is important for your child to enjoy free time and activities they have fun with. Here are a range of activities that you and your child can choose from:

  • Practice how to keep safe during Corona virus spread
  • Exercise, sport, games
  • Imaginative free play
  • Fine motor skills: Lego, play dough, beading, building blocks and cutting
  • Linking in with loved ones and friends on voice calls and video calls as social interaction is very important
  • Learn life skills: indoors and outdoors (Choose jobs that children can do)

– Baking, cooking, gardening, (planting, weeding), setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, making their bed, tidying their room, folding clothes, sorting clothes, hanging out the washing, farming (safely) etc

Media and Online Time

It is important that your child has access to recommended online facilities during any school closures where possible. Ensure your child’s safety online and set up parent controls on devices to monitor child’s activities online. Below I will list some of the more useful websites you can work on with your child.

It’s a good idea to link with the school and class teacher through email, in order to give and receive feedback and to send on work samples for assessment.

 Twelve Useful Websites to Support You as Parents

helpmykidlearn.ie (Learning for all Age Groups)

PrimaryScience.ie (Science)

twinkl.ie/offer (enter the code IRLTWINKLHELPS)

webwise.ie (Online safety)

vooks.com (Literacy)

starfall.com (Literacy)

scoilnet.ie (All curricular areas)

topmarks.co.uk (Maths)

learn.khanacademy.org/khan-academy-kids (Words and Numbers)

askaboutireland.ie (SESE)

krokotak.com  (Arts and crafts/colouring)

positiveparentingsolutions.com (Parental Advice)

 

“Mistakes are proof that you are trying.”

 

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

Joe’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Boost Your Motivation for Autumn 2023

Students, did you find being at home all the time during lockdown recently with no teachers or fellow students to encourage and motivate you challenging? Most did in fairness. Even us adults struggled greatly with the situation. The reality, however, is that a good chunk of your preparation will be done ‘home alone’ no matter what the circumstances. There are plenty of things you can do to maintain high spirits and decent motivation levels, both for home and school time. Have a read of this feature article and pick out two or three things you can implement that might improve your motivation levels and your attitude towards schoolwork and the homework/revision you do each evening.

Set up a Lifestyle (Study) Timetable

Firstly, set up a Lifestyle (Study) Timetable with all different subjects, different subtopics, and different ways of learning each day. Start with a trial run for three days and tweak it as you go along. Secondly, challenge the brain to perform different types of tasks every thirty minutes, whether that be taking notes, writing bullet points, watching a YouTube video, listening to an audio file, or discussing a sub-topic on the phone with your friend. Variation in stimulus will trick the brain into maintaining concentration for longer. Mixing the above with regular breaks will alleviate boredom and increase productivity. These are definitely two starting points to help drive the desire to be more successful, whether that be in a small class test or the final state exams for exam years.

Improving your Motivation at Home

Maintaining high motivation levels is an important element of getting any task completed. The first thing to realise is that you can achieve any goal by discovering ways to motivate yourself. The way we converse can sometimes reflect our motivation levels and can also increase them intrinsically, without us even knowing. Highly motivated individuals will use words like ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘may’, ‘like to’ as opposed to ‘must’, ‘won’t’, ‘can’t’ and ‘need to’. Writing, considering and repeating positive sentences out loud can improve motivation and reset a positive mind-set. Here are some examples of these sentences in the context of your new academic year. You should re-write these into the back of your journal to reflect your own current situation and attitudes:

  • I want to start preparing myself for the upcoming class tests and Christmas exams.
  • I need to put a structured timetable in place.
  • I’d like to get into Third level when I complete school.
  • I should get my head in the books this week.
  • I must start working hard to reach my short-term goals.
  • I can achieve whatever I want through hard work.
  • I will deliver brilliant exam scripts in this year’s Junior/Leaving Cert.
  • I will get organised and sort this out step by step.
  • I know that I have plenty of ability.
  • I must organise to share study notes with my friends.
  • I can be as positive and as focused as anyone in my class and year.
  • I am a good all-rounder.
  • I am well able to take on this challenge.
  • I am a force to be reckoned with.
  • If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.

Hearing about the study habits of others on Instagram or Snapchat can be a positive thing. Instead of feeling guilty about not being currently highly driven; use it to motivate yourself. The fact that there is someone out there competing against you, who wants your college place, should get you going and make you more determined.

Another motivating factor for this year’s Junior and Leaving Certs is its length. The length of the school year is just nine months. You only really need to raise your game for that short period. Do you fancy repeating the year while your friends head off to college or employment? Not too appealing I would imagine. Again, don’t ignore these thoughts; instead use them as the driving factor every morning to ‘get started’.

It’s a nice idea to copy down your motivations into the back of your school journal, having a glance at them whenever you find yourself losing interest in your work. Having a role model friend who is very driven can also help you to fulfil your potential. Talk to as many former exam students as you can to find out how they navigated their path. Above all, I want you to compete against yourself and not anyone else. Use your previous results, grades, and recent comments from your teachers to strive for something more. Just improve on your last test result!

Accept the Things You Currently Cannot Change

As this point in time, you need to reflect a little about what kind of a start you have made to the year.  Ask yourself now, “Am I on track to deliver a performance when the big day arrives?”, “Will I feel better or worse if I do absolutely nothing over the next week?” It is worth remembering that you cannot change the past and it shouldn’t limit you either. This week is a good time to start. I always remind my students that you can only shape your future through present actions. Start again tomorrow if today didn’t go so well. Move on and accept. For me, the prayer of serenity comes to mind here:

“Accepting the things, I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Having a bad day may commence a negative thought process: “I’ll drop down to pass or foundation to concentrate on other subjects”. You need to guard against one lapse destroying your desire to achieve at a given subject. A bad day is not a bad week and remember that this is a long-term project. However, there are things that you can control, including, keeping yourself as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising and completing those timetabled revision blocks you put in place.

In summary, find out what motivation techniques work for you and repeat them. Try not to worry about what you cannot control. Your job at this time of year is to settle into a good revision routine at home and to listen as best you can in class. You can only do your best, so try not to be too hard on yourself. Joe

“It’s never too late to step into your own greatness! :-) ”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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