Joe’s Jotter: Excelling at your 2023 Christmas Exams

First, Second and Fifth years; you will be commencing your Christmas exams soon. In the case of Second and Fifth years, it is another step towards your state exams and of course you want to put on a good show for work done over the last few months. Consequently, your preparation needs to start now for these exams. If you have very little revision done up to now, it’s not too late to salvage a decent percentage in order to set you up for the second term. It is never too late to start revising. Here are ‘Six of the best’ tips to ready yourself for the upcoming challenges.

  1. Set up a ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’.

You need to put some kind of a plan in place for the next few weeks and I believe the ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’ fits that bill. In summary, draw out a weekly timetable containing thirty minute study blocks each tagged with a five minute break after each one. Each block will contain a topic from one of your subjects. Prior to entering topics required to be revised; enter your school times and all the leisure activities or events you will be involved in and need to commit to that week. Keep some catch-up blocks free each weekend in case plans change during the week. It is better to have a plan in place that needs tweaking than no plan at all. Be ambitious but realistic with your plan, ensuring it is short term. This will allow you to improve and adjust the next renewal of it. Full details of how to construct the ‘Lifestyle timetable’ is contained in my two hundred page ACE Study Guide textbook entitled ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects.

  1. Consolidate.

I would advise you, at this point, to consolidate the main topics you have studied with your teachers since September. Prepare no new material while also being realistic what you can get covered in a couple of weeks. Your teacher should be able to give you a broad outline of the main topics for consideration for this exam, so be sure to ask.

  1. Summarise.

Start writing out summaries of the core topics in your own words, whether this is using notes from your teacher or Information from your textbook. Mind maps, bullet points, pocket hardbacks, posits and flash cards are all useful for this. I am a firm believer in students having their own set of notes that can be read and understood easily. As with any exam, you do not want to be trawling through pages of notes as deadline day looms. Start putting these good habits in place now and you can build on them in January.

  1. Tend to all Subjects.

It is important not to neglect the subjects that aren’t your favourite or that you may not excel in. The first piece of homework you tackle every evening should be from these subjects and they should also get more time (blocks) on your ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. You are better off to have the majority of percentage scores for subjects around the class average, as opposed to having very high and very low percentages across a mix of subjects. Give each subject the respect it deserves, and balance time spent on them as best you can. Focus on your weaknesses, as it is likely your talents in the other subjects will balance overall grades out. This also applies within subjects. Getting very low scores in certain subjects can really drain confidence and leave you wondering “Where do I go from here”?

  1. Listing and Ticking.

List out the set of topics (subject by subject) you plan to cover for these exams onto an A3/A4 sheet. Develop a system. Something like: Put an ‘S’ beside a given topic when summarised and then tick it off when you feel confident you could answer a potential exam question on it. Having these lists on your wall will provide an added incentive to get more done. Ticking off each list and watching the workload shrink will help you feel so much better about how your revision is progressing. ‘To do’ lists are another variation of this. I use these in my business every day and find them excellent. Ticking off tasks done at the end of each day from my ‘to do’ list gives me great satisfaction. Try it and see yourself!

  1. Build Yourself Up.

Eating well is important as your body is more inclined to break down with colds, flu’s, and bugs at this time of year. It will be really difficult to do any constructive preparation if you develop that niggling cold or sore throat. In my opinion the best foods to enhance your system at this time of year are porridge, lemon/orange juice, hot soups, curries, stews, hot roast dinners, mugs of hot drinks and of course loads of water, to name but a few. Sugary cereals or Energy/Fizzy drinks will never improve your health or help illness resistance. Get your parents on board here by making sure they have stocked up the nutritional and warm homely winter foods to get you through to the last Christmas exam.

Finally, put a good solid effort into your revision over the next few weeks and you can relax then and enjoy Christmas with your family and friends. Your endeavours will be worth it when you see your grades being posted out in January. Take pride in your work at school, just as your parents take so much pride in everything you do. Good luck. Joe

“Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit.”

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 below 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: How to Approach 5th Year

As the first year of Senior Cycle, often students tend to let 5th year slip by, without taking advantage of the fact that they have no state exams at the end of it. From an academic point of view, students should use 5th year to create and summarise the best possible set of notes, as well as getting into good homework and revision habits. Paying attention to these two key aspects will allow students to build a good foundation for their final Leaving Cert (LC) year.

With no standardised structure to Transition year (and many students opting for it now), It can be difficult to settle back into patterns of revision and preparation in 5th year. Parents have a big role to play, as students look to regain momentum once again. From working with a lot of 6th year students each week, I can reassure parents that the majority of students do find their motivation and focus again in LC year; so try not to get too anxious about this. Below are some ideas and considerations on how students should approach 5th year and indeed how you as a parent, with increased awareness, can smooth their passage in 6th year.

Approaches and Considerations for 5th Year Students 2023

  1. It is an opportunity to produce high quality notes in preparation for the LC exam.
  2. It gives students a chance to research third level courses they may be interested in.
  3. Students get to explore different ways of learning, discovering which ones work for them.
  4. They find out which subjects aren’t their favourite and of which they need to refocus on.
  5. Being a bit more mature, students learn to listen better and work closer with teachers.
  6. They can pick subjects they genuinely have an interest in. It is crucial to choose well.
  7. Students may need a rethink about their attitude to school and their futures.
  8. Students need to enhance their ‘Exam Smart’ skills and knowhow on ‘excelling in exams’.
  9. 5th Year is Important for making new friends to support their senior cycle journey.
  10. Students should investigate how they can share work and notes with fellow students.
  11. Keeping up in class is half the battle in Senior Cycle – this is my number one tip.
  12. As a 5th year, be sure to develop a system of note taking and strive to be ‘super organised’.
  13. Discover and consider your strengths and weaknesses in 5th Lean towards your assets.
  14. Students should use the final term of 5th year to prepare a revision plan for their LC year.
  15. Getting involved in extracurricular in 5th year will make Senior cycle a lot more enjoyable.
  16. Setting small achievable goals each week will help students maintain daily motivation.
  17. 5th is a good year to reflect on the evening routine: Dinner, homework, sport, revision etc
  18. Students can research techniques on ‘feeling grounded’ if they are feeling overwhelmed.
  19. Use this year to build up constructive & positive working relationships with your teachers.
  20. Discover how to enjoy learning in 5th by retaining variety and fun in your revision & life.

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 – ‘Higher Maths’ – Should I stay, or should I go? (The Clash).

More students over the last few years have taken on the task that is Leaving Cert Higher Maths. In June 2023, out of the 57,348 who sat a Leaving Certificate Mathematics Paper, 20,516 of them opted for higher level (36%). Even though the bonus points are very enticing, students need to be careful and be fully aware of what exactly they are embarking on. In my experience, there is a lingering doubt among many 5th and 6th years about being able to tackle higher Maths. Scoring low grades in class tests doesn’t really do much for confidence, but it doesn’t automatically mean you should change level. The question is: Should you remain battling higher level Maths or is it worth the time and effort at all? The decision is where determination meets sensibility and they both have a strong gravitational pull.

This article should reassure those suitable for higher (those who fight the good fight day after day) that they can in fact achieve what they are aiming for. Each year, deciding Maths levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in this subject with the bonus points at play. For those of you who are unsure about higher Maths, it may be worth applying some logic to any inclination to switch. As well you know, us ‘Maths creatures’ are very logical beings lol.  I find that logic is more factual and definite in making decisions like this. It may be more sensible to apply a touch of it here, rather than just using pure emotion. Don’t get me wrong: your gut feeling is important too; but read on to understand what I mean…

I Can Take on this Challenge

Firstly, there is a misconception out there that if you fail Maths, you fail the full Leaving Cert. This isn’t true at all. The two worst things that can happen if you are unsuccessful in Maths is that you will have that low grade for Maths on your CV. Or, if a certain grade in Maths is a requirement for a specific third level course, you will not be offered that course no matter how many points you get; that’s as bad as it gets.

I think having a good Interest in Maths is a great starting point in taking on higher level. Enthusiasm for this subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  Students, do you secretly enjoy the challenge of those long practical questions in double classes, or do you dread the thoughts of Maths homework each night? Do you like working with numbers or are you mis-understanding the majority of your teachers’ methods? These are some initial questions to ponder.

Personally, I feel that students know in their heart what level Maths they should be doing. If you feel in your gut that you are lost in class or if it is taking too much time away from other subjects; then reflect and talk it through now. If your anxiety about the subject is getting too high and your grades are dropping, it may be time to move. Definitely, if you have struggled to grasp much of the basic Algebra in fourth and fifth year, it may be a sign that the standard is too difficult for you. However, remember also that there are so many varied topics in Maths, and you may have a flair for some and no real interest in others. Very few of us are good at everything, even the best of the best.

Head Above Water

I always feel that students scoring above thirty percent (approximately) in Class, Christmas and Mock examinations should be able to raise their game to get over the line in the State exams. Students scoring consistently below thirty need to look into their heart and start conversations with their teachers, parents and indeed themselves about what to do. It is important not to remain in the class for the sole reason that your parents want you to do honours. Only you know the content of the Maths course you are studying and how it is going for you. Many students and even some Teachers place too much emphasis on the spring Mock result. I disagree with this premise and prefer to look at the bigger picture. From a percentage assessment point of view, I feel you need to look at a combination of exams sat (even fifth year ones) and indeed your Junior Cycle grade. Keep in mind that the upcoming mock examinations in springtime tests topics across the complete course at a time when you haven’t fully completed it yet.

Is there a Template for Staying or Going?

My intention in this article isn’t to outline a template for who should remain or drop down, as there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I am simply encouraging you to reflect and balance the argument for yourselves. Over the years, I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher level students. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better consequently. There is a lesson in this. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said,  ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. The statistics also stack in your favour.  In June 2023, 97.2% of students who attempted higher level Maths got a H6 grade or above (passed) and therefore picked up the 25 bonus points. That is extremely high!

In general, your teacher won’t put you too far wrong when decision time arrives. By the middle of sixth year, they know your strengths, weaknesses, and the limits of your capabilities, assuming they have taught you since the start of fifth year. Timing is also an issue. If you do need to drop down to Ordinary level, I wouldn’t leave it any later than Easter. This gives you some time over the Easter holidays, and when you return for the final term, to get familiar with the Ordinary level standard and format of the exam paper. Changing levels on the day of the exam is totally unadvised and should not be considered.

Factors That Will Guide Level Choice

In summary, think about and discuss the below factors in detail with your parents and teachers before attempting to change levels in any subject. Along with mock performance, here are the other factors to consider when making decisions regarding level changes:

  • Your teacher’s opinion.
  • Your ‘potential’ points change.
  • Your Junior Cycle performance.
  • Your attendance in class thus far.
  • Your ‘working relationship’ with your teacher.
  • How much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • A professional opinion from an external tutor.
  • Results in previous Christmas and Summer tests.
  • How much of the course you have done thus far.
  • Your own gut feeling and attitude towards the subject.
  • Results in all your class tests since the beginning of fifth year.
  • The amount of effort you are putting into this subject balanced against others.
  • Minimum entry requirements for third level (e.g. a H6 in Maths maybe?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down all the pros and cons of remaining at higher level or changing.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. Keeping the above list of factors in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages as your thoughts and feelings stream out. Use these thoughts to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe

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: The Importance of Handwritten Notes

With a lot of schools switching to iPad’s and tablets as a mode of Education, the debate rages about which type of notes is best to have from a classroom lecture i.e. typed or handwritten ones. I still think there is a question mark about learning content in digital format, with it being more suitable in some subjects than others. If a student has the possibility of printing something out, in my opinion they should do. With decent printers just over €50, I feel this is a great long term investment for parents of children at Secondary School.

From listening to students, I think many of them still like to hold a hard copy book in their hand when learning. Even as an ICT teacher myself, I believe that the old-fashioned way of taking notes by hand is still best. Since we now can type faster than we write, students are tending to type notes verbatim (exactly to the word) as they try to keep up with their teacher. We are copying down a lot of the teacher’s language directly. There would be more of our own language than the teacher’s used in a handwritten set of notes, which makes them easier to understand and ultimately, of better quality. The following case for handwritten notes applies to both Secondary and Third level education…

  • With handwritten notes, we spend more time thinking about the Information before the actual physical act of writing occurs. If we are attempting to type everything exactly as spoken, there is less thinking time about that same information. In essence, I believe that slightly more learning takes place during the actual handwriting process.
  • Keywords are valuable in any content. When you are taking down notes by hand in a lecture/class, you are listening out for the keywords to ensure you are grasping the bones of the sentence. Again, while typing you are trying to get everything down and so your brain misses out on this ‘essential keyword focus’.
  • When handwriting notes, you are putting your own special stamp on them, making it easier to recall information you have translated into your own words.
  • During class, you can link handwritten notes quicker with bubbles and arrows. While doing this, you are learning what the connections are in the teachers’ content.
  • Above all, writing your own notes engages the mind and prompts new ideas and thoughts. It enables your brain to switch to ‘background learning’ mode while you prepare and enhance your notes.

Learning in a variety of ways is the key to success. Working with a study buddy or group is another way that many don’t consider. Students can swap essays and notes, and indeed even teach each other. Upon swapping these notes with friends, they should rewrite them into understandable Information, in order to be able to revise them better later. I am a big believer in summarising your own notes. By all means you can work in a group or with a ‘study buddy’, but once you get their essays or interpretation of topics; highlight and underline their key points. The final piece of the puzzle is summing their content into your own words, to ensure that you really understand it. In my experience, there is a much higher chance of Information sticking with personal and individualised handwritten notes – the old ways are still the best. Try it and see! Good luck, Joe

“Work hard, dream big, never give up”

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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