Joe’s Jotter: How to become an Expert at Maths Exams (Act 1)

Surprisingly, thousands of top students over the years have struggled when it comes to performing to their ability in Maths exams. In my experience, there is now a disconnect between how teachers teach a Maths class, and the skills students use during a Maths test.

For some students, a fear almost overcomes them with the thought of a Maths test upcoming.  Similarly, a fair percentage of students that breeze through other subject exams freeze during Maths ones. A significant aspect of Teaching Maths now is helping students overcome their anxieties, while teaching them the key techniques to retain that calmness and confidence.

Sitting a Maths exam is a skill, but it is something that if you practice and apply a defined strategy to, you can get quite good at it. Every day, I work closely with students to teach them these vital skills to excel in all kinds of Maths assessments.  Below are my insights into how to ACE any Maths exam – from the five minute class test to the ‘full on’ final state examination.

Make Changes to How You Revise and Prepare for Maths Exams

Below are some clipits of advice to help you get set for a Maths exam. Applying these practical guidelines in your revision plan and during exams will 100% improve your grades.

  1. Apply the skills you have learned from practicing past exam questions under time pressure at home. A time budget plan is a key part to success in any Maths exam.
  2. Keep a hardback of Maths notes. Being familiar with words that appear on Maths papers are vital to aid understanding of the questions you are being quizzed on.
  3. Find multiple-choice questions online or ask your teacher if they have some. These are like ‘speed-studying’ and require less time to work through and test yourself on.
  4. Attempt past exam questions. After completing each past exam question, be sure to view its exact and fully developed solution to see how your work stacks up against it.
  5. Stay alert for key words and phrases to guide you through a question. For example, the volume of an object should allow you to find measurements on it by working backwards.
  6. Use familiar mathematics to guide you. Think back to relate the test question to a concept, topic, or technique your teacher did with you in class.
  7. Formulas are key in Maths. Reflect on what formula you know that may help you solve the problem. This formula may in fact be printed on the test paper or in your log tables.
  8. Can the diagram in the question help? Writing relevant information on a given diagram may prompt relevant thoughts and connections to help you start a maths question.
  9. Show all workings. Always show how to get from one step to the next. Provide all your workings out to support your answer. At the end of each question, always ask yourself ‘Is this a realistic answer or solution to the question being asked?’ Example: Ten metres would never be an acceptable answer for the height of a pencil. You get the Idea.
  10. Read the entire question… twice. Check what the question is asking and in what form you need to present the answer. For example, you might need to round the final answer (decimal places, significant figures, scientific notation) or convert to an annual amount.
  11. Note the key Information given in the question onto your answer book. Subsequently, note the Information that isn’t present. Link these two to help complete the full jigsaw.
  12. Don’t be afraid to utilise diagrams or tables in your solution. This will clarify your understanding of the information in the question and support your workings out.
  13. Show all relevant substitution (subbing in). This shows the examiner that correct maths processes are being used (e.g. showing the substitution of an x-value into a function).

‘Act 2’ of this two part drama will follow in a few weeks.  To read how to tackle Junior Cycle Maths click here.

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books 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 Transition Year can really benefit students

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 75% 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. Approximately 74% of students do TY.

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 deciding to opt for it or not. 1st and 2nd Years can also have a read of these to get them thinking about their options post Junior Cycle. 

  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.

If this is the route you are heading in September 2024, good luck with Transition Year. Joe

 

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books 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: Having a Tutor for Extra Support in Maths

As a Maths teacher of the last 20 years, I understand the struggles students have with Maths on a day to day basis.  They are frustrated with not being able to understand methods in class, their friends progressing quicker than them, not being able to get maths questions started and either spending too much time or not being able to attempt homework at all.

The key to having more success in Maths is being open to new methods and using each night to practice questions that the teacher has shown that day. Maths requires a higher level of dedication and persistence than most other subjects. When I was in school in the 1990’s, only those with a strong aptitude for the subject were successful in it. I feel that today it is more important to stick the course, ride out the storms, work hard and not give up, as opposed to being a natural Maths talent.

The reality is that many students will need extra support outside the mainstream classroom, and it is important to find a teacher or tutor they can relate to and has the ability to explain concepts in simple terms. Looking for extra support in Maths is not a sign of weakness, the opposite in fact. It is often no fault of the student when they seek this extra help to try, and both boost their confidence and grades in the subject.

How an External Maths Tutor Could Benefit Your Child

That extra bit of support in Maths can make all the difference.  From a short term point of view, students need someone who can be there for them should they get stuck a question. They also need someone who can see the bigger picture, allowing them to work towards their longer term goal. Here are some of the benefits and subtle advantages of having a tutor in Maths:

  1. Parents can contact your tutor directly and keep up to date with specific progress.
  2. It is a more relaxed atmosphere where your child is more likely to ask questions.
  3. Tutors tend to focus on helping your child be an expert on ‘tackling’ exam paper questions.
  4. The tutor will hopefully give your child a more positive outlook towards the subject.
  5. The tutor will give your child insights on how to revise Maths (compared to other subjects).
  6. Most tutors will set the foundations with core work in Algebra, Functions and Equations.
  7. Your child’s confidence will grow as they rebuild core aspects of Maths they missed out on.
  8. Your child will be less anxious about keeping up in class and with their friends.
  9. It will give your child the organisational skills to plan for upcoming exams.
  10. Your child’s weaknesses in Maths will be identified and fixed quicker.
  11. Those who struggle in school usually try to hide in Maths. Tutors can tease this out.
  12. Most tutors will be contactable when students run into ‘Maths trouble’ at home.
  13. The advent of Online Maths tuition saves wasted time in the car each week.
  14. Maths tuition often shows a student’s real ability, which may not be apparent in school.
  15. Better engagement with the subject gives students that ‘can do’ attitude to work alone.
  16. Tutors can focus more on revision of key topics and ensuring core skills are enhanced.
  17. Increased help in Maths allows students to relax more and focus on other subjects.
  18. Students often move up two or three grades with that extra bit of reassurance & guidance.
  19. Students can request extra notes for topics they may be finding difficult in school.
  20. With many 3rd level courses having a Maths module, this support ‘invests in their future’.

“It is never too late to step into your own greatness.”

 More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books 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 to Prepare for Exams ‘Home Alone’ (Chapter 3).

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 give it a go tomorrow. Set each revision block to just thirty minutes and time will fly. 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 now your ‘get out of jail’ card, so try it.

Set Measurable Targets

It is so important to set targets, otherwise timetables and lists are just ‘drive bys’ and ‘hopeful’ preparations that you will never be answerable to. We all need targets to help us achieve things. 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 from your full sub-topic list for the subject. 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. Information about setting up a full ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’ is detailed in my textbook ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects. 

Write out a List of Motivations in Your Journal

Another tip to improve motivation is to write out a list of medium and long term 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 on revision and keep going when days get tough. 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 ‘distraction list’ will remind you of what you really should be putting your mind to at any 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…and it could even be fun. Give yourself plenty of breaks as a reward for your hard work. 

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 a few repeatable methods that work for you, but you 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 ones to this list matching your personality. Pick out four or five of the below approaches and give them a try today.

  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 dates and 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 this content every five days.
  18. Research topics on the Internet to give yourself extra pieces 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).

 

“Progress in revision can be just small steps.”

 

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) 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: Guidance on choosing your 5th year subjects

Choosing subjects for 5th Year can be daunting enough, and soon many 3rd and all Transition (4th) year students will be faced with that task in school. A 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 some thought into how subject choices may influence career options later. Students should now 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, it is important now to do a little research into its content and investigate if there are any ‘minimum entry requirement’ to gain access to it. All courses now have detailed descriptions of each module online, listing out exactly what you will be required to study on a year by year basis. 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 particular subjects. In the case of compulsory exam subjects (which you will be studying anyway), obviously 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 if your heart is set on that course. However, to this tune, I would strongly recommend you have a plan B and C in place when choosing courses and will discuss the importance of this in articles later in the year.

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 [excluding English and Gaeilge] for many of their courses. However there are now exceptions to this: UCD has dropped this requirement for Engineering and Agricultural Science, and Maynooth has removed it for Business, Accounting, Finance and Law. Trinity, UL, DCU and the Institutes of Technology don’t have this third language requirement, except for language courses. Again, the advice here is to double check the requirements online for each individual course and college.

There are also ‘Subject requirements’ on courses. Examples include: to study Primary teaching, you need a H4 in Irish, Engineering courses may require honours Maths and sometimes a science subject, Medicine may require two science subjects (one being chemistry) and Nursing may also require a science subject. The savvy student will do some research on websites like Qualifax and Careers portal to get a handle on the exact requirements of courses they are Interested in. Be fully informed prior to CAO time.

The Eight ACE ‘Do’s’ for choosing Subjects

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 they found studying the subject. Take your time and choose well. It may be wiser to choose subjects you have an interest in, as opposed to ones you feel you must choose in order to get into a certain career later. It is definitely a balancing act. Here are my eight ACE do’s for subject choice for 3rd and 4th year students:

  • Do…Choose subjects you enjoy learning about
  • Do…Discuss it with as many people as you can including teachers and peers etc
  • Do…Try and keep your options open as much as possible
  • Do…Choose subjects you have some kind of a flair for or Interest In
  • Do…Research each subject’s content on www.curriculumonline.ie
  • Do…Choose subjects linked to a possible future career you are considering
  • Do…Write down the Pro’s/Con’s when trying to decide between two subjects
  • Do…Make the final decision yourself (not your friends, teachers, or parents)

Final Choice Advice

The best advice I can give about 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 an interest in or flair for. Remember that 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 into that class each day. I myself selected a subject I regretted taking in 5th year, but luckily was allowed switch later. You may not be as fortunate in your school, so try and get it right the first time to save any unnecessary anxiety. I also have a degree in a subject that I didn’t study for my Leaving Cert. Life can be funny, so my advice is ‘rule nothing out’ and keep as many doors open as possible.

In choosing subjects, always play to your strengths. For example, if business is something you are really interested in, 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 of the Science subjects i.e. Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Applied Maths or Agricultural Science may also be other options here.

Enthusiasm for any subject will foster a desire to learn more about it and studying these subjects in Senior Cycle won’t even feel like learning. If you are struggling with this decision, put all the information and swaying factors out on the kitchen table. Usually, your heart will guide you one way or the other at that stage. I wish you every success with your decision. Joe

‘Compare yourself against yourself, not how much work your friend is doing.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books 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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