Joe’s Jotter: How to become an Expert at Maths Exams (Act 2)

Thousands of students have gone through the exam system having achieved their dreams, so be sure to aim high and keep believing in yourself. Put a plan in place today, so that you can revise effectively for all your upcoming Maths exams. Here are my top twelve tips to ACE any Maths Exam – both in preparation and tackling an exam paper on the day.

Top Twelve ACE Tips to Success in Maths

  1. Do out a weekly study timetable ensuring Maths is prominent on it. Make sure there are loads of topic variety with Algebra and Functions being the Initial cornerstones of learning.
  2. Buy a hardback and enter all keynotes, new information learned, and formulae’s that are not in your log tables into it. Divide it into topics to find Information easier.
  3. Note all new words you learn each day. If you don’t understand the meaning of them, ask your teacher or google them. Write down their meaning in your own words when you find out. One of the biggest issues in Maths is not understanding the words used on the paper.
  4. Practice past exams questions to get used to the wording, layout, and style of them.
  5. “Homework is study”, so approach all Maths homework as an exam hall question.
  6. Practice challenging questions at home. Time yourself on each question to get used to ‘Exam Hall’ pressure. Stick rigidly to the timing for each question.
  7. Get a “study buddy” that will complete past exam questions for you and with you. You can then meet up regularly and share Information and exam solutions with each other.
  8. On the day of the exam, read the wordy questions three or four times and then step through them word by word, line by line, underlining the key words as you go.
  9. Prepare for each exam the night before by checking you have all the materials you need for it. This is especially important in Maths.
  10. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in simple English if you are not sure what Maths to use to solve a problem. The State Exams Commission (SEC) encourages this type of creativity.
  11. Buy yourself an Exam Paper Solutions Book. You can use this book to check the work you are doing and to help you get started on the more challenging exam questions.
  12. Start today.

The Importance of the Words and the Formulas

Lastly, the language of Maths is extremely important especially since the birth of ‘Project Maths’ in 2008. The State Exams Commission (SEC) now place more of an emphasis on students knowing and understanding concepts and topics, as opposed to just been able to do numerical calculations. There are more words than ever on our Junior and Leaving Cert Maths exam papers, and it is crucial that you start familiarising yourself with them.

If you are not familiar with the words and phrases that appear on the paper, you may not be even able to get a question started. This would be an awful shame given the amount of time you have spent learning the mathematical skills. You need to be aware that different words have a different meaning depending on the subject. For example, the word “Evaluate” in Maths is quite different to what it means in English. I believe that knowing the key words and phrases is now a key component of “Ace-ing” a Maths exam. Apply the principles that I have outlined in this feature article to ACE any Maths exam you take on in 2024.

Wishing you good luck students. 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 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: How to Handle the Strain of Exams

  1. Play is as important as study

It is vital that you build in time to have fun and relax between study sessions. Use your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable to help you plan enjoyable activities of relaxation and ‘play’. Going to watch your favourite team is a great way of taking your mind off school. Listening to music works also, especially if you combine it with a walk. Neuroscientists have done research into the link between music and anxiety. They say they have discovered a song that reduces anxiety by sixty-five percent. The song is called ‘Weightless’ and is written by ‘Marconi Union’. Download it.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while,
you might just miss it”

Ferris Bueller

  1. Take and enjoy your breaks

Breaks are to be viewed as a positive around exam time. Academics with high concentration levels know the importance of breaks. Air traffic controllers are forced to take regular breaks to ensure they stay fresh. If you find that you are losing concentration, take a short break – go for a walk, talk to a friend, or just do something different. When you resume study, you will feel refreshed and be better able to concentrate on your revision again. Never beat yourself up for taking little breaks to keep fresh.

  1. Liquid discipline

I would discourage you from drinking too much coffee, tea, or fizzy drinks around exam time. Caffeine may key you up and cluster your thinking. Naturally, you will feel a sugar rush from fizzies but remember “what goes up must come down!”. Just for this short period, maybe try some herbal teas like camomile or peppermint. I find peppermint tea is a great stomach settler. Try and get as much water into you as possible as the exams approach. If you become dehydrated from the lack of water, your concentration levels will drop. This is a scientifically proven fact.

  1. Exercise the body as well as the mind

Regular moderate exercise such as a brisk walk, a swim or session in the gym will boost energy, clear the mind, and help reduce feelings of anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins (the good mood feeling) and will help you see the positives of life. A walk outside will get air into your lungs with a short thirty minute stroll being enough to reap many benefits.

Seeing and breathing in the senses of nature has been proven to enhance relaxation. Team sports are also brilliant as they improve relationships with your friends, allowing you to feel good about yourself. Sport will bring discipline to your studies as well as enhancing your personal confidence. From coaching Gaelic Football and Soccer teams over the years, I am of the opinion that students who involve themselves in sport tend to perform better in exams.

In general, exercise has actually been proven to have benefits as exams draw closer. The results of a University College Cork study (published in the US Journal of School Health in January 2013) headed by Dr John Bradley, back up this claim. In the survey of over four hundred boys who graduated from Secondary school between 2008 and 2011, those who participated in some kind of sport during the last two years of school “conferred an extra 25.4 CAO points benefit to their final Leaving Certificate score”. This increase is similar to what a student would receive from the current Maths bonus point’s structure. Need I say more? In other studies, it was also found that exercise helps one sleep better as the body is more physically tired (in a good way) and needs rest. In essence, when you exercise, endorphins induce a requirement for rest and feelings of sleep. 

  1. Do your best to retain control

It is natural to feel some nerves prior to the commencement of exams, however getting excessively nervous is counterproductive, as it will hinder your ability to think clearly. Make sure to have a plan in place on the off chance that your mind goes blank. Breathing deeply will help should this scenario occur. Students always know more than they think they do. I constantly see them underestimating themselves and their abilities. Believe in yourself and all the preparation and revision you have done, both at home and in school.

Remember, the best thing you can do is to try and stay calm and retain control of your emotions, as this will make it easier to recall information. Before the exams, write down all fears and worries that you are currently experiencing in your journal. This will give you more of an awareness of what you are anxious about and why these feelings are actually occurring. Writing things down also serves to ease the burden of carrying everything around in your head. Wishing you luck as always. Joe.

“Stick to a daily plan of revision as close to it as you can.”

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: Core Skills Required for Junior Cycle Maths

In light of the how the last few years have panned out, students (and indeed their Parents) need to examine closely their daily routine to ensure effective learning is now happening. Maths is a subject that tends to take up more time than others and hence 3rd and 6th years should firstly consolidate what they know and then make a list of topics that they need to learn and revise going forward. Spending time on past exam questions and learning the terminology that appears on them is wise use of any student’s time now.

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 sections, one for each topic on the course. Secondly, when revising at home, students should test themselves against the clock on full or partial past exam questions. Set these as your two main targets for the next two months.

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 thirty 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. With all its linkages, I, one hundred percent think that Algebra is the most important topic in Maths. Words and phrases that appear in your book and in the past exam papers are a close second. The State Exams Commission (SEC) now place more emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean in Maths. It has moved away from the traditional numerical calculations.

There is also 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 can 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 Junior and Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects, there is a full chapter advising on how you can improve your Maths. In this 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 students to create their own list and add to this one, investigating the exact meaning of words you come across daily. You will learn loads through your own active investigations.

In summary, I recommend that every time you encounter a new Maths word or formula, write down what it means to you in an A5/A6 hardback. This hack 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 homework to perfection all year, really knowing 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, the timing is different this year due to increased choice on the paper. Junior Cycle timing in Maths will be written on the paper. Please familiarise yourself with the timing of Leaving Cert Maths questions for 2024.

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 better solidifies the method you used 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, use a stopwatch to ensure you are ‘sticking to the 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.

Please do get in touch with me if you have any Maths queries. I would be delighted to guide or help you in some way. Thanks for reading. Joe

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) and his Award Winning Junior Higher 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: Advisories to help a Junior Cycle Student with their Morning Routine

Having a simplified routine can really help a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Year make a great start to their day. Here are my three short tips for getting off to a good start each morning…

Routine and Habits…

A good morning starts with a great night’s sleep, so before you even think about the AM, try to help them prioritise their sleeping habits. Some general rules of thumb here may include:

Get them into the habit of reducing screen time before bed (the blue light affects melatonin, the hormone which makes one sleepy). Avoiding large meals and caffeine before bed will allow the body to rest, without having to work off that excess food late in the evening. Try to create a calm bedroom environment, ensuring their sleeping space is clutter-free. Encourage a bedtime and lights out routine (at least from Sunday to Thursday night).

Water…

As we know, breakfast sets us up for the day. However, we also need to consider the benefits of rehydrating first thing in the morning. After sleeping for (hopefully) eight hours, drinking a glass of water when they wake up helps restore the fluids the body has lost during the night. It has been a long time since water intake, which makes it sensible to have a good top up asap.

Many scientists believe that staying hydrated has valuable benefits, such as improving the appearance and health of the skin and impacting cognition and mental performance. This is the very thing a tired teenager needs to have right for the long day ahead.

Breakfast…

It doesn’t make sense for a teenager to skip breakfast, even though many of them do. Given they may not have eaten anything in 8-10 hours, refuelling the body is key to a good morning. They will not be able to concentrate on that first 2 or 3 classes before break otherwise. Ensure they have a set ‘get up’ time. Otherwise it will be chaos in the house, rushing around and grabbing stuff. This will allow that 10-15 minutes for breakfast.

Time to chew and enjoy breakfast sets the tone for the day. This will also facilitate time to catch up on some parent-teen chat, listening to what they have on that day.

With the above suggested supports, you are putting the building blocks in place to give your teenager the best shot at the day, and in affect, that’s all you can do as a parent.

Good luck with it.
Joe.
(086) 4076495

Joe’s Jotter: How to Study Smart (2024) – Key Tips for 2nd & 3rd Years.

Spending a short amount of quality time with someone is better than spending hours paying very little attention to them at all. Revising for an exam is similar. You must hit revision in small intense bursts where you give it your 100% attention. The following are three useful efficiencies that will help you construct good study sessions.

Rotate your Place of Study

It is good practice to rotate where you study. The main reason for this is that if you start to get bored or listless there, you’ll associate boredom with learning. Try other places such as the kitchen table, the park, the back garden, the library or just a different room; anywhere you want to really. Try revising certain topics in unusual locations. An example of this could be to learn English drama quotes on your lawn in the sun. When you need to remember these quotes in the exam hall, you can visualise yourself being back there in the sun, recalling the day you learned them and hopefully triggering your mind to recall that information. Experiment to see if music or TV helps you concentrate. Some subjects will be more suited to this than others. I believe some Maths topics do not require one hundred percent attention, an example being adding words or formula’s to your hardback notebook. This, however, may be associated with my aptitude for the subject. You may be able to listen to some low level music in subjects you are more tuned into. This varies from person to person obviously and definitely won’t work for every subject.

Leaving Material Out

Come the next few weeks, as regular as a clock ticks, the rumour mill kicks into action. Comments like “Oh, this is coming up this year”, “I heard this is expected to come up”, “There’s no way that will be on the paper” or even ‘I’m leaving that out’ are common both online and offline. Please be aware that if a topic is listed on the syllabus for your subject, it can appear on the paper, even if it came up last year. Your teacher will source you a copy of the syllabus document if you wish to view it, or alternatively you can download it online. The syllabus document will tell you exactly what can be examined in the subject and is useful when you are creating a list of topics to be covered for each subject.

In relation to exam preparation, I know you all will try to cut corners, predict, throw topics away and ignore information. I would not recommend leaving out big chunks of the course. The State Exams Commission (SEC), who set the exam papers each year, state that they do not want any element of predictability in them. In general my advice is to cover your bases well and be as sensible as you can.

The plan should be to continue to reduce the volume of your keynotes. Summarising is the core idea here. I am convinced that summarising information will help you assimilate it better and your final content will be something more manageable and far less scary. Keep re-writing summaries into something clear that you can read and understand. As exams approach, be careful who you listen to. Teachers with many years’ experience (whether that’s your subject teacher or someone you know well) won’t put you far wrong. Having seen many exam papers, I think you can certainly place a good level of trust in them. The newspaper revision supplements written by experienced professionals, can be a useful revision aid also. However, too many notes are a bad thing and may overwhelm you.

Implement a Workable Revision Plan Now

Now that you are aware and have listed out all the topics on a sheet (per subject), it is time to make a robust yet practical revision plan that you can follow. Here are twenty practical study tips you can start using today:

  • Divide your revision time into small sessions
  • Take a break of five or ten minutes after each session
  • At weekends and holidays, revise during the hours when you feel most productive
  • Each student has their own method of studying, so figure yours out and use it
  • Divide study time proportional to effort needed. Difficult topics = More time
  • Underlining the key points for each topic is a great revision habit to start now
  • Make a practical study plan you can follow. A plan that is not doable is a big ‘NO’
  • Short notes should be just that – short and concise. This makes revision easier later
  • Use abbreviations and note down the key points only. No waffle or padding
  • Do not skip a topic because it seems difficult. Revise it a few times to let it sink in
  • Use revision breaks for something productive such as music, exercise, or activities
  • Always set a target score you are aiming towards in each subject
  • Take tests regularly. Your test scores are a regular reminder of your target score
  • Maintain test records so that you know which subtopics you need to work on
  • Sleep 7-8 hours daily. Losing sleep will affect your ability to concentrate and retain
  • Stay as healthy as you possibly can. Exercise
  • You cannot change the amount of revision you did yesterday. Start today
  • Be kind to yourself. Use positive self-talk each day. Example, ‘ I will do …… today’
  • Reflect on the amount of revision you did today, instead of what you didn’t do
  • If today’s plan didn’t go well, revisit it and tweak tomorrows one. Never give up

and remember..

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

Joe McCormack.

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition 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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