Joe’s Jotter: Performing Well in A Subject You Find Difficult (Case Study – Maths)

As you settle into the new year, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears. From speaking with students over the years, I find it’s not the full set of exams that cause concern; it is usually only one or two subjects. Naturally everyone has their own talents and subjects they prefer. Personally, I was better at the Sciences than the languages, but I persevered and got the grades I wanted in the languages I chose.

Sometimes subjects you are not looking forward to are the ones that have you on guard and you end up doing better in; A paper on the day can go well in an exam you were dreading. I regularly hear welcome surprise coming from students on results day, with comments such as “I didn’t expect that result in xxxxx”. The moral of the story here is that too much concern about a subject could end in false worry and be draining you of energy; energy you need for revising and getting your head right.

Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’. Of course, it is easier to revise and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others. Studying and preparing the ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face in school. You must prioritise these subjects on your ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. I will detail how to setup this timetable in a later blog feature. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said:

“One of the secrets in life is making stepping stones out of stumbling blocks”.

Maths is one of those subjects that many students find difficult. To me Maths is about grafting to understand the basics, building your confidence and not being prepared to give up easy. Always start by attempting the easier topic questions (usually the part a’s and b’s) and subsequently graduating to the part c’s and d’s. You should check your work as you go against a good quality solutions book and thus be constantly ‘learning by doing’. Here are some of my top tips to improve your performance in Maths (and its exam) at any level:

ACE Maths Tuition’s Top Tips for Success

  1. Put formulas, explanation of words and keynotes into a little pocket notebook.
  2. Practice as many past exam questions as you can and check your answers against a fully developed and explained solutions book.
  3. Challenge yourself to try and come up with a second method of doing questions.
  4. Try to approach each question from different angles. Always write down something. Do not be afraid of making a mistake.
  5. Draw a diagram (if possible) and label it to simplify a question.
  6. Be familiar with what is and what is not in your log tables.
  7. When studying, exhaust all attempts to answer an exam question before referring to your solutions book. Do not give up easily.
  8. Read each question in Maths carefully underlining the key words and phrases.
  9. At all levels, if you feel overwhelmed by the length and difficulty of the course – start with basic Algebra.
  10. Find yourself a study buddy to share questions and resources with. Discuss problems with each other and encourage.
  11. Use various Internet sites as a companion to improve your Maths skills.
  12. Consult your teacher about problems with topics or specific Maths questions during and after class.
  13. Start by attempting basic questions for each topic, building up to a full exam question. Answer the exact question being asked.
  14. The word FAIL in Maths for me means First Attempt In Learning.
  15. Do not be afraid to explain a solution to a question with words if you cannot do so with numbers and symbols.
  16. Spend five to ten minutes daily going over what you have learned in class.
  17. Every time you write down a formula, draw a box around it to help you remember it. Check if this formula is in your log tables. If not, you need to memorise it.
  18. Anything that you type into your calculator (related to a question) must be written on your answer book/copy also.
  19. Have all resources present when doing Maths questions i.e. Full Maths set, pencil, calculator, and log tables.
  20. 3rd and 6th Years, practice as many previous exam questions as you possibly can.
  21. Rewrite sample questions from your textbook to get an understanding of the basics.
  22. It is ok to look at a solution to a question if you have tried your best to solve it alone. Use the answer to figure out the exact method for the question.
  23. Work with groups of friends on harder Maths questions. Bounce ideas off each other in order to understand and learn from their thinking.
  24. Always write out every single step of your answer. This will be easy to look back, revise and follow later.
  25. Talk positive about subjects you find difficult. Don’t throw away your shot at success by talking your way into failure.

In next week’s Joe’s Jotter, I will advise 2nd and 3rd year students on how to restart a revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Joe.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts

Class of 2021,

Many of you will wish to view your Leaving Certificate Exam Scripts to see where you made errors and possibly where you should have picked up some more marks. The first thing to note is that from 5pm on Tuesday September 7th, students will have access to their written exam (component and final) marks and their accredited grade marks via the candidate self-service portal (assuming they opted for both in June). If you wish to review your scripts, you must apply to do so between Tuesday 7th September @ 5pm and Wednesday 8th Sept @ 8pm. I would recommend that all students review both their scripts marked on paper and online, especially if you find yourself in some way disappointed or confused by your grades.

If you are going to your school to review your scripts, be sure to bring a subject expert with you to find out if it’s worth getting your paper rechecked. You must attend the review yourself but can bring in a separate adult for each script. If you wish to get a subject rechecked, the cost is free in 2021 (It was €40 per subject previously). Traditionally, around twenty percent of all rechecks were upgraded. Although this number has now dropped through increased accuracy and the new grading system. For equity, the period of access to online scripts will be identical to the time given in schools to review scripts ‘marked on paper’. It is worth noting though that you can do both. A short application will need to be filled out over the next few days if you wish to review any of your scripts.

Script viewing in schools for ‘scripts marked on paper’ will take place as follows:

  1. Script viewing time 1: Saturday 11th September 9-11am
  2. Script viewing time 2: Saturday 11th September 12-2pm
  3. Script viewing time 3: Saturday 11th September 3-5pm
  4. Script viewing time 4: Sunday 12th September 10-12pm (At the discretion of the school)

Script viewing in schools for ‘scripts marked online’ will take place as follows:

  1. Scripting viewing time: From Saturday 11th September@ 9am

The appeals facility application window for those who want their grades rechecked (please note the accredited grade appeal, if selected, is an admin check only) will be open from Saturday 11th September@ 9am until Monday 13th September @ 12pm.

Remember also that further rounds of the CAO process may still hold offers for you, as some students may not take up a specific place offered on a course. You also need to be aware that ‘available places’ emerge where colleges don’t manage to fill the total places available on a given course. This facility will become available on the CAO website on Wednesday 8th September @ 12pm and will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Twenty ACE Tips for Reviewing your Scripts

Here are my twenty ACE Tips when viewing your scripts over the next number of days:

  1. Be realistic. For a 600 mark subject, you will need 6 marks to get an extra 1%.
  2. Bring someone to advise you, whether you are viewing scripts in your school or online.
  3. Check all totals first to ensure there are no clerical errors.
  4. Use all the time you have been allocated to ensure you are satisfied with each script.
  5. Bring in your mobile/tablet to take pics as necessary. Ensure your phone is well charged.
  6. Marking schemes for each subject will be available in the review centre, for you to cross check against your script. This scheme will be on the examinations website soon also.
  7. If your percentage mark given is quite close to the grade band below it, you need to be careful about appealing the subject in case you are downgraded. Use common sense here.
  8. Take time afterwards to consider your options. A recheck is free and between 14% and 20% of students are upgraded each year.
  9. An upgrade later may cause a change to your CAO offer if you achieve enough extra points and have reached the minimum entry requirements for a given course.
  10. You cannot bring pens/paper into the script viewing or write any information down.
  11. The online viewing option will also have a time limit allocated to it.
  12. Keep a close eye on your candidate portal over the next week.
  13. If you spot an error in a script, take a snap. Photos are important for making a case.
  14. In the case of viewing subjects online with two papers. Two AP1 forms will need to be filled in, one for each paper.
  15. Marks inside square brackets denote disallowed marks in excess of the number of questions permitted for a paper.
  16. Marks inside a circle (in the left-hand margin) beside the question number are the total marks allocated for the question part.
  17. During viewing, use the calculator on your phone to check all subtotals and totals.
  18. Organising superintendents that are present during the viewing cannot provide any advice on appeals, errors or otherwise.
  19. Read through each page of your script calmly and carefully in the viewing centre.
  20. You do not have to make an appeal decision on the day. The deadline for making any appeal is Monday 13th September @ 12pm.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘A Guide to the CAO. You Always Have Options’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Good luck, Joe.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Your Guide to the CAO – You Always Have Options…

The results of the State Examinations Commission (SEC) jury are now in as we await round one of CAO offers on Tuesday September 7th at 2pm. Successful students will  be sent an e-mail from the CAO with round one offer(s) from 1.30pm onwards on Tuesday. Students who do not receive an offer will get an e-mail from the CAO with their ‘Statement of Application Record’.  All students should again check that all details on this e-mail are accurate to ensure the CAO has not made an administrative error.

Over the next few days, it is sensible not to overly predict what will happen with your CAO application. Predicting points for courses can be a futile exercise, as points on a given year are determined by demand from students for a course, combined with the number of places on it. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for predicting what can happen.

Accepting a Place

On Tuesday, you may get two possible offers; one from your level 6/7 list and one from you level 8 list, assuming you have filled in both. Level 6 courses are ones offering a two-year higher certificate, which are found mostly at the Institutes of Technology. Level 7 consists of three-year ordinary level degree courses, while level 8 are honours degree courses. You may be offered a third level place from both lists; however, you can only accept one.

Once you accept a place on a course from your list, you cannot be offered a place on a potential course below it (on the same list) in future rounds. You can however be offered a place on a course above it (on the same list), irrespective of whether you accepted your initial offer or not. You can always move up on your listings, but never down.  Note that if you do not accept an offer and no subsequent offer is made to you, that original offer will be distributed to another applicant in the next round.

If you are offered a place on any course, I would advise you to do some serious research on its content to ensure it is suitable one for you. You can do this on Qualifax or the specific college website. Do not accept a course that you don’t really want to do, as you may end up dropping out and possibly paying full fees (€3,000 approx.) the following year. I feel that it is important to be somewhat passionate and have a degree of curiosity about a course and subject matter in order to study and research it for three or four years.

Remember that the level 6/7 route is also a viable option for students. In many cases, you can subsequently progress to complete an ‘add on year’ to reach your level 8 degree target. This course transfer process is known as ‘Advanced entry’. If you accept a level 6/7 course, you should then think about a potential pathway to maximise your qualifications later. A phone call to the third level college may be worthwhile to get more Information on this. If you are in doubt about anything CAO related over the next few weeks, you can contact them through the correspondence section of their website.

Deferring your Place

If you wish to defer the place you have been offered, you need to contact the third level college directly (not the CAO office). They will ask you to confirm your deferral by e-mail. The college will subsequently send you an e-mail confirmation of this status, which you should retain.

In order to take your place on this course the following year, you should re-apply to the CAO and simply enter that one course on your CAO form. You should not enter other courses on the form unless you have changed your mind about accepting the one you have deferred.

Available Places

The available places facility of the CAO website will re-open on Wednesday September 8th at 12pm. These courses can be applied for by any student. Applicants must meet the normal minimum entry requirements for a given course. Previously published points in earlier rounds should not be taken as an indication of the points required for entry to an available places course. The role of the available places facility is to advertise new courses that have been launched since the CAO deadline. They also advertise courses where all places have not been filled on them i.e. demand wasn’t as high as expected. The available places application procedure is similar to the ‘Change of Mind’ one. Available places courses are added daily on the CAO website, so a regular check in here is recommended.

Available places, although limited, may be a saving option for those who didn’t get their desired course and aren’t sure about accepting another offer they didn’t really want. Again, my advice here is to research the course really well. The UK’s version of available places is called ‘clearing’. This is also worth a look if you are willing to travel and have your heart set on something. When I was doing my exams in the 1990s, there was really only one way into courses and by inference careers. Now, there are so many routes and pathways you can investigate. No matter how bad things are, ‘You always have options’.

Script Reviews and Appeals

If you do miss out on the course you had your heart set on, you should seriously consider reviewing your scripts with the possibility of an appeal (completed through a shorter timeline from now on) later. Under the new system this year, upgrades after rechecks will not see students lose out on college places which they have achieved the required points for (unless they are unlucky enough to lose out through ‘random selection’, which can happen at any stage of the process). Some third level institutions will allow you to complete a ‘Second chance’ Maths exam to reach a specific grade requirement and therefore be accepted on a course you have enough points for.

Details of how you can review your exam scripts and the appeals process has now been released. I will publish advice and full analysis around this in my next ‘Joe’s Jotter’ feature article on Tuesday 6th September.

Apprenticeships and PLC Courses

If a CAO offer doesn’t come your way, don’t lose hope. Apprenticeships and PLC courses are also real options for you. Full Information about these options is available on the Careers Portal website. Apprenticeships were traditionally based around the crafts, but many new ones have emerged (almost fifty in total) including in areas such as Accounting, Commi Chef, ICT, and Insurance.

While Ireland now needs more graduates for the health, teaching and IT sectors, it also needs those with the skills acquired through the various apprenticeships. For every eight students attending higher education, only one of these will be in an apprenticeship. I think the minister needs to continue to work on re-addressing this balance through consistent encouragement, promotion, and expansion of this sector.

PLC’s courses can be used as a springboard to a certificate, diploma or even a degree course. Personally, I find the courses section of the Careers Portal website brilliant for researching these courses and this site will also show you a route to move from your chosen PLC course into higher courses at third level later. This allows you to map out your future pathway. It is worth noting that the minimum entry requirements on PLC courses is usually lower than third level ones. Once you get your foot on the first step of the ladder, it is a lot easier to keep climbing. As outlined above: ‘You always have options’.

Keep an eye on my Facebook page (link below) for more Information on the CAO and college offer process. To view last week’s feature article on ‘Navigating Secondary School as an SEN Student’. click here. Joe

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Navigating Secondary School as a Student with SEN

Students who have Special Educational Needs (SEN) can struggle with a variety of tasks each day at Secondary School. As teachers and parents, we want to make their transition to Secondary School as smooth as possible. This feature article gives some tips on how you can help your child navigate their day-to-day engagements more seamlessly. It also contains some useful advice and informative recommendations for Parents of Students with SEN that are already attending Secondary School (2nd Years upwards).

The ‘Home’ Support

  • Photocopy their timetable, have copies in their locker, on the fridge, in their journal and for their pocket.
  • Photocopy their bus ticket. Have a spare ticket in their school bag, at home and in their school locker in case it is misplaced.
  • Get colour coordinated folders. Give each subject a colour. For example, all English related work and notes goes into a green folder. Put a green sticker on the English textbook and English copies and colour code ‘English’ green on their timetable. If you have a map of the school, then the room where English class takes place should be shaded green also. Everything ‘English’ is green and so on.
  • If using a locker key, make multiple copies and get a springy key chain so that they can attach it to a loop on their pants or skirt. Alternatively, use a combination lock and get them to memorise the code between now and the start of school. Mark with nail varnish or spray paint to make it brighter and easier for them to see their property from a distance.
  • Have a stash of spare copies and stationery material in a cupboard. Let them know where it is, so that they can draw on it as things go missing or get filled up.
  • Have a morning checklist on the fridge for: books, lunch, key, jacket, PE gear etc.
  • If possible, arrange for them to tour the school before day one. It is also a good idea to do a trial run of their trip to school with them, to get an idea of the route and timing. This will avoid any travel trauma’s during week one.

The ‘School’ Support

  • If possible, arrange that they meet as many of their subject teachers and year head prior to starting back or as soon as is possible. This gives them certainty about who will be working with and helping them this year.
  • Look into having a safe and reliable person that they can approach for help and advice in school on a daily basis.
  • If they have an SNA, make sure that person also has a copy of their colour coordinated timetable, a spare key/combination code and bus-ticket.
  • Make it your business to get to know your child’s Assistant Principals and Class Tutor as soon as the year commences.
  • Have a notebook that they can write in during the day in case they find something challenging. Both of you can reflect on it together when a suitable time during the week arises to see what challenges might need to be overcome.
  • For the first hour each evening, allow them to breathe and relax when they get home. Do not expect them to talk immediately after school. It is advisable to allow them some quiet wind-down time first.
  • Advise them to choose a Locker at eye level. This is so important, as all their classmates and other classes may be scheduled to go to their lockers together, leading to mayhem at times. Having to reach down with people blocking their path can be especially challenging for someone with social or communication difficulties. This is definitely one practical suggestion that will ensure they are on time for each class and that they bring the correct materials to each class also.
  • Encourage them to link up with a buddy or designated person in each subject class, so they can text them to find out what homework they have, should the need arise.
  • If they are using a laptop, most Secondary School books now come with a code written inside to allow the eBook version of it to be uploaded digitally. This means they can leave more books at school each day, lightening their load.
  • Getting to know the school secretary, for both you and your child is definitely worthwhile, as they will have an awareness of who they are and their challenges etc. Any extra support or eyes around the Secondary School environment can help greatly for those who struggle in various practical ways.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Transitioning to 1st Year from Primary’, click here.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Improving our Current Exam System

The debate is ongoing in relation to continuous assessment at Secondary school, with a keen focus currently on the percentage and type of allocation being introduced for the new Junior Cycle. Many subjects at Junior Cycle level already have Classroom Based Assessments (CBA’s) incorporated into them. Now with a review of the Leaving Certificate taking place (more than likely to be rebranded the ‘Leaving Cycle’), I am wondering whats next? As with any change to an assessment model, we need to ensure there are transparent procedures in place and a clear sense of fairness is preserved.

Preserving Fairness

With the above in mind, firstly I feel that any continuous assessment needs to be completed during school time. If students take work home, it may become an unfair competition depending on the socio-economic background of their parents and other extrinsic factors. i.e. I feel we can’t take the chance of having any external interference in projects that students are required to complete alone. We need to make sure a level playing field is retained and that we don’t allow potential changes to tarnish or unbalance our currently solid exam system.

Should Teachers assess their own Students?

I strongly feel that projects and practical’s should not be corrected by the student’s own teacher. The department needs to hire suitably qualified personnel for these posts. They also need to properly resource schools for these assessments and allocate proper time on the timetable for students and teachers to prepare for them.

Teachers are clear that they don’t want to assess their own pupils. A teacher correcting their pupils’ work for any kind of state certification would leave our existing robust system open to all kinds of accusations. When I read articles around the world and hear of exam papers being leaked and scandals over corruption in education, it’s clear that our current Irish system actually works pretty well. People need to be careful what they wish for. ‘The law of unintended consequences’ and ‘baby and bath water’ come to mind here. The SEC and our Department of Education and Skills have a great record of always acting professionally and with the utmost integrity when it comes to the exam process. These principles need to be maintained at all costs.

According to a Jan 2019 report from the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) entitled ‘Senior Cycle Reform – What do we want?’, the responses are varied in relation to the question of exam paper correction. For example, only 22% of principals, deputy principals and teachers support the practice of correcting their own students’ work, with many having concerns that a teacher would be biased against/for a student. That number increases to 30% of parents who would support such a change with a slight majority of 51% of students wanting it. Not major numbers in favour there!

How can we Improve our Current Exam System?

In order to further improve the exam system, I propose that we have a week of continuous assessment before Easter to take the pressure off the June bottleneck. Each student could still then enjoy their Easter holidays and return refreshed for the last push towards June’s finals. I think by spreading the load more, it would mean that all the focus for the student isn’t placed on one part of the academic year. This would greatly reduce the intensity levels for those two weeks in June.

Would studying a reduced amount of subjects, five for example, be another option?  I think the benefit of having less subjects would mean that students could spend more time exploring and even enjoying the ones they select. It might also take away the constant focus on how many CAO points a subject can yield and allow them to investigate topics they genuinely have an interest in. Third level courses are usually made up of quite specific content compared to our current broad based Leaving Cert. Is our second level system too broad?  Are our students ‘Jack’s and Jill’s of all trades and masters of none’?

Another potential option might be to run a compulsory Transition year (TY) and implement some continuous assessment at the end of that year. This would ensure the large majority of students would be eighteen sitting their final exams and therefore be in a better position to decide on their third level/further education options also. The students could still enjoy their trips, experiences, and work placement in tandem with assessment in certain subjects. In addition to this, I would also like to see a system where all TY’s have the opportunity to sample leaving cert subjects. This would give them a deeper understanding of subject content, prior to making those choices for 5th year.

I am all for some continuous assessment, but still feel a final exam is the best and fairest way to differentiate and separate students academically. Having said this, I would be in favour of students having around 30% (approximately one-third) continuous assessment of each subject assessed before sitting down to do the final exam papers at the end of the year. This would seriously reduce current exam anxiety.

There are always improvements we can make to our exam system, but I feel there is a still lot right with it. Some of the above initiatives would take a little pressure off our students, while maintaining the integrity of our process. Indeed, there are a many changes the department could make, and it seems some are afoot. Ultimately, I still firmly believe that final exam papers should be retained as the fairest judgement. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Twenty Five Summer Reflections for Students’, click here.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: https://www.acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: http://www.facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Students, Practice Thinking Critically

Students,

Did you struggle to find a way to revise this year? Did you feel like your classmates were always a step ahead of you with study? Do you just read content in the hope that you will remember it later?

This article relates how you understand and learn subject content, and the different angles you can approach it from to get a better handle on it. The more ways you can approach learning, as opposed to just ‘learning off’ material, the more successful you will be.

I believe successful students are those who can think critically about the information they have in front of them. To do this, you as a student should read the information presented by the author, understand it as best you can and then begin to question it critically. Being critical does not mean just being negative; it also means being knowledgeable and really assessing the quality of the information. My ACE tip here is to use your imagination, challenge the question being asked and don’t be afraid to offer your own personal opinion on topics. Teachers and Examiners like opinions as it shows you can think independently.

In 2013, The Open University (UK) developed a ‘stairway’ to help students understand the skills of critical thinking. Students should apply these steps to a specific topic in order to understand it better. I think this is an excellent way of studying, as you are reflecting on all aspects of the information presented. This method would be particularly useful in subjects like English, Economics, History, Geography and Business.  The steps are as follows:

  • Process: take in the information (i.e. in what you have read, heard, seen, or done).
  • Understand: comprehend the key points, assumptions and arguments presented.
  • Analyse: examine how these key components link together.
  • Compare: explore the similarities and differences ideas you are reading about.
  • Synthesise: bring together different sources of information making logical connections between them.
  • Evaluate: assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs.
  • Apply: transfer the understanding gained and use in response to questions, assignments, and projects.
  • Justify: use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, and identify implications.

In today’s Junior and Leaving Certificate, where you need to be able to apply knowledge to a topic, learning off too much information is a common mistake made by students and is not recommended. There is more of an emphasis now on applying everyday life experience to each question asked. Similarly, if the butterflies are fluttering madly on the morning of the exam, you are less likely to remember a lengthy essay you have learned off. In my opinion, you are better off to stick with summaries, bullet points, post-its, quotes, mind maps, definitions, and little hardbacks. The state exams are now more about identifying the important information in a question and discussing its merits, as opposed to emptying the contents of your head onto the answer book. This is something to reflect on over the summer as you plan your Autumn revision strategies.

To view last weeks feature articles on finalising your CAO decisions, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Maths Tuition classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Students (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Changing your ‘CAO’ Mind – The Final Decision (Part II)


Investigate each Course’s Content

In order to rank your courses in a way that suits you best, choose ones you really want to do (not necessarily the ones your friends are doing or ones your parents want you to go into). Choose for you and no one else. When choosing a course, be sure to examine closely the module descriptor for each course. This tells you the exact layout of the course, how many credits each module has, how the exams are assessed in it, how many hours you will spend on each module, how the learning will take place and exactly what you will learn about. Investigate the exact modules you will be studying for each potential course. This is my most important piece of advice. You don’t want to be heading into November or December thinking ‘I am not interested at all in any of this stuff’ #nightmare.

The CAO is not the Only Show in Town

If you have not applied to the CAO or do not receive a CAO offer at all come September, there are other options. You should go on the SOLAS website (solas.ie) to investigate further education alternatives. These tend to be with your local Education and Training Board. For example, Louth & Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB). Many ETB’s offer Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses which will give you a Level 5 or Level 6 qualification. These courses are one or two years in duration and often involve practical work experience in companies. The fees for these courses tend to be much less than your standard CAO courses and grants are available in many cases also.

PLC courses attaining you a FETAC level 5 or 6 qualification are a steppingstone into higher college courses. These also allow you to see if an area of study suits you. Some courses in Colleges/Universities set aside a quota of PLC (FETAC) students to fill places each year. If you achieve the required results in your chosen PLC course, a college may accept you onto one of their courses. You can verify this by ringing up the college and asking them about accessing a specific course via the PLC route. You can find the full list of PLC courses on www.fetchcourses.ie or contact the Further Education College directly. Examples of PLC courses that students regularly progress further from are Pre-Nursing and ICT. For each CAO course, you will also be able to view (on cao.ie) what PLC requirements will get you a place on a given CAO course. This is well worth researching over the next few weeks.

To enhance your skills in a certain area, you can go also down the apprenticeship training route by checking out www.apprenticeship.ie. The apprenticeship scheme has been expanded greatly recently to include employers and jobs in many fields. Many of these companies would be delighted to take you on and help you grow and learn on the job. Apprenticeships were traditionally only for crafts like carpenters, electrician, plumbers etc. While these still exist, there are now new ones in ICT, Accountancy, Engineering, Insurance, Catering and Fintech etc.

A traineeship is also another option which can be considered. A traineeship is based around making your more employable by improving your skills. These tend to be a short duration courses (12-18 months) and are mostly run by the ETBs. Many apprenticeships and Traineeships are ‘Earn as you learn’ and therefore you can get your qualifications and have a few quid to live or pay for accommodation also.

Personally, I would have a look at alternatives like these above over the next few weeks, just in case the CAO process doesn’t go in your favour. It is good to have a little plan in the background, should you not get what you expect. You may not even need to use it, but it will certainly give you the comfort of having it there on the back burner.

Have a Plan B, C and D…..

I have spoken to hundreds of students over the years who had their heart set on one course and when they didn’t make it, they had no fall back plan. Your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th choice are really important, so you would need to be content enough to accept them should it come to that. I cannot emphasise enough about the importance of checking out the module content of each course you choose. For each course, you need to genuinely ask yourself, ‘Would I do this course’?. This will then set the platform for your Plan B, C and D. If there are limited amount of courses you really want above all others, contact the institution offering it and ask them ‘Is there any other way to get into the course by studying something else first as opposed to the direct points route?’. This could be very useful Information later should things not work out perfectly.

Remember, if there is a subject matter you really enjoy or a course you feel you would be really good at, you may need to travel and live in another part of Ireland. Do not rule out the possibility of the UK (UCAS), the Netherlands, Poland, Italy or other European (UNICAS) countries. Fees and demand have dropped for some courses in Europe that are very popular here. Usually, your results do not need to be as high to study courses in the UK and Europe, compared to Ireland. Do that bit of exploration here if your heart is dead set on something. Just like in Ireland, places in certain courses may become available when not filled in early rounds.

Six Final Key Points of Note

  1. Keep an eye on the ‘CAO alert lists’ for new courses emerging in various colleges on www.cao.ie. Courses are added here on a continuous basis in the ‘Student Resources’ section of the left hand side of the CAO Homepage. You can add these into your CAO listing before July 1st (5.15pm). These courses are not in your CAO handbook (hardcopy). They may also come in at lower points, as many students may not be aware they even exist and will not have them on their CAO listing. As this article goes to press, twenty three of the third level institutions have an ‘alert list’ with new courses on them now.
  2. If you have applied for the HEAR or DARE scheme, you will find out if you are successful or not on June 29th this year. You will be able to appeal any decision made from these schemes from July 5th. Information on HEAR and DARE is on www.accesscollege.ie.
  3. For those of you who have applied for Medicine in various Universities, the HPAT results are due out before the end of June.
  4. The Leaving Cert results are out on September 3rd with the first round of CAO offers issued four days later on September 7th at 2pm.
  5. Students will be able to view their exam scripts and appeal their ‘written exam’ results sometime after September 3rd. I will issue a further guidance document on this in early September. Separately, students will also be able to appeal their ‘accredited grade’ in September. This appeal will only encompass a clerical check, ensuring that marks were correctly transferred. Accredited grades given by your school will not be changed unless a clerical error (only) is detected. As you all know at this stage, you will receive the highest result between your ‘Accredited Grade’ and ‘Written Papers’ for ALL subjects.
  6. I would recommend you sign up to https://careersnews.ie/ to keep up to date with announcements, CAO developments and news from third level institutions. You can contact me (via the below details) for a short consultation should you need advice or more detailed information on this year’s CAO process or third level applications 2021. Wishing you good luck. Joe

To read part 1 of this article, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Maths Tuition classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Students (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Changing your ‘CAO’ mind – The Final Decision (Part I)


Change of Mind Oncoming

As the ink dries on the final few Leaving Cert Papers, the attention for 6th years immediately turns to reviewing and checking their CAO choices made earlier this year. With the CAO change of mind deadline approaching next week, I felt it good timing to provide some guidance to help you re-evaluate and analyse your earlier decisions. I would recommend that every student begins reviewing their initial choices (made way back in February) over the next day or two and not leave it until the final hours, when making key decisions under the stress of a deadline isn’t good. I think it is well worth spending a few days ensuring that you make the best possible choices for your future, and knowing you have done your best, will set your mind at ease for the summer. Your final CAO choices must be submitted online by 5.15pm on July 1st.

This is the first point in the year where the CAO process can lead to an amount of anxiety among students. As with every year, students are worried: ‘Will the points rise for my courses?’, ‘have I chosen the right courses in the correct order?’, ‘what if i don’t get my first choice’ or maybe ‘what if i don’t even get an offer at all?’. This article should serve as a reminder of the importance of spending time properly researching your choices now. Knowing the CAO process well and having confidence in your choices will smooth the way for a less painless process come exam results time in September.

Complete the Final Check

In May, the CAO e-mailed you a ‘statement of application’. Open that e-mail now and check that every single detail on it is correct. It is important not to just check course names, codes, possible language exemptions etc, but also to check your personal details. If you spot any incorrect information, get it touch with the CAO immediately. You can change most details online yourself. However, you will need to e-mail the CAO office to change your name, phone number or date of birth on your application, if required.

Note that any change you make to your CAO account/choices over the next few days will be confirmed to you by e-mail. You should always comb over these e-mails for accuracy. If this confirmation e-mail doesn’t arrive (keep an eye on your junk mail), you will need to contact the CAO office. If you make a mistake on your CAO form, you may not be able to correct it after July 1st  (5.15pm). If you enter the incorrect course or accidentally place them in the wrong order, you could see the third level place you want given to another student. From this point of view, I would get a second person to double check all your Information is accurate. All students must check their ‘Statement of application’ e-mail whether they are changing their mind on courses in this window or not.

How do I get onto a Third Level Course?

To get your place on any third level course, you need to fulfil three elements. You need to reach the ‘minimum entry requirements’ e.g. For Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the standard matriculation requirements are pass grades in English, Mathematics, a language other than English, and a full set of valid subjects for your examination system. The second element you must meet is the ‘subject requirements’ for a course. e.g. You must get at least an O1/H6 in Maths to get into Engineering at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Thirdly, you obviously need to achieve the CAO points required. The above entry requirements will be listed on the CAO website for each individual course. The moral of the story here is that when you are viewing a course’s content and modules, checkout the relevant requirements you need to attain also.

Genuine Order of Preference

The first and most important thing to be sure of is to put your course choices in the exact order you would like to do them in. You should not order them on how many points you think you will score or change them around based on how your exams went. At the end of an exam, you may feel you have underperformed or haven’t got the required grade for a specific course. Often, this may not be the case. Your first choice should be the course you want to do above all others, no matter what last year’s points were. This philosophy should be applied to all other choices also.

You have two separate lists to fill. The level 6/7 list and the level 8 list. Level 6 is for higher certificate courses, Level 7 for ordinary degree and Level 8 for honours degree courses. You may be offered a course from both lists, but you can only accept one of these. No matter what college course you commence, you will always have the opportunity to progress to a higher one once you have completed your chosen one in full. The course you select is just the beginning of your career journey. It is not the final step.

On each list, be aware that if you are offered your second choice for example, you cannot be offered your third choice or below thereafter. In this scenario, you can still be offered your first choice in future CAO rounds. You can go upwards on each of your two lists but cannot go downwards. This makes your order of preference decision even more crucial.

Changing your Mind

You can change or add in new courses to your Level 6/7 and your Level 8 list. The only courses that you cannot add in at this stage are called the ‘Restricted courses’. Restricted courses will be marked in your CAO handbook. An example of a restricted course may be a music degree where a practical was required to be completed. Another example is completion of the HPAT exam earlier in the year in order to get into medicine.

In an ideal world, you should fill out all ten choices on both lists. Ensure you have at least seven courses down on both lists to cover your bases well. When selecting your courses ask yourself questions like:

What areas did I enjoy learning about in school?
What subjects in school have I a natural curiosity for?
What subjects in school did I enjoy so much that it didn’t really feel like learning?
What modules would get me up for lectures at 7am on a cold winters morning?
Is there a topic or career I believe I have a passion for?
Am I narrowing my focus on a specific area too much?
What subject would I like to find out more about?
Could I see myself working in this career or a similar one in five years’ time?

You don’t need to know the exact answers to all of these above questions, but it will certainly get you thinking about the reality of whats ahead and your current decisions. A bit of soul searching is necessary before reaching your final order of preference. Keep in mind also that you will probably be graduating in three or four years’ time, so think ahead a little about what jobs and careers might be in demand them. In general though, select your courses based on your talents and passions, not how much money you can earn from a career or what other people think. Oh! and did I mention the deadline is July 1st at 5.15pm? I did of course. The sooner you start your deliberations, the more thinking time you will have. You can contact me (via the below details) for a short consultation should you need advice or more detailed information on this year’s CAO process or third level applications 2021. Good luck to everyone. Joe

To read part 2 of this article, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Maths Tuition classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Students (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Exam Time is Feeding Time

Food provides all the essential nutrients that we require for healthy living and to fuel our daily activity. A car can work well, but if it doesn’t have any fuel it can’t go anywhere. Unfortunately for us, no single food provides all the nutrients required, so a mixture and range of different foods must be consumed in our diet. Research has shown that the healthier we eat, the better we feel and the more we can focus on tasks at hand.

When studying for exams, some students tend to stay up late and forget to eat and drink properly or maybe worse, they eat too much of the bad stuff. The following are five short exam nutrition recommendations (in depth discussions about added sugar have been omitted here, with it being the obvious heralded evil):

  1. Eat a breakfast

Parents: if your child skips breakfast before school, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and will have reduced concentration levels. If breakfast is a busy time of day in your house, then feeding your children what they need quickly might be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By stocking up on all the ingredients you need beforehand, you can deliver quick healthy breakfasts that they will enjoy.

Alternatively, if your kids aren’t hungry or everyone is in a rush out the door, make sure there are plenty of easy-to-grab pieces of fruit, yoghurt, smoothies, and muesli bars (sugar free) that can be eaten quickly on the go. In an ideal world, everyone should sit down at the same time and share food together, although I do realise that this isn’t always possible. I feel strongly that sugary cereals are a ‘no no’. Some of these cereals can contain up to one-third added sugar. I would advise all parents to check the ingredients on cereal boxes before bringing them to the checkout and ultimately the breakfast table.  

  1. Increase ‘brain food’ intake

Proteins from lean meat, fish, eggs, fruit, nuts, and whole grains are foods that help keep the brain mentally alert. Snacking on nuts and dried fruit will help prevent concentration levels dipping. Keep in mind that fruit like bananas, blueberries, and oranges all have natural sugars that will give a lift when feeling tired. Brain food is the fuel that helps us think clearly, make good decisions, and maintain concentration when fatigue develops during critical periods, for example, during the last half an hour of an exam.

  1. Snack healthy

When your head is in the books and time is ticking by, you might be tempted to skip a meal to keep up momentum. Your brain needs food and water to keep working and mental fatigue can cloud your brain, especially if an exam is close by. I would recommend the following healthy snacks to get you through study bumps: Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, fruit smoothies, berries, honey, dried fruit and nuts, hard boiled eggs, low fat chocolate milk, vegetables with dip or a low sugar granola bar. Graze away on the Guilt Free Good Stuff (GFGS) as you revise and move towards exam time.

  1. Minimise caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that is present in coffee and many energy drinks. Energy drinks are a total disaster in my opinion, as they provide a false high followed by a sugar crash. Sleep can also be affected by caffeine and I know a good few adults who abstain from caffeine after four p.m. as it disturbs their sleep. I would recommend water, peppermint tea or even a small glass of milk to aid sleep and as a healthy replacement for caffeine.

  1. Consume good fats

Fats are an important component of the diet and have received an enormous amount of bad publicity over the last twenty-five years. As a rough guide, saturated (bad) fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be animal fats (such as the fats found in butter or margarine). Unsaturated (good) fats are liquid at room temperature and are usually vegetable fats (such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, oily fish (sardines, tuna, mackerel, or salmon)). Unsaturated fats or good fats are an important nutrient for you to intake as a student. The following are other sources of Unsaturated fats: cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, nuts, coconut and coconut oil, peanut butter, pistachios, and walnuts.

Eating well and drinking plenty of water in the lead up to any exam is as important as the quality of the notes you prepare prior to sitting it. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Guiding Your Child Through the Exams’, click here.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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Project maths-the silver bullet or a step in the right direction?

Project Maths –the silver bullet or a step in the right direction?

Maths teacher and ASTI member Joe McCormack looks at the impact and challenges of Project Maths The new Project Maths course is well and truly upon us now at this stage. This new way of teaching and learning maths will be given a fair shot to see if it can raise maths competency and increase the cohort of students who take higher level maths. Last June, Strands One and Two of the Project Maths syllabus were examined in the Leaving Cert with students studying the new course on Probability/Statistics and Geometry/Trigonometry, alongside other topics from the ‘old’ maths syllabus. This cohort only began to study the new syllabus in Fifth Year and so the students were in the precarious position of having to try to understand the “Project Maths way” in just two years. While, in general, the “old” course saw the above topics examined as separate questions with little linkage between them, June’s exam paper, in some places, linked topics together. I welcome this new association since we now live in an integrated world where problems, both academic and real life, need to be solved using a mutli-pronged approach. The Leaving Cert class of 2013 will need to need to be even more competent in dealing with the new concepts as they take on Strands Three and Four of Project Maths. Like the 2012 students, this year’s class will have studied the old syllabus at Junior Cycle, which means they have to work hard to adjust to the new course. Most teachers would agree that it would have been more beneficial for Project Maths to be introduced to only First Year students initially, with these students working their way up through the system, building on the concepts from the foundation up. Leaving Cert 2012 The results are now out for the class of 2012, so what are their implications and what kind of reaction have they got thus far? Firstly, an increase in the numbers opting for the Higher Level maths paper was anticipated, but the surge of 35 percent on last year’s numbers exceeded expectations. In actual terms, the uptake on this paper increased from 16pc to 22pc. This year 11,100 candidates sat the higher level paper, up from 8,235 in 2011. Almost all of them (98pc) were eligible for the additional 25 bonus CAO points because they achieved a D3 or higher in the subject. This should give great encouragement and reassurance to students in two minds whether to take this level. The bonus points inevitably contributed to higher CAO cut-off points in areas such as science and technology. Points for such courses were expected to rise anyway, driven by the increase in demand from students heeding the advice of Government and employers in relation to jobs. However, this initiative does not seem to have distorted the points system as much as was expected with only approximately 3,000 students using maths as one of their six CAO subjects and thereby benefiting from the bonus points. This would indicate that different or additional measures may be needed. Employers have welcomed the results but warned there was no room for complacency. Student feedback Students’ experiences and feedback on Projects Maths, in general, are mixed. From my experience, the First Years are enjoying the common introductory course. For example, the new Probability section allows them to get involved in more practical maths in the classroom, enhancing their learning on the primary school topic ‘chance’. I believe the more practical questions will increase students’ interest in the subject because they relate more to student’s everyday experiences. The teacher will have more opportunities for open discussions on topics in class and allowing students to back up their answers with relevant information should also allow them to express themselves more, leading to them developing a deeper knowledge of topics. In parallel with this, if a student can argue their case properly in the context of what they are being asked, they could be in line for very high marks. I see this as a positive development as it will foster creativity and promote independent thinking. However, in my opinion, there needs to be a more balanced paper set at all levels. Some elements of the papers were marked too easy while topics in other areas were too difficult. I would be more in favour of questions that are fair with a more rigorous marking scheme applied, if necessary. It would be nice if students finished their Post Primary Maths experience satisfied that they did their best and that the rewards reflect their efforts. They shouldn’t feel traumatised to a point that preparation for other exams might be compromised. This year, most students got the result they deserved anyway so why should we put our students through this? We, as teachers, want to see our students given a genuine opportunity to show what they have learned. I feel that they cannot do this with complicated over wordy questioning aligned with some abstract university type problems. Surely every student deserves simple language and somewhat relevant questions on their paper? Social media has allowed students to feedback openly on the new course. The idea of being able to write on the paper is clearly one they welcome. However, practical issues must also be considered: will the length of a student’s answer be influenced by the amount of space allocated for each sub question? Unfortunately, I think a weaker student could be drawn into the idea that a small amount of space for a question might mean a very short solution is required. Also, students must be given enough room to write their answers to a particular part of a question on the same or next page. Teaching challenges There is no doubt that teachers will need to adjust to this new practical way of teaching their subject. They will need to choose their books carefully and use a wider range of resources outside these books. They will need to think outside the box and try to bring some of these new topics to life using practical examples and real life demonstrations. They will need to be more ICT proficient; I believe the Department may need to look at some more Continuous Professional Development in maths specific ICT. One of the biggest challenges for the classroom maths teacher is time. At the moment, it is hard to gauge how much time to spend on each topic and sub topic. Teachers will learn, as each year passes, to structure the course better, including the topic order and timeline. They will learn to choose the best paths through each topic while keeping a closer eye on the syllabus than ever before. However, I believe the Leaving Certificate courses at both Higher and Ordinary Level in their current format may now be too long. Looking through the available exam papers, the length of some of the questions has increased significantly. Those schools that haven’t done so already may need to introduce a double maths class on their senior cycle timetable. In parallel, I envisage a situation where schools may start investing Transition Year maths time to teach some of the Project Maths syllabus and concepts. The marking scheme will be interesting too with the new credit system seeing students being marked from zero up. At present there are a number of graded versions inside the marking scheme. After seeing how this year’s papers were marked, many teachers I spoke to felt the Department hasn’t yet hit the target with the weighting of marks. Students and teachers need to be given more concrete information on how the exam is being assessed. I welcome the Department’s Initiative to create a “Professional Diploma in Mathematics” course. This is a free two year course to upskill maths teachers and to support the implementation of Project Maths. There is an incentive there for many maths teachers to improve their skills and the Department has, in fairness, improved the resources available to teachers via the Project Maths team. In general, we as maths teachers are still a little sceptical about Project Maths. There is also a concern about some topics that have been removed from the syllabus that may be necessary for some mathematically related university courses. In a survey of 253 members of the Irish Maths Teachers Association (IMTA), over 77 percent thought students would benefit if maths teaching in schools was combined with industrial visits to view real-life application of maths. The Government has little money to spend; industry must be encouraged to support the work of maths teachers as much as possible to bolster the effectiveness of Project Maths.

Project maths-the silver bullet or a step in the right direction?

Project maths-the silver bullet or a step in the right direction?
Project maths-the silver bullet or a step in the right direction?More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments and Solution Books via the links below.