Joe’s Jotter: Why Practicing Past Exam Questions in Maths is Crucial

 

Practicing past exam questions is essential if you’re looking to score highly in either Higher or Ordinary level Maths this June. Similar question types come up regularly; but you still need to revise all the topics on your course, as the Maths exam isn’t predictable anymore. Both sections (A and B) at Leaving Cert higher and ordinary levels are important and the correct amount of time must be left for the longer questions in Section B, as they tend to require more thought.

The new Maths syllabus at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level is quite crowded with a lot of material to get through, not to mention trying to link up topics in true Project Maths style. Incidentally ‘Project Maths’ was the name given to the subject ‘Mathematics’ when it was rebranded in 2008. It has now reverted to ‘Maths’ after this bedding in period.

Why Past Exam Questions are Key!

With so much to cover during class time, it is difficult for teachers to expose their students to any substantial level of past exam questions during term time. The reality is that many teachers will only fully complete the course after Easter, through no fault of their own. It is up to each individual student to dust off their book of past exam papers and start by initially attempting the part (a)’s and (b)’s of as many exam questions as they can. Initially focus on topics you have covered yourself in class in order to build up your competence. My advice is to work on the last six or seven years past papers to get a grasp on what comes up in certain topics. If your exam paper book is filling up, re-print the papers in it. These are free to download on the examinations website. Set your stopwatch and test to see can you really do a question against the clock without your notes.

‘Do an exam question a day, and start today’

Doctor Maths, the Poet.

To commence, attempt all past exam questions to the best of your ability with guidance from your textbook and class notes. This allows you an access route into questions you are unable to start. Subsequently, refer to a good solutions book to see how accurately you are progressing. With an unprecedented level of detail, my exam paper solutions (ACE Maths Solution Books) at both Junior and Leaving Certificate levels are an ideal companion to revise Maths effectively for this year’s exams. You should start by practicing and familiarising yourself with the language used on past papers. 5th Years also need to start planning ahead. Most Maths teachers will put past exam questions on a 5th Yr Summer Maths Paper.

Your exam paper focus should always be on practicing previous official state exam questions under time pressure. Replicating exam hall pressure is a brilliant way to hone your skills and really check if you can complete the question asked within the time limit allocated. I would start by taking on a short question or two against the clock, and then a longer question, until eventually you feel confident enough to take on a full paper. Constantly doing questions out from your textbook will never fully prepare you for a full sit down test paper in Maths. This is where a lot of students are going wrong.

 

 Using Past Exam Questions to your Advantage

Knowing how to work with past papers and making the most of them is a skill in itself. Some key preparation tips to keep in mind while tackling past papers are:

  • Start with questions you can do in order to build confidence and reduce anxiety as you commence your revision routine.
  • Solve as many past exam questions as possible from every topic on the course. This will help you understand the type of questions that are asked and also how much work you still need to do to reach your target score in the subject.
  • Estimate how an examiner would have graded your work by comparing your solution against a detailed Maths solution book. Using a solutions book to mark your own questions will allow you to see how your percentages are stacking up.
  • Maintain an error-log on mistakes you keep making. This will help you get to know your weak points and what traps you are regularly are falling into.
  • Everyone has deficiencies in Maths. To overcome these, attempt extra questions from topics you are struggling with.
  • When solving past questions, make a habit of always timing yourself with a stopwatch. This will help you improve speed and manage your timing better during the actual exam. Practice makes perfect. Treat your revision work at home as the training sessions before the actual matches in the exam hall.

Doing an exam question trial at home every week will greatly improve your performance in the final exam. After some time, you will cut out silly errors and feel calmer about tackling a full paper. This process will give you the belief that you can get the awkward question started or tackle the unseen graph or diagram on the day.

  Commence a Strict Diet of Past ‘Exam Questions’ Today

If I was in 6th year, i would move quickly now onto the strict but ultimately rewarding ‘Past Exam Question’ diet. Here are some directions to consider as you trawl through good quality past exam questions and their solutions over the next few months:

  • You need to get practicing multiple real life application questions (Section B)
  • You need to get familiar with marking schemes and how marks are allocated
  • You need to practice exam questions under time pressure
  • Constantly strive to get used to the wording, layout, and style of past questions
  • Get accustomed to how the examiners are phrasing exam questions now
  • Be conscious of the fact that there is extra text and less numbers on the papers now
  • You need to be aware that you could now be asked to ‘explain your answer’
  • Be familiar with justifying your answers using Maths calculations
  • Practice different strategies for starting unseen or unexpected questions
  • Be familiar with the exact meaning of each word that appears on past papers. Joe.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to ACE any Maths Exam’, click here.

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.

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Improve Homework at Secondary School

 

 

Is Homework Useful?

Students, Time spent at homework each night serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a reminder of what you did that day in school. In my opinion, the first five minutes of homework you do in each subject should be to go back over what the teacher did in class that day. Secondly, it also allows you to test yourself to see if you now understand information about a topic, and maybe how you may need to explore it further. Students should take care over each piece of homework and complete it as best they can. Personally, I really see the value of homework as a key tool in re-enforcing learning that has taken place during each day.

The Best Way to Tackle Homework

 How you approach homework after a long day is the secret to being more efficient with it. Firstly, I would make sure to rest a little when you get home and get a good solid meal into you, especially if you have plenty to do. Clever students ‘eat their frog’ and do the difficult homework or subjects they struggle with first. This allows them to feel better as the evening goes on. As I see it, this make total sense, as your concentration levels, later in the evening, do not need to be as high for subjects you are good at or enjoy as tiredness creeps in.

On a similar note, attempt the type of learning you do not particularly enjoy first. In other words, if you aren’t fond of reading or learning off, do that first as opposed to writing or note taking. Homework and revision are about playing to your strengths and working smarter. It is better to write short key jottings as opposed to spending hours mindlessly reading. Fact!

No Homework Tonight!

 If your daily homework has been completed during ‘free periods’ during the day, it is still important to use those few hours in the evening to revise material from last week or the week before. You need to take these opportunities, if they arise, to catch up. For students in Senior cycle, you cannot really afford to take a full night off. Am I saying you should work from 5 – 11pm every night? No, and you certainly should take a short break every thirty minutes. Even on weeknights, take some exercise or go do that little activity you enjoy that keeps you sane – whatever works for you to get your mind off things.

Homework is the Best Form of Study

 Homework done to a high standard is a brilliant form of study. Reviewing work done in class via mini test questions or checking what’s coming up tomorrow can be included as part of your homework if time allows. Homework teaches you to analyse the information your teacher has given to you. Always take pride in the homework you produce, as it will stand to you in the long term. Time spent doing homework should be counted as part of ‘exam preparation’ time and you shouldn’t feel in anyway guilty when there are nights you do ‘all homework’ and ‘no revision’. Judge each night on its merits and how important each task is.

Super Organisation

Being super organised with homework and your journal are important aspects to kick-start your success. In my opinion, homework is the best form of study, and you need to be disciplined with it. Write homework diligently into your journal each day and complete each piece of homework like you are doing an exam question. Being ‘smart’ with how to tackle homework is a skill, which could take months to refine. Ensure each subject gets a fair amount of ‘homework time’, depending on what you schedule is like for the next day.

Every day, I make a list of tasks on my phone that I need to complete. At the end of the day, I review this list to see how many of them I have actually fully completed. Tasks unfinished are then moved to another day so that each task eventually gets dealt with. At times, tasks are postponed (put off into the future), but ultimately they always get completed unless I deem them unimportant. Apply this technique to your revision, ensuring that everything gets completed eventually in the most efficient manner. Task monitoring, homework discipline and dedication are all attributes of the ‘Super Organised’ H1 student.

Student Survey: The Importance of Homework

 I completed a survey of students previously and asked them to think about the importance of homework to them and how its benefits helped them achieve their goals. Here are some of the more interesting observations they made in their surveys:

“Record your homework carefully in your journal every day.”

“Use class time well if teachers allot it to homework.“

“Set the same time aside every evening for homework.“

“Do your homework after dinner and soon after arriving home.“

“Try to complete your homework before nine p.m.“

“Try to be honest with your teachers in relation to homework.“

“Tick off your homework for each subject as it gets done.“

“When doing your homework, do not lounge on a bed or sofa.“

“Ask your parents or teachers if you cannot understand your homework.“

“Have a quiet study area with a desk, fresh air, and good lighting.“

“As well as written work, browse over what was covered in class that day.“

“Do not let homework affect sleep time, but don’t leave it until the next morning.“

“Plan ahead on assignments if you are expecting a busy week.“

“Get the phone numbers of classmates for queries on homework.“

 

To view last weeks feature article on ‘How to become a Specialist at Maths Exams (Part 2)’, click here. 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.

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

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

*****

*****

Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: How to become a Specialist at Maths Exams (Part 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 2022. Wishing you good luck students. Joe

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Maximising Your Junior and Leaving Cert Results’, click here.

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.

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

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

*****

*****
Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: The ACE Guide to Exam Preparation from Home (Part 3 of 6)


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)

To read last weeks article on ‘The Core Skills required to Revise Maths Better”, click here.

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.

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

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

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Photo: @ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: The Many Benefits of doing Transition Year

“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 seventy five percent 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.

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 2022, good luck with Transition Year. Joe

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Choosing Subjects for 5th Year’, Click here.

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.

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

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

*****

*****

Photo: @ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: Choosing Subjects for 5th Year

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 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 requirements 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 do not have this third language requirement, except for their language courses. Again, the advice here is to double check the requirements online for each individual course.

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.ie and careersportal.ie to get a handle on the exact requirements of courses they are Interested in.

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 https://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 now 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, get in touch with me via my website below and I will send you some resources that will help. I wish you every success with your upcoming decision. 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.

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

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

*****

*****

Photo: @ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: Grade Inflation 2022 – Startling Subject Statistics

With Leaving Certificate grades ‘apparently’ rising recently, I decided to do my own comparison analysis of Leaving Certificate results from the years 2018 and 2021 as per Table 1 below. Over 90% of students sat 245,850 leaving cert papers in 2021. In comparing the written papers that the students sat against the accredited grades given by their schools, the results show that 68% of accredited grades were inaccurate (i.e. they were at least a grade out compared to what the student scored in their June sit down exams). Firstly, this margin of error is way too high to endorse the ‘Accredited Grades’ process.

Upon looking closer at this data, the percentage of students scoring a H4 or above in 2021 (A H4 is between 60% and 70% at higher level) has produced very surprising results. What amazed me from looking at the statistics was how grades in nearly all subjects have jumped in three short years. Across the twelve subjects I sampled, the average increase (H4 grades or above) when comparing LC 2018 to 2021 was an eye watering 14%. This is substantial.

Table 1: The percentage of students that scored a H4 or above in LC 2021 and LC 2018*

Sample Subject
Percentage of Students achieving
a H4 or above (2021 in Red) (2018 Bracketed)
Music95% (89%)  +6%
Technology83% (72%) +11%
Engineering78% (70%) +8%
Irish84% (70%) +14%
Design and Communication Graphics (DCG)88% (70%) +18%
Home Economics (S&S)82% (68%) +14%
Accounting84% (63%) +21%
Biology73% (61%) +12%
Chemistry80% (61%) +19%
Maths73% (60%) +13%
Politics and Society74% (59%) +15%
Physics78% (59%)  +19%

*Source: Data from www.examinations.ie

From this data, my feeling is that you cannot compare Leaving Cert students who completed exams before 2018 to the 2020 or 2021 cohort; and of course we are doing so. This throws up a lot of questions about where our education system is going. It seems serious inconsistency has set in, with a new benchmark set for future student results.

Is it now a ‘medal for everyone’ mentality, with this seemingly watershed moment in 2020? How can we even compare Leaving Certificate results before and during/after the pandemic? To me this ‘Grade Inflation’ whiffs of optics and how Ireland’s PISA scores ‘need’ to compare globally. I feel that the department has taken the opportunity to ramp our scores right up under the darkness of pandemic cover. From the data and in my view, ‘Accredited grades’ hasn’t worked and isn’t a future option. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t welcome a Leaving Certificate review now, with a view to more continuous assessment.

Adding Increased marking scheme flexibility to this emerging data, the bell curve has all but been eliminated, while shockingly some students who got the maximum 625 points in 2021 didn’t even get their first choice in college. If the model of the last two years remains in place for our 2022 6th years, many of these students will be heading to third level without having the experience of completing a State Exam. This will put them at an immediate disadvantage heading into first year. Students are scoring higher than ever now, but are they more knowledgeable than their predecessors? I doubt it. Radical percentage increases over such a short period of time like this doesn’t sit well with me at all. It may well stabilise itself in future years, but worryingly a new bar and paradigm has been set, and like everything that changes, the genie is out of the bottle now.

See below for details about Joe as a Maths Tutor and his ACE Maths Solution Books 2022.

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: Practical Tips to Organise Yourself for any Exam

Most students realise at this stage of the year that it is time to settle down into a proper homework and revision routine. If you’re unsure about how to get the best out of yourself, here are some simple but practical recommendations to get you on track. This guidance applies to all Secondary School students, no matter what exam you are preparing for.

  1. Structure your Day.

If tomorrow is a non-school day, it is important to have a plan written down from the night before as to what tomorrow will look like. Having a somewhat set routine will keep you grounded and help you be organised. Waking and going to bed on a routine, eating a proper breakfast, showering, dressing yourself, knowing what topics you will tackle and indeed knowing when break times are –  will all greatly help.

  1. Be Aware of You.

Be aware of how you are feeling and ensure you get plenty of rest and healthy food. Make sure and keep in touch with friends and family to keep you sane and maintain motivation levels.

  1. Short Revision Bursts.

Oscar winning actors wing it. But that’s not you. Research has shown that you need to keep revisiting Information regularly for it to stick in your head. Limit revision bursts on a topic to thirty minutes. This is where short summaries are key. Using postits, summaries, flashcards and mind maps are all tools you should have in your revision toolbox. There are so many different ways to revise, so be sure to utilise them as much as you can. Reading from a book is a very small part of preparing for any exam in 2022.

  1. Write Down your Goals.

At the start of each week, write down how much/what you would like to revise and complete. Ensure you know what sub-topics need covering for each subject by consulting each subject teacher. Set realistic goals that you can achieve in seven days. If you find you are having success and a certain approach is working for you: keep repeating that process. Use common sense by playing to your strengths.

  1. Start Today.

By the law of averages, you may not be super motivated about exams right now. Motivation will increase as you see subtopics being ticked off and completed in front of you. Just get started and then keep going as best you can.

  1. Sleep is always Important.

Sleep refreshes brain cells allowing you to wake up refreshed and begin storing more Information in both your short and long term memory. If you are feeling too tired at your study desk, stop. Time spent in ‘Zzz’ land will actually be more productive at that stage.

  1. Compare Yourself against Yourself.

Always try to compare yourself against yourself, not others. How can I improve my last test result? How can I be more efficient with my revision this week compared to last? etc

  1. Limit Time on your Phone.

Limit social media and phone time over the next few weeks. The only way to do this is to leave the phone out of the bedroom and check in on it during breaks. Any time I take a snap survey in my classroom, 90% of students admit that their phone is a distraction. Students have already acknowledged this as a big problem, but still ignore it.

  1. Take it One Small Step at a Time

Remember that a big mountain hike starts with the first small step. Get on the first rung of the ladder by planning out the topics and subjects you will revise tomorrow, remembering that you can only reach your goal of success by taking it step by step, hour by hour and day by day.

  1. Think About Being Finished

Picture yourself walking out of the exam (you are preparing for) and meeting up with your friends. Picture the weight that will be lifted off your shoulders when it is all over. Use these thoughts to provide you with extra motivation and focus for each task.

 

Did you find this article Interesting? My two hundred page Study Guide Book entitled ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects is packed with an abundance of guidance for any kind of exam preparation from Second Year upwards. Click here for more details. 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.

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: Unlocking Holiday Motivation

As we enter our Christmas holidays, we will all enjoy a well deserved break. However, don’t leave it until the day before school to open the school bag again. Depending on what year you are in, you will know yourself how many hours revision you need to put in over these few weeks. Have a read of the below list of pointers and try and implement two or three of them in order to maintain some semblance of revision over the holidays. It will make your life much easier having continued some constructive habits over Christmas.

  1. Reward yourself

Don’t forget to ‘have a life’ as you prepare for any upcoming exam. Reward yourself after a long study session with a trip to the cinema or visit to your friends. Try hard to develop your own balance between work and play. Ultimately, reward yourself with breaks, taking a reasonable one after every good hour’s work. There is nothing wrong with rewards like chocolate, ice-cream, or a packet of gummy bears; as everyone who has done something constructive deserves a little thank you. The best reward you can give yourself on long revision days are breaks. I am a big believer in a five minute break after every thirty minutes revision.

  1. Stay connected

It is important to keep up communication with your friends and family during revision times. Let them know how you are feeling, especially if you are anxious about a particular subject or upcoming assessment. You will feel so much better about a problem if you ‘chat’ about it to someone. Also, it can be easy to get cut off from the outside world when you are highly focused, so try not to let this happen. Always try and find your balance between work, rest, and play; remembering that everyone’s balance is slightly different.

  1. Use your family

Using members of your family to learn material is an avenue that few utilise properly. Some of your siblings will have completed exams and may be able to pass on some good quality information or advice; so remind them to save their best notes for you. Even if the content of their notes isn’t suitable for your learning style; their methods, notes structure, style and layout could give you some fresh new ideas in preparation of your own.

Get your parents involved and tap into knowledge and practical advice they may have on subjects they enjoyed in school. Get them to examine you on topics. They don’t need to be experts on parts of the course you are struggling with, as they can refer to Information from your book or notes in front of them. All you need is their time and a willingness to ask you loads of questions. Get the conversation going together to promote extra learning.

  1. Stick to your plan

Whatever plan you have for the next three weeks, try to stick to it as best you can. Working in retail every hour over Christmas won’t get you any extra points. As I always say, ‘you can work for the rest of your life’ (including college). Try and balance time wisely if you do happen to have a part time job. This applies to all year round. I am not a major fan of 6th year students working part-time, but that’s just my opinion.

On a given day, if you plan to start time for revision at 9am, get up before then, have breakfast, get ready and commence at that exact time. The students that do well are those who apply this self-disciplined approach, and it guarantees that you are getting maximum efficiency out of your time. A high level of satisfaction will come when you get your exam results; knowing you gave it your all. Time and tide waits for no man or woman.

  1. Try and maintain some routine

Getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting plenty of sleep will help you to stick to your goals and plans. Do this as best you can during holiday periods also. We all lose our routine over holiday periods and that’s ok too. However, try and get back into better habits when the new year turns and your first day back in school approaches. This will allow your body to be somewhat adjusted when you return to those early mornings. Over your holidays, enjoy yourself while maintaining some form of sensibility: eat plenty of fruit and veg, drink plenty of water and get loads of sleep. Rest and replenish both physically and mentally and get ready for the battles ahead.

Tune in to next week’s blog where I will give you full details on Part two of ‘How to Revise More Effectively from Home’. 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.

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

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

 

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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: 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: 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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