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

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

Top Twelve ACE Tips to Success in Maths

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

The Importance of the Words and the Formulas

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

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

Wishing you good luck students. Joe

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

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

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

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Handle the Strain of Exams

  1. Play is as important as study

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

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

Ferris Bueller

  1. Take and enjoy your breaks

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

  1. Liquid discipline

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

  1. Exercise the body as well as the mind

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

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

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

  1. Do your best to retain control

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

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

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

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

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

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: Having a Tutor for Extra Support in Maths

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

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

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

How an External Maths Tutor Could Benefit Your Child

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

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

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

 More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the below links:

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

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Prepare for Exams ‘Home Alone’ (Chapter 3).

Dealing with Motivation Issues – ‘I Don’t Know Where to Start’

Students, if you are struggling for motivation at home right now, put a half day’s timetable in place tonight and give it a go tomorrow. Set each revision block to just thirty minutes and time will fly. As you begin to see progress, your motivation will grow. An alternative approach to developing a timetable would be to create a task list. Each night you could write down a list of ten to twelve challenges you would like to achieve in various subjects the next day. Tick them off then as you get them completed. If you currently feel you are swamped with work and worry, this is now your ‘get out of jail’ card, so try it.

Set Measurable Targets

It is so important to set targets, otherwise timetables and lists are just ‘drive bys’ and ‘hopeful’ preparations that you will never be answerable to. We all need targets to help us achieve things. It is also a fact that we are more likely to reach them if they are written down.

Once you set a measurable target (example: eight pages from a textbook to be summarised into your own words), assess how much progress you have made. On completion, tick it off from your full sub-topic list for the subject. A short term target could be as simple as ‘understanding emotions’ from two English poems or practicing writing letters to an imaginary pen pal in whatever modern foreign language you study. Remember if you don’t know where to start, commence with the basics of a topic. i.e. view the first few chapters of your textbook or the first set of notes your teacher gave you on it. Start small and then when you get up and running and notice progress, you will be encouraged by your own efforts. Just get a routine going somehow, and then rinse and repeat. Information about setting up a full ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’ is detailed in my textbook ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects. 

Write out a List of Motivations in Your Journal

Another tip to improve motivation is to write out a list of medium and long term targets in your Journal and then write ten reasons underneath explaining your motivation to ACE them. On lazy days, open that page and read your ‘motivational list’,  thinking about how you felt when you wrote them. This will inspire you to get started on revision and keep going when days get tough. Revising and preparing may seem like it is solely for your upcoming exam, but you will discover that learning is a lifelong process. Try to enjoy the challenge of getting that timetable completed or ticking off those tasks; you have nothing to lose and all to gain. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it your all.

For those of you who continue to struggle to get started on revision, start by writing down the activities you lean towards to dodge study. Put this list on your wall and be fully aware of the times you drift towards them. Being aware of this ‘distraction list’ will remind you of what you really should be putting your mind to at any given moment. Any effort or movement towards starting a short revision block should motivate you to commence a second one i.e. The hardest part of being successful with any task is often just getting it started. Imagine yourself, on your side, rolling down a steep hill. You will gain momentum as you go…and it could even be fun. Give yourself plenty of breaks as a reward for your hard work. 

The Many and Best Ways to Learn

The key to any successful Lifestyle (Study) Timetable is keeping your brain fresh by completing different tasks every thirty minutes. Rotate your learning between different subjects but also within subjects. What I mean by this is: Revise in all the different ways possible. You only need a few repeatable methods that work for you, but you won’t know which ones suit until you actually road test them yourself. The below is a sample list of the many ways we learn. I am sure you could add even more creative and interesting ones to this list matching your personality. Pick out four or five of the below approaches and give them a try today.

  1. Write a bulleted list to explain and summarise a short book extract.
  2. Summarise a chapter of your textbook into your own words.
  3. Create flash cards with a list of facts. Limit each card to seven key points.
  4. Record a summary using the voice memo function on your phone. Replay back.
  5. Put keywords and their definition for each subject (per topic) into a hardback.
  6. View a YouTube video of an expert or listen to audio/podcasts on topics.
  7. Teach or discuss what you have learned with a member of your family.
  8. Get your parents/siblings to ask you questions on a topic you have just revised.
  9. Read a summary out loud to yourself.
  10. Rotate your place of study to retain freshness. e.g. the garden or kitchen table.
  11. Create Bubble diagrams with Microsoft PowerPoint to illustrate topic linkages.
  12. Create a visual Mind Map for a sub-topic you are struggling with.
  13. Stick nine postits onto an A4 sheet. Write a summary with keywords onto them.
  14. Use different coloured pens (red and green) to draw attention to key points.
  15. Use different coloured highlighters to mark relevant dates and details of note.
  16. Chat to friends to find out how they are approaching certain subjects/topics.
  17. Stick stickies/sheets on your wall for memory. Rotate this content every five days.
  18. Research topics on the Internet to give yourself extra pieces of information.
  19. Continually test yourself with sample tests, online quizzes & past exam papers.
  20. Use Graphic Organisers to create a more visual set of notes (samples below).

Sample Graphic Organisers*

*Source: Using Graphic Organisers in Teaching and Learning (SLSS).

 

“Progress in revision can be just small steps.”

 

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

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

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: Revising subjects that aren’t your favourite

Junior and Leaving Certs,

As you prepare for your upcoming mock exams, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears. From talking to students, 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 studying and getting your head right.

Not crazy about this subject

Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’ i.e. ‘Eating your Frog’. Of course, it is easier to study and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others. Studying and preparing your ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face during your exam year. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said:

One of the secrets in life is making steppingstones out of stumbling blocks”. 

Prioritise Subjects

In order to deal with a subject you find difficult, you need to prioritise it on your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable. It should therefore be ranked in your top three subjects and entered first onto the timetable with the possibility of including more study blocks for it than other subjects. In subjects you struggle with, you need to: ask for plenty of help from your teacher, work with a study buddy, find ways of learning that best suits you, break topics into manageable chunks, write a good set of notes that you can relate to and understand, think outside the box and ultimately dig in and persevere. These are all the characteristics of successful students when they face obstacles. This is one of my favourite quotes and is relevant here:

Someone once told me not to bite off more than I could chew; I said I’d rather choke on greatness than nibble on mediocrity

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Train as you will play

Practising past papers is a vital part of revision. It allows you to test what you have learned, what you need to revisit and gives you a taste for the pressures of the exam ‘environment’. The weekend is the best time to practice past papers as you have more flexibility then to create ‘exam timing conditions’. You should train as you play; if you get used to timing yourself and keeping an eye on the clock, it will come naturally on the day. This is one of my ACE tips for success. Remember; only test yourself on material you have studied from the course. The earlier you get practising exam questions against the clock in all subjects, the better. 

Use small (A5/A6) hardback notebooks

Use a small hardback for each subject, writing down the keywords/phrases and vocabulary for each topic as you meet them. This will help to improve your knowledge and understanding of a subject. The beauty of a small hardback is its portability. It can be carried around with you, adding variety to your learning. I always give my students one at the start of each year and prompt them to input important information into it every so often. By the end of the year, they have a pocket size set of keynotes that is great for revision. When revising a topic from your textbook, select the key words or phrases which will help you to remember what the topic is about, and then transfer them into your hardback. Your hardback will be a useful resource that you can dip in and out of as the exams approach and it won’t seem as daunting as a big refill pad! Joe.

“The examiners want you to succeed in your exams.”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2024 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

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

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

 

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