Joe’s Jotter: Tips for Students Preparing for Maths Exams

Hello Students.

At this stage of the year, many of you are starting to think about your mock examinations in Maths. No matter what happens in the mocks, try not to be too hard on yourself as you still have plenty of time to improve in the subject. Please keep in mind that you have had little exposure to exam style questions, have not completed the full course and will not have attempted that length of any exam paper up to now. Go into the mocks and just genuinely try your best in all subjects. Use it as a way of getting used to the time available for each question. i.e. In Maths, always divide by two; you have twenty five minutes at most to complete a fifty mark question. Every subject has its own ‘time scheme’.

For those of you who may have Dyslexia or a learning difficulty, I would like you to view your exams as a challenge, not a threat. Thousands of students gone before you have achieved their wildest dreams so aim high and keep believing in yourself. Whether you are sitting the Junior Cycle or Leaving Cert, I would advise you to put a plan in place now so that you can revise efficiently and prepare properly. Start by listing out all the sub-topics you need to do for subject like Maths and tick them off as you get them covered. ‘Covering’ them means re-writing examples your Teacher may have given you in class and also trying an exam question on the given topic from a recent past paper. Testing yourself on short and long exam questions is the only way you will know if you truly understand it.

Twelve Top Tips to ACE any Maths Exam

Here are my top twelve tips to ACE any Maths exam – both in preparation along the way and facing the paper on the day.

  1. Do out a lifestyle (study) timetable to start next week. Make sure each weekly timetable contains variety, different ways of learning and plenty of breaks/rewards on it. Adjust it each week. Allocate thirty minutes to each topic revision slot. Give Maths extra time slots if it’s a subject you find difficult.
  2. Buy a small hardback and enter all the keynotes, new information learned and formulae’s that are not in your log tables into it. Divide it into the main topics on your Maths course so that you can easily find what you want when you need it.
  3. Make a note of all new words you learn in class each day. If you don’t fully understand the meaning of them, ask your teacher or google them. Write down (in your own words) their meaning into your hardback.
  4. Practice as many past exam questions as you can to get used to the wording, layout, style and marking scheme of them. Start with the easier ones you know.
  5. “Homework is the best form of study”. Approach all Maths homework as you would tackle an exam paper question. Complete it with pride, showing all steps.
  6. Practice questions at home. Time yourself on each question to familiarise yourself with ‘exam hall pressure’. Stick to the timing for each question. For Junior Cycle Maths, the time for each full question is written on the paper. It is extremely important to stick to the time for each question, as there may be a question you know well at the end of your exam and you won’t even get to it.
  7. Get a “Study Buddy” that will complete past exam questions for you and with you. You can meet up/e-mail and share your Information. This tactic can be used in all subjects.
  8. On the day of the exam, read the wordy questions three or four times and then re-read them again line by line. Underline key words with a red or green pen.
  9. Prepare for all exams the night before by checking you have all the materials you need. Always, double check any exam timetable for the next day.
  10. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in simple English if you don’t have the Maths for it. Remember that the State Exams Commission (SEC) encourages creativity and different ways of answering Maths questions.
  11. Buy yourself a detailed Exam Paper Solutions Book. Use it to double check against the attempts you are making. It will also help you to get started on more challenging ‘wordy’ exam questions. This is one of the biggest issues faced by Maths students right now. Practice and perseverance really help here.
  12. Start preparation today.

Lastly, the language of Maths is extremely important especially since the advent of Project Maths in 2008. The SEC now place more of an emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean instead of 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. Start now by recording the key words that have appeared on exam papers over the last six years.

Not being familiar with key words could mean not even being able to start a question. This would be an awful shame given the amount of time you have spent building up your core Maths skills. You need to be aware that different words have a different meaning on the paper depending on the subject. For example, the word “Evaluate” in Maths is quite different to what it means in an English exam. I believe that knowing the key words and phrases is now a key component of “ACE-ing” any Maths exam paper. Use this as your starting point now, no matter what year you are in. Joe.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘How to Prepare for Your Less Favourite Subject’, click here.

*****

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

W:  acesolutionbooks.com
FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:    #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: How to Prepare for your less Favourite Subject

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 on 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”  Unknown

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.

*****

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:    #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter – Is it wise to remain at higher level Maths?

Much more students over the last few years have taken on Leaving Cert higher Maths. Even though the bonus points are very enticing, you need to be careful you are fully aware of what you are taking on. Having done Junior Cycle Higher Maths and achieved a good score in it, you should by all means give Leaving Higher your best shot. You need to believe you are as capable as anyone despite what may or may not have happened inside the Junior Cycle class. You may have totally clicked or not with your Junior Cycle Teacher, but you are where you are now. There is little benefit in lamenting the past. This extended feature will help those who are unsure whether to take the risk and possibly be unsuccessful the subject. It is also to reassure those who are in there fighting the good fight day after day, taking the odd blow to their confidence. Each year, deciding levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in Maths with the bonus points in play.

I Can Take on this Challenge?

Firstly, there is a misconception out there that if you fail Maths in your Leaving Cert, you fail the full Leaving Cert. This isn’t true at all. The two worst things that can happen if you are unsuccessful in Maths is that you will have that low grade on your CV for the rest of your life. Also, if a certain grade in Maths is a requirement for a specific third level course, you will not be offered that course no matter how many points you get. That’s as bad as it gets.

I think having a good Interest in Maths is a great starting point in taking on the higher level. Do you secretly enjoy the challenge of those long practical questions in double classes? or do you dread the thoughts of Maths homework each night. Enthusiasm for the subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  I really feel students know in their heart what level Maths they should be doing. If you feel in your gut that you are lost in class or if it is taking too much time away from other subjects; then reflect and talk it through now. If your anxiety about the subject is getting too high and your grades are dropping, it may be time to move. Definitely, if you have struggled to grasp much of the basic Algebra in fifth year, it may be a sign it is too difficult for you.

I always feel that students scoring above thirty percent (approximately) in Class, Christmas and Mock examinations should be able to raise their game to get over the line in the state exams. Students scoring consistently below thirty need to look into their heart and start conversations with their teachers, parents and indeed themselves. It is important not to remain in the class for the sole reason that your parents want you to do honours. Only you know the content of the Maths course you are studying and how it is going for you. Many students and even some Teachers place too much emphasis on the spring Mock result. I disagree with this premise and prefer to look at the bigger picture. From a percentage assessment point of view, I feel you need to look at a combination of exams sat (even fifth year ones) and indeed your Junior Cycle grade.

I’m not Intending to outline a template for who should remain or drop down as there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I am simply encouraging you to reflect and balance the argument for yourselves. I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher/ordinary level Maths. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these borderline students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better. There is a lesson in this analysis. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said,  ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. Your teacher won’t put you too far wrong, as by the middle of sixth year, they know your strengths, weaknesses and the limits of your capabilities, assuming they have taught you since the start of fifth year.

Timing is also an issue. If you do need to drop down to Ordinary level, I wouldn’t leave it any later than Easter. This gives you some time over the Easter holidays and when you return for the final term to increase your familiarity with the ordinary level standard and the format of the exam Paper. Dropping down on the day of the exam is totally unadvised and should not be considered.

Factors That Will Guide Level Choice

I would advise you to think about and discuss the below factors in detail with your parents and teachers before attempting to change levels in any subject. Along with mock performance, here are other factors to consider when making decisions regarding level changes:

  • Your teacher’s opinion.
  • Your ‘potential’ points change.
  • Your Junior Cycle performance.
  • Your attendance in class thus far.
  • How much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • Results in previous Christmas and summer tests.
  • How much of the course you have done thus far.
  • Your own gut feeling and attitude towards the subject.
  • Results in all your class tests since the beginning of fifth year.
  • The amount of effort you are putting into the subject balanced against other subjects.
  • Minimum requirements for college (e.g. do you need a H7 in Maths for a course?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down the pros and cons of remaining at higher level and dropping down.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. What is your gut saying to you? Keeping the above list in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages. Use it to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Joe.

To view last weeks blog feature on ‘Two Clever Revision Hacks for Success’, click here.

*****

More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his ever popular ACE Maths Solution Books for the Junior and Leaving Certificate can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB:
facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2020

Joe’s Jotter: Performing Well in A Subject You Find Difficult (i.e. – Leaving Cert Maths)

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

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

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

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

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

ACE Maths Tuition’s Top Tips for Success

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

Click here to see my last blog on Transitioning from Primary to Secondary School!

In next week’s Joe’s Jotter, I will advise Junior Cycle students on how to restart a revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view more of Joe’s Jotter features, click the hashtag #JoesJotter. Joe.

*****

More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his ever popular ACE Maths Solution Books for the Junior and Leaving Certificate can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copies today!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB:
facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2020