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

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Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: How to become a Specialist at Maths Exams (Part 1)


Surprisingly, thousands of top Maths students over the years have struggled when it comes to performing to their ability in Maths exams. In my experience, there is now a disconnect between how teachers teach a Maths class and the skills students use during a Maths test.

For some students, a fear almost overcomes them with the thought of a Maths test upcoming.  Similarly, a fair percentage of students that breeze through other subject exams freeze during Maths ones. A significant aspect of Teaching Maths now is helping students overcome their anxieties, while teaching them the key techniques to retain their calmness and confidence.

Sitting a Maths exam is a skill, but it is something that if you practice and apply a defined strategy to, you can get quite good at it. Every day, I work closely with students to teach them these vital skills to excel in all kinds of Maths assessments.  Below are my insights into how to ACE any Maths exam – from the five minute class test to the full on final state examination.

Make Changes to How You Revise and Prepare for Maths Exams

Below are some clipits of advice to help you get set for a Maths exam. Applying these practical guidelines in your revision plan and during exams will 100% improve your grades.

  1. Apply the skills you have learned from practicing past exam questions under time pressure at home. A time budget plan is a key part to success in any Maths exam.
  2. Keep a hardback of Maths notes. Being familiar with words that appear on Maths papers are vital to aid understanding of the questions you are being quizzed on.
  3. Find multiple-choice questions online or ask your teacher if they have some. These are like ‘speed-studying’ and require less time to work through and test yourself on.
  4. Attempt past exam questions. After completing each past exam question, be sure to view its exact and fully developed solution to see how your work stacks up against it.
  5. Stay alert for key words and phrases to guide you through a question. For example, the volume of an object should allow you to find measurements on it by working backwards.
  6. Use familiar mathematics to guide you. Think back to relate the test question to a concept, topic, or technique your teacher did with you in class.
  7. Formulas are key in Maths. Reflect on what formula you know that may help you solve the problem. This formula may in fact be printed on the test paper or in your log tables.
  8. Can the diagram in the question help? Writing relevant information on a given diagram may prompt relevant thoughts and connections to help you start a Maths question.
  9. Show all workings. Always show how to get from one step to the next. Provide all your workings out to support your answer. At the end of each question, always ask yourself ‘Is this a realistic answer or solution to the question being asked?’ Example: Ten metres would never be an acceptable answer for the height of a pencil. You get the Idea.
  10. Read the entire question… twice. Check what the question is asking and in what form you need to present the answer. For example, you might need to round the final answer (decimal places, significant figures, scientific notation) or convert to an annual amount.
  11. Note the key Information given in the question onto your answer book. Subsequently, note the Information that isn’t present. Link these two to help complete the full jigsaw.
  12. Don’t be afraid to utilise diagrams or tables in your solution. This will clarify your understanding of the information in the question and support your workings out.
  13. Show all relevant substitution (subbing in). This shows the examiner that correct Maths processes are being used (e.g. showing the substitution of an x-value into a function). Joe

To view last weeks article on ‘The ACE Guide to Exam Prep from Home”, 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 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: 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: How to become more Successful in Maths (2021)

Grasping a subject of difficulty is always a big challenge for even the best students. One of those subjects is too often Mathematics. Maths seems to have developed a ‘bad boy cred’ over the last twenty years, but I feel things are getting better slowly and I know students feel more positive about it since the introduction of Project Maths in 2008. In general, I think students are enjoying the more practical approach in the subject since the changes. The existing course is however still quite long, and you need to box clever in order to pin it down. Many students are still trying to come to terms with the amount of words on Maths exam papers and indeed how they link to the concepts. I totally get this. However, I still believe you can learn to grasp key concepts without being born a Maths genius.

Can Anyone Be Successful at Maths?

People regularly ask me about this hypothesis, and I believe Maths is a subject everyone can do well in by being more open minded and willing to try different methods. For sure, your parents have a role to play here, so make sure and get them involved. Parents can get involved in homework from an early age and should be encouraged to send notes to the teacher if there is a particular area their child is struggling with. Above all, it is imperative that Parents pass on a positive attitude about Maths early in their child’s development. A ‘can do’ attitude gives the student belief that they can face problems in the subject and come through them. Encouragement and positivity are the most constructive way any parent can help boost their child’s ‘Maths conviction’.

Maths is Learning by Doing

To me, Maths is a subject where you need to be continuously ‘learning by doing’ and the importance of attempting exam style questions cannot be underestimated. Reading through questions and text like you do in other subjects will not work in Maths and having access to a structured solution book for exam questions is important. Inevitably with some challenging questions in the subject, you will run into difficulties getting started and this is where having the first line or two of the solution can be extremely helpful; a detailed solutions book is ideal for this. I believe that referring to the first part of a solution and then revisiting the question yourself is a very efficient way of developing key Maths skills. This technique isn’t one much practiced in other subjects.

Skills That will Improve Your Maths

You must adopt different approaches in Maths; it is unique. A genuine attempt to start a question in Maths will allow you to gain momentum and progress to apply the concepts you have learned in class. In my experience, the biggest stumbling block to achievement in Maths is getting the question started; but a single grain of rice can tip the scales. In general, if you are finding it difficult to get started and feel lost in Maths, start by practicing the part (a) questions in your past exam papers and work your way upwards to part (b) and so on. If you are an exam student, go back on your 2nd or 5th year notes to refresh those key basics. The majority of students just fire notes from previous years in a corner. Past notes should be stored carefully for easy access later. It’s amazing how much you will recall about what you wrote down and what advice your teacher gave you back then. Re-do some questions from then to start a Maths revision session. As you always hear me say, Algebra is jewel in the crown at all levels. Maths is about having a go, knowing the tricks, when to use formulae, consistent practice and really believing in your ability and the work you have done.

More Interesting and Informative Maths feature articles will follow as we lead up to the Junior and Leaving Cert 2022.

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: Exam Time is Feeding Time

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

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

  1. Eat a breakfast

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

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

  1. Increase ‘brain food’ intake

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

  1. Snack healthy

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

  1. Minimise caffeine

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

  1. Consume good fats

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

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

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

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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Joe’s Jotter: Parental Insights to support your child through to Exam Day

Dear Parents,

You may now be in the situation where your child is preparing for a final state exam and at times it will seem like you are the one actually sitting the paper. Firstly, ‘you’ getting stressed out and worked up will only make them more anxious. Students need to be encouraged and rewarded and this will be your main role around exam time. Getting annoyed or even angry with your child for not studying or putting in the hours will achieve very little. Ultimately, the only person you are upsetting is yourself. The old adage is apt here:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink

As a parent, all you can do is put the conditions in place to help them flourish. Purchasing some revision and solution books, making healthy food, providing a quiet house for study and plenty of love and support are all positive actions around this time.

Providing that Subtle Support

Being in the background and offering that hassle free support is what most exam students want right now. Firstly, let’s focus on the support they need for revision and homework now. Homework is an extremely important part of your child’s learning in exam year. Below are some short tips that will facilitate your involvement, in making homework, a positive learning experience for your child:

  • Provide your child with a suitable place and time to do their homework. Minimise interruptions/distractions from television, phones, and other siblings.
  • If a child has difficulty with homework, you should try where possible to help them overcome it with explanations and examples, without actually doing it for them.
  • In the case of recurring homework problems, it is advisable to ring or send a quick note to the subject teacher to explain what the problem or issue is. If you are a parent of an exam year student, a phone call is probably the recommended form of communication at this stage of the year. More detailed advice on homework will follow in feature articles over the next few weeks.

 Encourage them to Express Themselves

If you find your child is getting quite anxious about upcoming exams and needs more than talking, ask them to write their thoughts and concerns on a sheet of paper. Having kept a diary for ten years as a child, I found that writing down thoughts and feelings helped to get them out of my head, so I could deal with reality better. An idea might also be to ask them to write down some positive actions, such as “I will relax and perform well” or “when I get the first question on the first paper started, it will settle me”.

It’s important to guard against what they perceive as failure; support instead of policing is the way to go. To me failure in school is not about grades; the students that fail are those who don’t try, and the same philosophy could be applied to life. From this point of view, encouraging all their efforts and promoting calmness is the ideal standpoint for any parent as exams near.

Get in touch with their school if you are overly concerned about your child’s anxiety, as sometimes it can happen that teachers are not aware of issues with students, and being informed, they can take steps to help them or at least cut them some slack in class. Ultimately, if you feel exam anxiety (or any other serious anxiety for that matter) is reaching an uncontrollable level, you need to seek advice, support, and guidance, probably from a medical practitioner.

 Five Practical Tips to Support Your Exam Student

Parents, here are more real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son/daughter be their best around exam time:

  • Help them maintain a well-balanced daily routine. You should guide your child to aim for a proper balance between revision and rest. After each exam or class test, they need time to rest and recharge before they can do any beneficial study for the next challenge. With a lot of tests in school at the minute, it is important to maintain that freshness where possible. Late-night study sessions are not advised.
  • Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep improves exam performance. All revision should end at least an hour before bedtime to allow your child time to unwind before sleep. Encourage them to conclude revision and start to relax, in order to slow down the body and mind. This will result in a refreshing night’s sleep. It is not advisable to fall straight into bed from the study desk as their mind will be buzzing for hours as they attempt to get to sleep.
  • “You are what you eat”. What you eat and drink affects your performance in any activity, especially one involving mental sharpness. As a parent, you should try to ensure your child has nutritious food as exams approach, starting with breakfast each morning, the lunch they bring with them if they are facing long days, their evening meal, as well as snacks during the day. Grazing on junk food is very tempting at times of increased stress but should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Success is always a team effort. Drawing on the support of everything that is potentially positive in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. Such supports include a heightened awareness on the part of all family members in their interactions with the person doing exams. Meeting with friends and participation in sporting or social activities should be encouraged. All these factors help to maintain a student’s ‘spirits’ during an extended exam period.
  • It is advisable not to over hype the importance of any examination. It is very easy in the middle of a stress-induced experience, such as a major exam, to get the whole event totally out of perspective. The secret here is to try and maintain their normal school routine. Parents should ensure their child is clear that your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in these annual academic Olympics. Your affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them, prior to and during their tests.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Revising from Home for an Exam (Feature 5 of 6)’, click here.

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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