Joe’s Jotter: Guidance on How to Improve Your Motivation

Students, did you find being at home all the time during lockdown with no teachers or fellow students to encourage and motivate you challenging? Most did in fairness. Even us adults struggled greatly with the situation. The reality, however, is that a good chunk of your preparation will be done ‘home alone’ no matter what the circumstances. There are plenty of things you can do to maintain high spirits and decent motivation levels, both for home and school time. Have a read of this feature article and pick out two or three things you can implement that might improve your motivation levels and your attitude towards schoolwork and the homework/revision you do each evening.

Firstly, set up a Lifestyle (Study) Timetable with all different subjects, different subtopics, and different ways of learning each day. Start with a trial run for three days and tweak it as you go along. Secondly, challenge the brain to perform different types of tasks every thirty minutes, whether that be taking notes, writing bullet points, watching a YouTube video, listening to an audio file or discussing a sub-topic on the phone with your friend. Variation in stimulus will trick the brain into maintaining concentration for longer. Mixing the above with regular breaks will alleviate boredom and increase productivity. These are definitely two starting points to drive the desire to be more successful, whether that be in a small class test or the final state exams for exam years.

Improving your Motivation at Home

Maintaining high motivation levels is an important element of getting any task completed. The first thing to realise is that you can achieve any goal by discovering ways to motivate yourself. The way we converse can sometimes reflect our motivation levels and can also increase them intrinsically, without us even knowing. Highly motivated individuals will use words like ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘may’, ‘like to’ as opposed to ‘must’, ‘won’t’, ‘can’t’ and ‘need to’. Writing, considering and repeating positive sentences out loud can improve motivation and reset a positive mind-set. Here are some examples of these sentences in the context of your exam year. You should re-write these into the back of your journal to reflect your own current situation and attitudes:

  • I want to start preparing myself for the upcoming exams.
  • I need to put a structured timetable in place.
  • I’d like to get into Third level when I complete school.
  • I should get my head in the books this week.
  • I must start working hard to reach my short-term goals.
  • I can achieve whatever I want through hard work.
  • I will deliver brilliant exam scripts in this year’s Junior/Leaving Cert.
  • I will get organised and sort this out step by step.
  • I know that I have plenty of ability.
  • I must organise to share study notes with my friends.
  • I can be as positive and as focused as anyone in my year.
  • I am a good all-rounder.
  • I am well able to take on this challenge.
  • I am a force to be reckoned with.
  • If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.

Hearing about the study habits of others on Instagram or Snapchat can be a positive thing. Instead of feeling guilty about not being currently highly driven; use it to motivate yourself. The fact that there is someone out there competing against you, who wants your college place, should get you going and make you more determined.

Another motivating factor in your exam year is its length. The length of the school year is nine months, and with only a few months of that left now, you only really need to raise your game for that short period. Do you fancy repeating the year while your friends head off to college or employment? Not too appealing I would imagine. Again, don’t ignore these thoughts; instead use them as the driving factor every morning to ‘get started’, while always remembering It’s never too late to step into your own greatness! ?

It’s a nice idea to copy down your motivations into the back of your school journal, having a glance at them whenever you find yourself losing interest in your work. Having a role model friend who is very driven can also help you to fulfil your potential. Talk to as many former exam students as you can to find out how they navigated their path. Above all, I want you to compete against yourself and not anyone else. Use your previous results, grades and recent comments from your teachers to strive for something more.

Accept the Things You Currently Cannot Change

As this point in time, you need to reflect a little about what kind of a start you have made to the year.  Ask yourself now, “Am I on track to deliver a performance when the big day arrives?”, “Will I feel better or worse if I do absolutely nothing over the next week?” It is worth remembering that you cannot change the past and it shouldn’t limit you either. This week is a good time to start. I always remind my students that you can only shape your future through present actions. Start again tomorrow if today didn’t go so well. Move on and accept. For me, the prayer of serenity comes to mind here:

“Accepting the things, I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Having a bad day may commence a negative thought process: “I’ll drop down to pass or foundation to concentrate on other subjects”. You need to guard against one lapse destroying your desire to achieve at a given subject. A bad day is not a bad week and remember that this is a long-term project. However, there are things that you can control, including, keeping yourself as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising and completing those timetabled revision blocks you put in place.

In summary, find out what motivation techniques work for you and repeat them. Try not to worry about what you cannot control. At the minute, you have no control of when the exams will happen or even when you will be back in school. Your job now is to settle into a good revision routine at home. You can only do your best so try not to be too hard on yourself. Joe

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: Six ACE Pointers to Help Settle you Back into Revision

Students,

As we reach the end of our first month in school, you may be struggling to return to some kind of a revision routine. Here are six useful signposts for all students to get you back into the swing of completing homework and revising classwork.

  1. Take regular breaks.

Yes, really! Taking short five-minute breaks every thirty minutes should keep you fresh and focused. However, make sure that five minutes doesn’t turn into an hour! Go for a short walk, call up a friend or have a snack and then come back to your work on time. Some studies have found that having a natter with friends can have a positive effect on memory and laughing increases serotonin (the body’s chemical that makes you happy). It is important to leave your study area during your breaks to get a change of perspective and return with renewed energy for the next session. Enjoyable breaks will allow you to become more efficient with your study blocks. Setting mini targets like completing a long exam question followed by a prolonged break is a smart way to operate.

  1. Stay alert and interested.

When reading, it is a good idea to make notes or highlight key terms. I believe you should always revise with a pen at hand. I feel that just by reading a piece of text, you are not actively engaging with it. In my experience, you will remember more by summarising it or even just by making markings with a red or green pen on the page. This method keeps the brain tuned in to the task at hand. Other learning methods you might consider for variety include YouTube videos, online quizzes, or creating mind maps. If you find yourself struggling to stay alert, you are probably tired, and it may be time for a break or retirement for the evening.

  1. Be ruthless with your notes.

Many students go to educational institutions after Christmas to boost their store of materials and, of course, their confidence. However, I have seen many students over the years become overwhelmed with too much material and they just end up getting swamped not knowing where to start. In subject areas you find difficult, reduce your material into manageable, thought provoking snippets. If you take notes in class, make sure to date and keep them for revision later. Dig out last year’s material requiring revision at this point. It is important to keep a record of what topics you have done in class and how long your teacher has spent on them. This will ensure you are clear on what has been covered and what still needs to be investigated. Being persistently consistent in relation to your notes is a big factor in doing well in exams.

  1. Set goals and keep records.

Setting goals will help you monitor your study and will give you something to work towards. If you under perform in a class test, set a mini goal for your next test to improve by a certain percentage. In your school journal, write down all your goals and check them off as you complete them – name it a ‘Junior Cycle or Leaving Cert bucket list’. Ultimately, use long-term goals to motivate you to ACE the short-term ones. Long-term goals might include a points target in your Leaving Certificate, a possible trip to third level or scoring that rewarding job later. A short-term goal will help you get where you want to be long term. Reviewing the success of your short-term goals every two weeks will give you a sense of achievement. An example of a short-term goal could involve summarising and understanding a chapter from your book and completing a past exam question relating to it. All successful students do a small plan and set goals for themselves.

  1. Earn your rewards.

Don’t forget to ‘have a life’ as you develop a routine that works for you. Reward yourself after a long study session with a trip to the cinema or visit to your friends. Ultimately, reward yourself with breaks, taking a reasonable one after every good hour’s work. There is nothing wrong with the odd bar of chocolate, ice-cream, or packet of gummy bears; everyone who has done something constructive deserves a little thank you. Earn rewards with each thorough revision session you complete. This will Increase motivation and improve your overall revision output.

  1. Start thinking about Past Exam papers.

Those of you in Exam years: Are you familiar with the layout of each exam paper and its marking scheme? If not, you need to get checking. You can source all the past exam papers in the ‘Examinations Material Archive’ section of the examinations.ie website. If you are doing exams in 2022 and haven’t a set of exam papers for each subject, don’t delay, get them today. A large part of your revision should be to assess and practice answering questions from past exam papers (under time pressure) on the topics you have covered in class. Remember also that each subject’s exam paper is different, so you need to get familiar with each one. You need to find out the exact layout and style of each individual paper. Is there a choice in sections? How many questions do you need to attempt in each section? Are there short/long questions or both? And most importantly, how long can you plan to spend on each individual question? Being super familiar with paper layout is key.

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: Tips for 2nd and 3rd Years to Make the Most of their Evenings

Students, as we come towards the end of the first few weeks back in Secondary School, it is important now that you get into a routine of homework and revision, both during the week and at the weekend. Breaks are important for all students who are putting effort in at home each night, as well as giving yourself some wind down time before bed also. Over the next few months, try and improve the standard of your homework. Always take pride in how you complete written homework. Doing homework like a mini exam is the best form of preparation for your any upcoming tests. Here are four more practical tips you can try to get the more out of your evenings.

Be positive

Being positive will vastly improve your attitude towards study and therefore its quality. You should always focus on what you have studied, what you have learned or what you know as opposed to continually looking at what needs to be done. When you come across an awkward question, you need to box it off properly in your mind. Instead of thinking, “we haven’t covered this!” or “how is this relevant to what I know?”, you need to reflect on how it links into your subject, topics within the subject and what your Teacher has taught you in class.

The same goes for studying prior to the exam. Take control by changing the way you speak about your preparation. Instead of saying “I should be studying more”; be good to yourself and say, “Well I did a solid two hours this morning and will go back to it tonight”. Change “I should be…” to “I’m going to…” Research has shown that positive language can lead to more positive results. If you say: “I can’t climb that wall”, you are less likely to succeed in the task, as your brain has almost been auto programmed to fail. As a Maths teacher, I love this equation of positivity:

Positive attitude + Positive actions = Powerful results

Look after your eyes

You will be doing plenty of reading from textbooks, summary notes, post-its, flashcards and the likes over the next few years, so it is important to look after your eyes during this period. The expert’s advice on reducing eye strain is to apply the twenty-twenty-twenty rule. That is to take twenty seconds to look at something twenty feet away and repeat this every twenty minutes. Going outside on your breaks will get some fresh air to the eyes. Another good exercise is to simply rest your eyes in the palm of your hands for a few minutes, making sure that no light gets through. Too much time on devices wouldn’t be great for keeping your eyes fresh. Just saying!

Rotate your learning

The brain can only concentrate on a subject matter for a certain time period. At times, when I was penning my ACE book, I needed to get away and come back to it in order to maintain my focus. Rotate your work between memorising content, writing, oral work, audio, Internet research and watching documentaries. Most importantly, rotate your subjects. We all enjoy discovering about subjects we find interesting, but it is so important not to forget the subjects you find difficult or the ones you are just not as interested in. Rotation of stimulus will trick the brain into performing better and going for longer.

Become an active learner

During study sessions, always have a pen and a highlighter to hand. You should mark the key points onto your textbook, write brief comments at the side of the page or underline the important sentences. This information should be transferred to a summary page later. I really like this method of revision as it reduces the quantity (amount) of notes you have to analyse and there shouldn’t be a need to revisit that part of your textbook again. Active learning is a great way to keep yourself tuned into what you are studying. Spend time thinking about how you can use your life experiences and places visited to enhance essays or answers with a few extra bells and whistles. Individuality and drawing on your personal experiences are what every Teacher and examiner is looking out for. You need to try and stand out a bit from your fellow students.

Joe’s Jotter next week will provide students with six ACE pointers to settle them back into revision. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Perform Well in Subjects you Find Difficult’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Joe.

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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

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

The ‘Home’ Support

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

The ‘School’ Support

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

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

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year (Part 2)

Practical steps to smooth the Transition into Secondary School

There are loads of steps and initiative’s both you and your child can take as they start Secondary school. In Part 2 of this feature, I will discuss three key areas for you to consider in order to ease this transition: One, the importance of learning support; two, your awareness of how the first few weeks are actually going for them; and three, practical tips for both you and your child to consider at school and at home.

The Importance of Learning Support

  • Secondary Schools will have learning support for your child. If your child’s new school are missing any key Information around this, ensure they get it as soon as possible. Many schools will have a staff meeting (in September), where your child’s year head will outline important strengths and weaknesses of each student.
  • Learning support at Secondary is different to that at Primary school level. Contact the school if they had been receiving any type of support at Primary that their new school may not be aware of.
  • Flag any difficulties that your child had in primary school, so that it is entered onto their personal file. The class tutor and year heads will then have access to it from there. Ensure to always request the correct learning supports that your child is entitled to.
  • If your child has complex special educational needs, they may need a transition plan to assist them to transfer to their new secondary school. You and your child will be involved in developing this plan. Other people may be involved, as necessary, including relevant teachers from their primary and post-primary school, NEPS psychologist, health professionals etc.
  • As appropriate, a support plan may also include information on your child’s learning, social and communication, care, (for example: dressing, toileting, mobility, and medication), sensory (such as over sensitivity to noise, textures, lights) and physical needs that require environmental adaptations such as adaptations to the school building, adapted seating or other specialised equipment.
  • Most post-primary schools will have links with their feeder primary schools. This allows for an easier transfer of information between them. Usually, there is contact between the 6th class primary/resource teacher and the receiving post-primary school. This will help to overcome any disconnect between what was taught in primary and the starting point in certain subjects at second level.
  • For all parents, I would recommend writing a one page profile about your child noting the difficulties and barriers they faced at primary school. Include in it the strategies that worked and that didn’t work for them. This would be valuable Information for their tutor, year head and individual subject teachers should you like them to have it. I know that as a teacher, I am always pleased to get Insights like this, should parents be willing to present them. It gives us as teachers a deeper understanding into how each child interacts and learns, allowing us to support and get to know our students better. Outcomes are always better with Informative Insights like these.

You may also wish to ask the school some key questions at the start of the school year…

  1. Where can my child go if they are struggling, anxious or having a meltdown?
  2. What happens at break and lunch time? i.e. unstructured time
  3. How can my child get help with reading, spelling, Maths, or homework?
  4. How will support during class assessments work in each subject?

Awareness of how they are Settling In

  1. Watch out for any early signs of bullying by regularly checking in with your child. Tune in from day one to see whats going on and whats being said. A lot of bullying goes on via their phone; so ask them to pass on any issues or concerns they may have e.g. a hurtful comment, message, or mean social media post.
  2. With things being a little unsettled for the first few weeks, establishing a routine is really important. I would try to maintain the dinner, bed, study, training, and recreational routines at home as best you can. Kids that are going through change crave some kind of routine and they will look to you for that stability.
  3. After the Initial settling in period is over, keep an eye out for disturbed sleep, anxiety, and poor eating habits – it may be a sign of something not being quite right at school.
  4. Watch out for emerging red flags i.e. Not wanting to do activities they enjoy, spend time with friends or worse, an unwillingness to go to school. Teach your child to talk to you.
  5. Ask them what classes they like?, Who are they sitting beside? Who are you hanging around with? What clubs have they? Always try and get an honest conversation going.
  6. Try to listen to them if they have had a bad day.
  7. In general, if you get them into good habits in 1st year, 2nd year will be way more straightforward (A major ACE tip here) especially from a communication viewpoint.

 Practical Tips for things to do……….together at home

  1. Make a few copies of their subject timetable.
  2. Photocopy the bus ticket, keeping a spare one in their locker and at home.
  3. Help them get organised with colour coordinated folders (available in most stationary shops). Give each subject a colour, so for example, English goes in the blue folder. Put a blue sticker on the English textbook/copies and colour ‘English’ blue on the timetable. If you have a map of the school, the room where English class is on would be blue also.
  4. Have a morning reminder checklist on the fridge for: PE gear, lunch, keys, jacket etc.
  5. Know the system. If they can view their books on a laptop, this may sometimes allow them to leave books in school. Most secondary school textbooks now come now with a code where you can upload them onto their laptop. Handy to know this Information.
  6. Making a distinctive mark on their belongings will give them a better chance of them not being lost or stolen, especially during the upheaval of the first few weeks.

Practical Tips for things they can do……….at school

  1. Having a safe person they can approach for help or advice, more than one if possible.
  2. Carefully minding their colour coordinated timetable, the spare key/code and bus-ticket.
  3. Trying to build a good relationship with their class tutor and year head.
  4. Having a notebook that they can write in during the day if they find something challenging. It is advisable not to expect them to talk immediately after school. Giving them some quiet processing time will allow you to get the chat going as the night progresses.
  5. Getting to know a friend in each class that they can text to find out what homework or revision they have for the next day. Classmates will vary depending on the subject.
  6. Getting to know the school secretary, should any issues or concerns arise.

To view part one of this feature article on ‘Transitioning into first year’. click here. Joe

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: Assessing your Revision Achievements in 2020/21

The key to doing well in exams is continually trying to improve the quality of your preparation. An hour of good quality revision is equivalent to three hours wastefulness. Was your revision productive and fruitful in the school year just gone? Here are some reflections to help you assess this and also to contemplate what changes you can make to be more effective in the upcoming academic year:

  1. Assess your study area: The ideal study space is somewhere where external distractions are kept to a minimum and has an organisation about it. It should be a quiet area where you can concentrate, allow yourself to think and effectively listen to those notes on the page.
  2. Sort out a study routine: You should plan revision for the same time each day, especially during the school week. On these days, I would recommend that you commence study thirty minutes after completing your homework. This will eventually become routine as your mind/body adjusts. Our body likes routine as it learns to anticipate events better and becomes more familiar with them.
  3. Organise your materials/notes: Have all the materials you need to hand for studying. Having to search for materials will lead to frustration. Develop a system that works for you. There is no excuse for not having your notes organised and close at hand. A suggested system is to have a large ring binder for each subject. In each binder, divide each topic for the subject using card dividers. Subsequently, put the content for each sub-topic into plastic poly pockets between these card dividers. This is just one suggested method. It is never too late to get yourself organised. It is never too late to start studying.
  4. List out the topics: For each subject, list out the topics that need to be revised. Show the list to your teacher to make sure you haven’t excluded anything. You need to be realistic in not expecting to cover them all over a short period; it will take time. Make a second list of the sub-topics inside each main topic. The full listing for each subject should fit onto an A3 landscape page, giving you a quick reference summary of a subject at a glance. Each time you complete and understand a sub-topic, tick it off. I always find that ticking off lists and seeing them shrink gives a great sense of satisfaction.
  5. Mirror exam hall challenges: I would recommend during the days leading up to the first exam that you get up at eight-fifteen a.m., have your breakfast and complete a full past exam paper from nine-thirty to twelve similar to the time the real exam will actually be taking place. This prepares the mind, body and even the arm for the process of rising, eating, and focusing on the task ahead. This serves to mirror upcoming challenges you are about to face and is a little known and under used technique.
  6. Use clever ways to remember content: You need to use your imagination when revising – this includes constructing summaries and lists in different parts of your house to help you remember them. Over my educational career, I based a lot of my preparation around summarising notes. Set yourself a target to summarise a full chapter onto one A4 page and then summarise this page into bullet points using post-its or flash cards. You will then have a shortened summary (written in a language you understand) of a topic, instead of fifteen pages of text in a textbook. It’s so simple and it works. Effective study is based on working smarter not harder or longer.
  7. Set short term goals: Setting goals will help you monitor your revision and will give you something to work towards. For example, if you under perform in a test, set a mini goal for your next test to improve by a certain percentage. In your school journal, write down all your goals and check them off as you complete them – call it an ‘Exam bucket list’. If we do not set some goals in our lives, we tend to just plod along aimlessly.
  8. Eat your frog: We all put off things we dislike, like going to the dentist for example. Start by studying the subject or topic which isn’t your favourite. Look at the subjects you are struggling with, and then consider the topics within these subjects that you need to tackle. Do not avoid a subject if you don’t enjoy it, as it will eventually catch up with you. Similarly, don’t invest all your time and energy into subjects and content that you enjoy. You need to find a balance that works here.
  9. Attend school and listen: Make sure to attend school every day and be fully present in class, paying attention and taking notes as best you can. Remember that your teachers have been through exams with hundreds (maybe thousands) of students before you, so they are well worth listening to, especially during the last six to eight weeks of term time.
  10. Live in the present: Writer T.S. Elliot once said: “Time past and time future are all contained in time present”. Try not to give yourself a hard time about the lack of revision done in ‘time past’. Conversely, it is also not a good idea to be looking too far ahead into the future as it can cause anxiety and tension about your workload or what may or may not happen. Plan your revision strategy week-by-week and review it as you go along. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Improving our current exam system’, click here.

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: Improving our Current Exam System

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

Preserving Fairness

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

Should Teachers assess their own Students?

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

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

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

How can we Improve our Current Exam System?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parental Support for Students at Home

Parents, your new role is one of increasing influence, given that your child is now at home revising for their exams all the time. Strangely enough, they actually like the structure of school and seeing their friends there every day. Being at home is not something they are used to and may require some time to bed down into a pattern of revision and rest. You are not a teacher, so it’s important to remember that if you are doing your best, you are doing enough. Here are my twenty recommendations to help you be the best you can for your child currently revising in the home environment:

  1. Help them establish a revision routine in a quiet, clean, and comfortable area.
  2. Plan your day a little around them, so you can be there to support their efforts.
  3. Provide the quiet support: school materials , healthy dinners & encouragement.
  4. Be realistic about the amount of revision they may do each day.
  5. Encourage family time including walks & drives to keep communication open.
  6. Show interest by requesting that they discuss or come and teach topics to you.
  7. Be calm, tolerant, and patient with their moods as best you can.
  8. Try praise their efforts (no matter how small) even if you feel they don’t deserve.
  9. Remind them to communicate with their teachers/friends if they have queries.
  10. If they are disorganised or scatty, sit down & brainstorm to help them organise.
  11. Empower them to help around the house, i.e. Cooking/Cleaning/Gardening.
  12. Trust them to take responsibility for their own learning.
  13. Encourage them to talk to you if they feel anxious about anything.
  14. Endeavour to maintain balance. Nothing is ever as bad or as good as it seems.
  15. Don’t be afraid to get stuck in academically. Impart your knowledge to them.
  16. Examine them on subjects, questions, and texts they may need help with.
  17. Try not to pass any anxiety you have on to them; Just let them breathe.
  18. Try to cook substantial nutritious meals so that they aren’t constantly ‘grazing’.
  19. Intervene in all cases if you feel they are overwhelmed or struggling mentally.
  20. Parent

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ACE’ing Your Prep at Home – Final Thoughts

Students,

Your best bet now is to make the most of this challenge set down for you. You now have more freedom than ever to create your own study blocks and breaks; effectively you can control the pace of your learning. If your revision blocks are short (i.e. thirty minutes), you are less likely to daydream and waste time in them. You can now allocate time to various subjects and tasks unlike before; embrace it. It is an opportunity to take responsibility for your own learning and with this you are preparing yourself for third level education or whatever route you choose after school.

Create a good solid routine, especially to start the day. Having a good morning can often be the key to a productive day. Keep your social media stint to a limited time in the morning, otherwise it may become an endless scroll, with well laid out plans being scuppered. Every morning, commence your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable or the list of ten to twelve tasks you have written down from the night before. Be sure to make everyone in the house aware of your revision times, so that they can try to be as quiet as possible during these periods.

Keeping your timetable/task list simple and realistic will allow you to get through the day’s work and make it easier to get started also. Maybe setup four tasks in the morning, three after lunch and three in the evening if you find creating a timetable for the full day too daunting. Sample tasks may include revising a short chapter in your Maths book and completing ten test questions based on it, or note taking on a certain period in History, or summarising one aspect of your Biology or Home Economics course. How do you eat an elephant? Answer: Break it up into small pieces and eat it bit by bit. Treat your daily task list or timetable the same.

Be honest with yourself (as best you can) about how you are going to use the Internet, social media, and phone during revision times. The best way to control this is to set out the exact times you will use devices and where they will be located during revision blocks. If you struggle to separate yourself from your phone, request the help of your parents to find a solution. If you find your eyes are getting sore from ‘screen time’, whether that be on a PC or phone, this is your body telling you to give it a break and it is wise to listen to the voice within in these cases. Along with reasonable tech time, ensure you enjoy and inbuild fun, phone calls to friends, exercise, music, and relaxation into each day’s revision timetable. These types of breaks are essential for productivity; but ensure to keep an eye on time away, as short breaks can easily turn into longer wasteful ones.

As above, vary the different ways you study and indeed your revision location also. Keep your study area clean and organised in order to be more productive. Find out which ways of learning work for you and repeat them. If you are finding a specific revision method worthless, come at it from a different angle. Manage your revision effectively by using the best methods suitable to you and appropriate to that subject.

Winston Churchill once said that ‘Perfection is the enemy of progress’. In subjects we find difficult, we often learn more by making mistakes as opposed to getting everything perfectly right at the beginning. If you always think your notes and revision blocks aren’t of a high enough standard, you will soon loose heart by your perceived lack of excellence. Failure and Imperfection should be viewed as a positive, as it encourages us to try harder and continually better ourselves. This was one of my keys to success. I always wanted to improve and ultimately be the best at whatever I did. You will never actually reach perfection, so be content with progress and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Finally, write down both short and long term goals and re-read and update them every so often to remind yourself why you are putting in such an effort right now. Goals should be used to motivate and drive you to achieve great things. Focus always on the work you have completed, not what you haven’t done. The quicker you settle down into a routine and discover study techniques that work for you, the better you will feel. Adjusting to a new school year structure and timetable can take time. Right now, you are effectively trying to discover a home routine to allow yourself to continue learning and give yourself the best possible chance come exam time. I wish you luck and good health going forward and feel free to contact me through the channels below if I can help you in any way. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Positive Ways to Cope with Exam Stress’, click here.

                                                                                                  *****

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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Joe’s Jotter: Positive Ways to Cope with Exam Stress

  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 exams. 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 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 chamomile 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 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. 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 in your journal. This will give you more of an awareness of what you are worried about and why these fears are actually occurring. Writing things down also serves to ease the burden of carrying everything around in your head. Joe.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Exam time being Feeding Time’, click here.

                                                                                                        *****

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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Joe’s Jotter: Guiding your Child Through their Exams

Your Role as a Parent as Exams Approach

One of your main roles around exam time is to create a good atmosphere at home and it will be important to remain calm and try not to transfer additional pressure on to your child in the lead up to them. This applies whether they are sitting a state exam or an end of year summer test. I would be wary of placing any extra emphasis on them achieving certain grades or points. Allowing them to talk without judgment, actively listening to them and keeping career options and results in perspective are other ways that you can be there for them at this time. Be sure to check that they have a plan ‘B’ in place for further education/training, as this will help greatly to regulate stress levels in the house.

Try not to let uncertainties or worries you had in school, especially any negative vibes you had around exams or certain subjects, influence how your child deals with their exam year. I don’t think conversations beginning with “When I was doing the Leaving Cert…” are really that helpful or relevant to their situation now. Similarly, never compare your child’s performance or study ethic to that of their peers or siblings, as this will just add to the stress. Complaining about the unfairness of the exam process is also airing unhelpful negativity. Keep it all on a positive plane and let them breathe. If you have any concerns at all about your child, you should contact their school, as teachers and management are usually more than happy to help. If you meet a roadblock, I would be delighted to help and advise you in some small way; so don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

More than any other time in their life, it is important to help your child manage their feelings, as they may struggle with overwhelming emotions and pressures placed on them by exams. There are lots of great techniques you can show them, like slowing their breathing down or helping them become aware of their feelings. Maybe, look up one or two of these online, so that you can pass on something practical to use during intense situations. Exercise and involvement in activities right up to exam start are brilliant stress reducing techniques and should be strongly encouraged.

Practical Insights to Really Support Your Exam Student

The following are some real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son/daughter be their best around exam time. This advice applies to all types of examinations, not just the state ones in June:

  • It’s an obvious one to start but ensure that your child is present in the exam hall for each exam. For parents who are working and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam. This advice applies on days they have important class tests also. Ensure they are up and dressed before you leave home for work each morning. A small number of students regularly fail to turn up for morning papers.
  • Making them a healthy and substantial breakfast will greatly help their focus and concentration all the way to the end of an exam, especially if they have an afternoon paper to sit also.
  • Help them to draw up a check list of daily requirements based on each day’s exams. Make a final check with them each morning, so that your child is fully prepared for the day’s exams. The amount of guidance required will obviously depend on how organised your child is. Writing instruments along with the other requirements such as rulers, erasers, calculators, water, and any non-intrusive nourishment such as sweets, or fruit should be checked off for inclusion.
  • When your child arrives home after their exam, listen to their experience carefully and then move on. After each day’s exams allow them to recount to you their daily story. Do not be tempted to review in detail with them any errors or omissions on the paper. Such a process achieves absolutely nothing, other than to again increase their stress levels. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their tale and move on to the next challenge (i.e. the subsequent paper) is best policy
  • Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable prominently up at home; highlight each exam to be taken. This applies to house exams also. Diary the date and time of each paper your child must take. In the stress of the whole exam period, you need to be continuously aware of whats going on and when. Investigate which days or subjects your child isn’t looking forward to so that you can be there for them in a real and practical way.
  • It can help them greatly if you have a little knowledge of each exam paper or at least show some interest in it. Simple questions such as, “What is up next?”, “Are there any compulsory sections?” or “Are there any predictable questions?” can be asked. The best open question to ask is “How are you feeling about …? “. This will allow them to express themselves more freely if they wish. This also ensures they won’t feel alone and that you really care about how they get on. If they will allow you, work with them on devising a short but efficient revision schedule, as this is something I have noticed that students struggle to do alone. Time management is key from now on.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘How to ACE your Maths Exam’, 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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