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: Revising 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

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Train as you Will Play

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

Use Small (A5/A6) Hardback Notebooks

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

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: Former Students Provide Excellent Advice

It is a long time since I sat in an exam hall, so I wanted to have a chapter in my book ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ where student opinions were aired, and feedback was relevant. When I read this chapter now, I feel it gives a great sense of the reality and pressures of the exams from a student’s perspective.

I have listened carefully and recorded information from students who have been through both the Junior and Leaving Cert exams over many years. I also surveyed sixty existing sixth years for their first-hand experience, asking them to think back to how they were feeling and their approach to the Junior Cycle exams; what they did right, what they could have done better, big mistakes and importantly what they learned. I have synopsised that chapter in this article to ensure the practical guidance and recommendations given below are useful to all Secondary School students, but particularly pertinent to those doing exams in 2022.

Advice from former students to help you maximise your learning in school

  • Start revising now.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • Start practising exam questions.
  • Practice short exams at home under exam conditions.
  • Separate notes with labelled dividers to make topics easier to find.
  • As you approach exams, continue to attend class to the end.
  • Failure to plan is planning to fail. Plan each day using your homework journal.
  • Once an exam is done, take a break, move on and never look back.
  • Homework, revision and creating good quality notes are all good forms of study.
  • Breaking a topic into bullet points is a brilliant way to help you remember it.
  • Get into a weekly routine of study, exercise, social life etc, i.e. follow the same routine every Monday; same for Tuesdays etc. Stick to this consistently and you will be able to plan ahead better.
  • Do extra revision in the part of the day you feel more alert depending on whether you’re a night owl or an early bird (This only applies to weekends and holiday periods obviously).
  • Exercise will keep your mind fresh. Walking, gym sessions, cycling, swimming, or Zumba classes are all good. Do something you enjoy, whatever that may be.
  • From the month of January onwards, you need to put a proper Lifestyle (Study) Timetable in place.
  • Prior to the state exams (the last six weeks), do morning trial runs on various foods to ensure they digest well. You will definitely need to eat something substantial for breakfast on the days you are doing exams.
  • Be ruthless with your time. As you practice past exam questions, allocate a time limit for each part of a question (depending on the marks available for that part).
  • Social media commentators and mock papers only speculate about the contents of the final exam papers. Nobody really has a clue what’s on the paper, despite what they may say or have read online.
  • Believe in yourself. You have come so far and have so many talents that cannot be measured by an exam. Your results in any exam will not affect how proud your parents are of you or how important you are to all your friends.
  • You need to figure out how best you learn. Some students learn by writing things out repeatedly, some by talking it out in groups, some by listening to recordings, some by reading, some by Internet research and others by typing out keynotes. A combination of the above learning styles may be your key to success.
  • Try not to approach an exam with a negative frame of mind. If you constantly think ‘I have to do so much study’, it will be like carrying around a bag of coal.
  • If you don’t like a subject, try and take a positive view of it saying, ‘This subject isn’t my favourite’ as opposed to ‘I hate this subject’. Thinking about life more positively can help you solve problems and deal with setbacks better.
  • Spend a few minutes each evening going over what the teacher did with you in class that day.
  • Share work around in a small group. Have information sharing sessions in someone’s house. This reduces the amount of preparation you need to do in each subject, as your friends will already have done the research on it. Sit down with the group and explain things to each other. Write down the key points from the shared session to enhance your own set of notes. If you are not comfortable in a group, get yourself a study buddy (a friend) to work with on the subjects you find difficult.
  • Start revising now (again!).

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: ACE’ing your Christmas Exams 2021

First, Second and Fifth years; you will be commencing your Christmas exams soon. In the case of Second and Fifth years, it is another step towards your State exams and of course you want to put on a good show for work done over the last few months. Consequently, your preparation needs to start now for these exams. If you have very little revision done up to now, it’s not too late to salvage a decent percentage in order to set you up for the second term. It is never too late to start revising. Here are ‘Six of the best’ tips to ready yourself for the upcoming challenges:

  1. Set up a ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’.

You need to put some kind of a plan in place for the next few weeks and I believe the ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’ fits that bill. In summary, draw out a weekly timetable containing thirty minute study blocks each tagged with a five minute break after each one. Each block will contain a topic from one of your subjects. Prior to entering topics required to be revised; enter your school times and all the leisure activities or events you will be involved in and need to commit to that week. Keep some catch-up blocks free each weekend in case plans change during the week. It is better to have a plan in place that needs tweaking than no plan at all. Be ambitious but realistic with your plan ensuring it is short term. This will allow you to improve and adjust the next renewal of it. Full details of how to construct the ‘Lifestyle timetable’ is contained in my two hundred page ACE Study Guide textbook.

  1. Consolidate.

I would advise you, at this point, to consolidate the main topics you have studied with your teachers since September. Prepare no new material while also being realistic what you can get covered in a couple of weeks. Your teacher should be able to give you a broad outline of the main topics for consideration for this exam.

  1. Summarise.

Start writing out summaries of the core topics in your own words, whether this is using notes from your teacher or Information from your textbook. Mind maps, bullet points, pocket hardbacks, posits and flash cards are all useful for this. I am a firm believer in students having their own set of notes that can be read and understood easily. As with any exam, you do not want to be trawling through pages of notes as deadline day looms. Start putting these good habits in place now and you can build on them in January.

  1. Tend to all Subjects.

It is important not to neglect the subjects that aren’t your favourite or that you may not excel in. The first piece of homework you tackle every evening should be from these subjects and they should also get more time (blocks) on your ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. You are better off to have the majority of percentage scores for subjects around the class average, as opposed to having very high and very low percentages across a mix of subjects. Give each subject the respect it deserves, and balance time spent on them as best you can. Focus on your weaknesses, as it is likely your talents in the other subjects will balance overall grades out. This also applies within subjects. Getting very low scores in certain subjects can really drain confidence and leave you wondering “Where do I go from here”?

  1. Listing and Ticking.

List out the set of topics (subject by subject) you plan to cover for these exams onto an A3/A4 sheet. Put an ‘S’ beside a given topic when summarised and then tick it off when you feel confident you could answer a potential exam question on it. Having these lists on your wall will provide an added incentive to get more done. Ticking off each list and watching the workload shrink will help you feel so much better about how your revision is progressing. ‘To do’ lists are another variation of this. I use these in my business every day and find them excellent. Ticking off tasks done at the end of each day gives me great satisfaction. Try it and see yourself!

  1. Build Yourself Up.

Eating well is important as your body is more inclined to break down with colds, flu’s, and bugs at this time of year. It will be really difficult to do any constructive preparation if you develop that niggling cold or sore throat. In my opinion the best foods to enhance your system at this time of year are porridge, lemon/orange juice, hot soups, curries, stews, hot roast dinners, mugs of hot drinks and of course loads of water, to name but a few. Sugary cereals or Energy/Fizzy drinks will never improve your health or help illness resistance. Get your parents on board here by making sure they have stocked up the nutritional and warm homely winter foods to get you through to the last Christmas exam.

Finally, put a good solid effort into your revision over the next few weeks and you can relax then and enjoy Christmas with your family and friends. Your endeavours will be worth it when you see your grades being posted out in January. Take pride in your work at school, just as your parents take so much pride in everything you do. Good luck. Joe

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

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter – Should I Continue Studying Higher Level Maths?

More students over the last few years have taken on the task that is Leaving Cert Higher Maths. In 2021, out of the 57,303 who sat a Leaving Certificate Mathematics Paper, 22,918 of them opted for higher level (40%). Even though the bonus points are very enticing, students need to be careful and be fully aware of what exactly they are embarking on. In my experience, there is a lingering doubt among many 5th and 6th years about being able to tackle higher Maths. Scoring low grades in class tests doesn’t really do much for confidence, but it doesn’t automatically mean you should drop down. The question is: Should you remain battling higher level Maths or is it worth the time and effort at all?

This article should reassure those suitable for higher (those who fight the good fight day after day) that they can in fact achieve what they are aiming for. Each year, deciding Maths levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in this subject with the bonus points at play. For those of you who are unsure about higher Maths, it may be worth applying some logic to any inclination to switch. As well you know, us ‘Maths creatures’ are very logical beings lol.  I find that logic is more factual and definite in making decisions like this. It may be more sensible to apply a touch of it here, rather than just using pure emotion. Don’t get me wrong: your gut feeling is important too; but read on to understand what I mean…

I Can Take on this Challenge

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

I think having a good Interest in Maths is a great starting point in taking on higher level. Enthusiasm for this subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  Students, do you secretly enjoy the challenge of those long practical questions in double classes, or do you dread the thoughts of Maths homework each night? Do you like working with numbers or are you mis-understanding the majority of your teachers methods? These are some initial questions to ponder.

Personally, I feel that students know in their heart what level Maths they should be doing. If you feel in your gut that you are lost in class or if it is taking too much time away from other subjects; then reflect and talk it through now. If your anxiety about the subject is getting too high and your grades are dropping, it may be time to move. Definitely, if you have struggled to grasp much of the basic Algebra in forth and fifth year, it may be a sign that the standard is too difficult for you. However, remember also that there are so many varied topics in Maths, and you may have a flair for some and no real interest in others. Very few of us are good at everything, even the best of the best.

Head Above Water

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

Is there a Template for Staying or Going?

My intention in this article isn’t to outline a template for who should remain or drop down, as there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I am simply encouraging you to reflect and balance the argument for yourselves. Over the years, I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher level students. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better consequently. There is a lesson in this. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said,  ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. The statistics also stack in your favour.  In 2021, 97.4% of students who attempted higher level Maths got a H6 grade or above and therefore picked up the 25 bonus points. That is high!

In general, your teacher won’t put you too far wrong when decision time arrives. By the middle of sixth year, they know your strengths, weaknesses, and the limits of your capabilities, assuming they have taught you since the start of fifth year. Timing is also an issue. If you do need to drop down to Ordinary level, I wouldn’t leave it any later than Easter. This gives you some time over the Easter holidays, and when you return for the final term, to get familiar with the Ordinary level standard and format of the exam paper. Dropping down on the day of the exam is totally unadvised and should not be considered.

Factors That Will Guide Level Choice

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

  • Your teacher’s opinion.
  • Your ‘potential’ points change.
  • Your Junior Cycle performance.
  • Your attendance in class thus far.
  • Your ‘working relationship’ with your teacher.
  • How much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • Results in previous Christmas and Summer tests.
  • How much of the course you have done thus far.
  • Your own gut feeling and attitude towards the subject.
  • Results in all your class tests since the beginning of fifth year.
  • The amount of effort you are putting into this subject balanced against others.
  • Minimum entry requirements for third level (e.g. a H6 in Maths maybe?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down all the pros and cons of remaining at higher level or dropping down.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. Keeping the above list of factors in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages as your thoughts and feelings stream out. Use these thoughts to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe

To view last weeks blog on the ‘Importance of Handwriting Your Own Notes’, click here.

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

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: How After School Study Can Benefit Your Child

I am a big advocate of after school study with many schools now running it after class time finishes. Parents, I would highly recommend you enrol your child for these sessions (assuming it is affordable for you). I believe that (from second year upwards) this daily routine will help them settle into positive habits of completing their homework and getting some revision done every day.

Students, here are my top ten reasons to engage in regular after school study:

  1. Quiet Place

In this noisy world, it can be difficult to find quiet times in the home; meals to be cooked, chores to be done and siblings running around. At school study, you are assured of quiet time to concentrate and put goals and preparation in place for whats upcoming that week.

  1. Learning Environment

Being in school, you are in the place you are used to learning in. In the study hall, you will be assigned a proper table and chair with good heating and lighting for your sessions. Your study environment at home may not be as good. Study in school could turn out to be more productive than home revision. Your friends studying with you in the hall should provide extra motivation also – fostering a ‘we are in this together’ attitude will help the focus.

  1. Proper Supervision

After school study will usually be supervised by one of your subject teachers and this ensures you will be required to get on with your work and study during the session. It may also be handy to have someone knowledgeable present that you can ask questions of if you’re unsure about your homework or studies.

  1. Homework Opportunities

After school study should be looked at as an opportunity to get all homework of the day done to a high standard. Exam students should always complete every piece of homework like an exam question. I view homework as the best form of study.

  1. Revision Blocks

Sometimes if a day contains free class periods, much of the day’s homework may already be finished. In this case, you should set out two or three study blocks of thirty minutes in after school study to maximise your revision time. Getting some extra revision done during the week will give you a great sense of satisfaction for that day and will take pressure off your workload for other days that week (including your weekend).

  1. Home Unsuitability

Sometimes good quality study and revision in your home at night may not be feasible; there may be just too much going on. Your parents knowing that you have these extra hours in school will be reassured you are engaging in constructive schoolwork and homework.

  1. Catch-up Time

Just before after school study is a great time to get notes from your buddies for any classes you may have missed over the previous few days. Prior to study, you will have a chance to discuss with them what homework needs to be done and clarify any issues for the next day’s school also.

  1. Leisure Time

Putting a big effort into after school study should leave you with more free time when you get home. Even during the week, every student needs a little bit of down time, whether that be, going to the cinema, visiting friends, or just hanging out. This free time should be viewed by parents as a reward for their child’s efforts during the day.

  1. Minimal Distractions

After school study is now even more important given the emergence of the smart phone. As you well know, social media and phone access is a big distraction now, especially when trying to study at home. Not having devices in after school study will make it much easier for you to concentrate on tasks at hand without being disturbed by notifications.

  1. Early Finish

Going into study soon after classes finish will ensure all schoolwork will be completed earlier in the evening. This should improve productivity with your mind being fresher. It should also give more opportunities for family meals and getting into good sleeping habits during your week. Joe.

To view last weeks blog on ‘The ACE Guide to Exam Preparation At Home’ (1 of 6), 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: 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: 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: Performing Well in A Subject You Find Difficult (Case Study – Maths)

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

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

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

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

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

ACE Maths Tuition’s Top Tips for Success

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

In next week’s Joe’s Jotter, I will advise 2nd and 3rd year students on how to restart a revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts’, 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: 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.

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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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