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: The ACE Guide to Exam Prep from Home (Feature 2 of 6)

The Routine of a Daily ‘Lifestyle (Study)’ Timetable at Home

Routine and structure, to me, should be based around what I call a ‘Lifestyle (Study) Timetable’. Through this, you plan exactly what you are going to do during each part of your day. The best starting point to create this is to make a list of sub-topics to be revised for each subject; do this on a A3/A2 sheet of paper so that you can see a full picture of all the content you need to cover (for each subject) between now and the exams. Each sub-topic on this sheet is ticked off as it gets completed week-by-week.

The next step is to rank your subjects (one to seven) in the order that you enjoy/excel at them. The first four subjects being the ones you are good at/enjoy, with subjects numbered five to seven being the ones you are not so fond of/not the best at. Numbers five to seven are the subjects you need to allocate more time to on your daily timetable each week. Each daily timetable should be written down to help you be more accountable to it i.e. More likely to complete it. It will also allow you to monitor progress at the end of each day and you can check back, as required, on exactly what you got finished.

I advise to type up your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable template, so that you can print copies and fill it in each day. If you are a dis-organised person, you should set Identical start, finish, break and mealtimes day after day, thereby establishing a clear routine. Call me boring, but it works! I would be up and running by ten thirty a.m. each morning at the latest. Try and get up at the same time to crystallise your routine. Be super organised from the night before, so that you can start straight into it the next morning, without having to de-clutter or prepare/find materials. Knowing exactly what revision you are going to do from the night before is key to success. You are more likely to complete each task in this case.  If you are feeling super energetic, you also have the option of following your subject timetable from school.

Creating Up Your Weekly ‘Lifestyle (Study)’ Timetable

During the holidays, I recommend you write out a new timetable each evening for the following day. It doesn’t have to be full day’s work. On down days, you may just do an hours revision. This will allow you to keep the eye in. On this timetable, inbuild your breaks, exercise, time out chatting to friends, tv time, family time etc. Below is a partial sample of what a Lifestyle (Study) Timetable might look like (Increase the Zoom level to get a closer look on your device). As you can see, each revision ‘block’ is thirty minutes long and there is a five-minute break at the end of each block. Use short breaks to check your phone or get some air. Exercise of any form far out ways time spent on your phone or console; Fact. I would never have the phone in your study area. Putting it in a different room will allow you to focus on each thirty minute block. Take a thirty-minute break after every two-three hours work, rewarding your efforts.

*A Sample ACE Lifestyle (Study) Timetable [Click on Image to get the PDF Version]


*Based on the Standard School Week.

It isn’t a great Idea to start the day with TV or a blast of your games console; leave that to the evening as reward. Eat a good breakfast every day. This should be made much easier by the fact you won’t have to eat at seven or seven-thirty a.m., as when you are attending school. From listening to my own students, I know that many of you avoid breakfast and this is a bad practice. Breakfast gives you the brain fuel to sustain energy levels until lunch time and improve concentration/memory for all your tasks. Just eat something no matter how small (and I’m not talking about a bowl of coco-pops here either #eatingair).

How Many Hours Revision Should I Do at Home?

In my opinion, Leaving Cert students would need to be doing between five and seven hours revision a day at home. This is broadly in line with what you would do between school and homework during normal class times anyway. Revise subjects and topics early in the day that may not be your favourite. Leaving subjects you enjoy until the evening makes so much sense, as you won’t need as much energy and enthusiasm for them then. Tackle what you don’t enjoy first, and the day’s work will become easier. I would question how beneficial music in your study area is. For the last subject of the evening, it may be useful to get you through it, but may ultimately just end up being a distraction. You will know yourself if the tones from your headphones are helpful or not? Is the information still sticking? Be honest and sensible with yourself here.

Being Realistic Is Important

If you have a timetable/list of tasks set out for a day and things go wrong, just try to finish the day well and start again with a new timetable/list the following day. Try to be kind to yourself, remembering that anything in the past is not something you can do change anymore; you need to move on, start again tomorrow and try your best. Target specific topics in each subject instead of revising very generally. At the end of each day, review how your day went and start winding down at least an hour before bedtime. According to a recent survey, it is recommended that teenagers get between eight and ten hours sleep a night (apparently just over half of you are actually getting this). If you are at home studying, there is no excuse for not getting enough sleep (but not too much either). Good luck with your routine. 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: Unlocking Holiday Motivation

As we enter our Christmas holidays, we will all enjoy a well deserved break. However, don’t leave it until the day before school to open the school bag again. Depending on what year you are in, you will know yourself how many hours revision you need to put in over these few weeks. Have a read of the below list of pointers and try and implement two or three of them in order to maintain some semblance of revision over the holidays. It will make your life much easier having continued some constructive habits over Christmas.

  1. Reward yourself

Don’t forget to ‘have a life’ as you prepare for any upcoming exam. Reward yourself after a long study session with a trip to the cinema or visit to your friends. Try hard to develop your own balance between work and play. Ultimately, reward yourself with breaks, taking a reasonable one after every good hour’s work. There is nothing wrong with rewards like chocolate, ice-cream, or a packet of gummy bears; as everyone who has done something constructive deserves a little thank you. The best reward you can give yourself on long revision days are breaks. I am a big believer in a five minute break after every thirty minutes revision.

  1. Stay connected

It is important to keep up communication with your friends and family during revision times. Let them know how you are feeling, especially if you are anxious about a particular subject or upcoming assessment. You will feel so much better about a problem if you ‘chat’ about it to someone. Also, it can be easy to get cut off from the outside world when you are highly focused, so try not to let this happen. Always try and find your balance between work, rest, and play; remembering that everyone’s balance is slightly different.

  1. Use your family

Using members of your family to learn material is an avenue that few utilise properly. Some of your siblings will have completed exams and may be able to pass on some good quality information or advice; so remind them to save their best notes for you. Even if the content of their notes isn’t suitable for your learning style; their methods, notes structure, style and layout could give you some fresh new ideas in preparation of your own.

Get your parents involved and tap into knowledge and practical advice they may have on subjects they enjoyed in school. Get them to examine you on topics. They don’t need to be experts on parts of the course you are struggling with, as they can refer to Information from your book or notes in front of them. All you need is their time and a willingness to ask you loads of questions. Get the conversation going together to promote extra learning.

  1. Stick to your plan

Whatever plan you have for the next three weeks, try to stick to it as best you can. Working in retail every hour over Christmas won’t get you any extra points. As I always say, ‘you can work for the rest of your life’ (including college). Try and balance time wisely if you do happen to have a part time job. This applies to all year round. I am not a major fan of 6th year students working part-time, but that’s just my opinion.

On a given day, if you plan to start time for revision at 9am, get up before then, have breakfast, get ready and commence at that exact time. The students that do well are those who apply this self-disciplined approach, and it guarantees that you are getting maximum efficiency out of your time. A high level of satisfaction will come when you get your exam results; knowing you gave it your all. Time and tide waits for no man or woman.

  1. Try and maintain some routine

Getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting plenty of sleep will help you to stick to your goals and plans. Do this as best you can during holiday periods also. We all lose our routine over holiday periods and that’s ok too. However, try and get back into better habits when the new year turns and your first day back in school approaches. This will allow your body to be somewhat adjusted when you return to those early mornings. Over your holidays, enjoy yourself while maintaining some form of sensibility: eat plenty of fruit and veg, drink plenty of water and get loads of sleep. Rest and replenish both physically and mentally and get ready for the battles ahead.

Tune in to next week’s blog where I will give you full details on Part two of ‘How to Revise More Effectively from Home’. 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: 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: WRITE it out to RIGHT it out

With a lot of schools switching to iPad’s and tablets as a mode of Education, the debate rages about which type of notes is best to have from a classroom lecture i.e. typed or handwritten ones. I still think there is a question mark about learning content in digital format, with it being more suitable in some subjects than others. It is a super Idea to work with a study buddy or group, where you can swap essays and notes. Upon swapping these notes with your friend, always rewrite them into knowledge you understand. This is my ACE tip for being able to recall this Information later.

Why You Should Handwrite Your Own Notes

From listening to students, I think many of them still like to hold a hard copy book in their hand. Even as an ICT teacher myself, I believe that the old-fashioned way of taking notes by hand is best for the following reasons:

  • Since we now can type faster than we write, students are tending to type notes verbatim (exactly to the word) as they try to keep up with their teacher. We are copying down a lot of the teacher’s language directly. There would be more of our own language than the teacher’s used in a handwritten set of notes, which makes them easier to understand and ultimately, of better quality.
  • With handwritten notes, we spend more time thinking about the Information before the actual physical act of writing occurs. If we are attempting to type everything exactly as spoken, there is less thinking time about that same information. In essence, I believe that slightly more learning takes place during the actual handwriting process.
  • Keywords are valuable in any content. When you are taking down notes by hand in a lecture/class, you are listening out for the keywords to ensure you are grasping the bones of the sentence. Again, while typing you are trying to get everything down and so your brain misses out on this ‘essential keyword focus’.
  • When handwriting notes, you are putting your own special stamp on them, making it easier to recall information you have translated into your own words.
  • During class, you can link up handwritten notes quicker with bubbles, arrows etc. and while doing this, you are learning what the connections and linkages are in the teachers’ content.
  • Above all, writing your own notes engages your mind and prompts new ideas and thoughts. It enables your brain to switch to ‘background learning’ mode while you prepare and enhance your notes.

I am a big believer in summarising your own notes yourself. By all means you can work in a group or with a ‘study buddy’ and indeed I would recommend this.  But once you get their essays or interpretation of topics; highlight and underline their key points. The final piece of the puzzle is summing their content into your own words through your individual writing style, that only you really understand. In my experience, there is a much higher chance of Information sticking this way. Try it and see! Good luck, Joe

To view last weeks blog on ‘The Many Ways After School Study Can Benefit Your Child’, 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: 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: Secondary Maths – Some Useful Insights for Parents

I think it may be interesting for both students and parents to consider the following observations I have become aware of in Maths over the last number of years. Maths is a very emotive subject, and everyone has their own way of understanding and practicing it. This presents its own set of difficulties. The below insights and observations may help you as a parent to reach out and help your child with Maths in a more positive way.

The Second Year Dip

Firstly, in general, I have noticed that some of my students (and those of my colleagues) experience a slight dip in performance in Maths during their second year in secondary school. This is partly due to workload and the fact that the first-year common course is quite basic. This dip for girls is not as pronounced as for boys. There is also a drop off in fifth year, but it isn’t as extreme as the second year one. If your child is heading into second year, you need to be aware that this could be the case for them. I believe that working diligently on their algebra, fractions and general numeracy would be a big help in overcoming any barriers that block their path. These topics are the three main pillars of Junior Cycle Maths and underpin and are linked to many other topics on the course.

We all need to keep in mind that online learning has not suited some students and that they have missed out on that key face-to-face contact with teachers, especially in Maths. As a parent, it is important that you encourage positivity around this subject and remind them that every student in the country is in the same boat. From a personal point of view, I noticed that last year’s Junior Cycle class did struggle (more than usual) with some topics, but it did eventually come together for them in the end. I expect that the incoming third year cohort will take a while to settle back (through no fault of their own) this year. In fairness, it may take many of them until after Christmas before they settle down into a pattern of revision and work across all subjects. It is understandable that they may not hit the ground running this year and we all need to be cognisant of this.

Girls – Go for it!

From the students I have taught since Project Maths was introduced, I have noticed another trend in my classes. I have spotted that female students are less likely to take risks when attempting past exam questions. The new phrasing of questions on Maths papers suit boys better, as they are less conscious of what they are writing down and are less afraid of being wrong. In my opinion, it is important for girls to express their opinions freely and openly and we, as teachers, need to help them develop this skill. I think it is important for all students not to get unduly perturbed if they cannot get a certain part of a question out perfectly. In Maths now, it is more important to go onto another question (within the allotted time), instead of looking to complete every single question part absolutely perfect.  I feel that Churchill’s (not the dog) quote is quite apt for our modern day Maths syllabus.

“Perfection is the enemy of Progress”.

Winston Churchill (Former Prime Minister of the UK)

One does not really have time for absolute perfection on a Maths paper as they tend to be quite long, and unlike other subjects, there isn’t as much time for admiring your work. Students should apply this principle across the board to all their Maths tests in 2021/22.

The New Practical Style Questions

Thirdly, girls especially need to practice more exam questions involving engineering and mechanical parts. My reasoning for this is that, in general, most of the student cohort studying Engineering, Construction studies and Design/Communication Graphics (DCG) at Leaving Certificate are boys, and girls are not being exposed to this specific type of learning. With more everyday life practical questions being the order of the day in Maths, it is inevitable that more technical and mechanical questions will appear in years to come, and girls and parents of girls need to be aware of this. This trend will slowly become more pronounced if the Governments’ promotion and focus on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects continues and I expect it will.

Follow Your Passion

Lastly, in a recent survey, twenty-nine percent of Irish parents surveyed thought that technology subjects weren’t suitable for girls and fifty-three percent of girls in secondary school dropped STEM subjects due to pressure from their parents. These statistics may be contributing to the lack of representation of females working in STEM. Students and parents need to be aware of the excellent third level courses and future career opportunities available in these areas for both genders. Students need to be encouraged to explore all avenues of interest and follow their career path of choice. Pursuing some spinoff of the subjects that a student enjoys each day in school wont set them too far wrong. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘ACE Tips for Transitioning into 1st Year (Part 1)’, 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: 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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