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: How to ACE Your Maths Exam

No matter how intelligent you are or how well you prepare, if you are not exam smart, you will underachieve in any Maths exam. It is vital to have a plan in place for the content that can appear on your Maths paper. You need to go in there with your eyes wide open and be tactically aware in case things go a little bit wrong on the day. The following are my ACE tips to deal with a Maths exam paper more efficiently. These apply to both state exams and the upcoming final summer tests for all other students.

Sensible Tips When Dealing with a Maths Exam Paper

  • Units matter. If they are present in your question, they are required in your answer.
  • Do not put anything into the calculator that you have not already written down in your answer book.
  • You can get almost full marks (high partial credit) with just one slip/mistake in your solution. High partial credit could gain you as much as seven marks out of ten.
  • If you make two or three attempts at a question, they will all be corrected and the highest marks from your efforts will be counted.
  • Marks will be allocated for work done on diagrams that have been printed on the paper.
  • Be careful when dealing with minus signs.
  • You must show your workings out for all questions.
  • Write down every single step until you arrive at the solution.
  • If your answer is ‘off the wall’, it is probably incorrect.
  • If there are many steps required in a solution, you need to keep going back to check completed steps for accuracy; otherwise, you may need to re-write the whole solution.
  • Never rub/tippex out any work done even if you think it isn’t neat. Draw a single line through any part of the solution you are unsure about. The examiner must correct it.
  • When asked for your opinion, give it, and refer to any numbers or statistics given in the question if available.
  • Algebra is the bedrock of all Maths courses and is the main area that students struggle with. Practice it repeatedly.
  • Get used to attempting questions involving real life statistics.
  • Estimating the heights of larger objects outside is now an important part of Geometry and Trigonometry.
  • In Co-ordinate Geometry, the slope of a line has become more important in practical style questions.
  • More recent Maths exam questions tend to contain an increased number of words. The reason for this is the examiners need more English to describe real life Maths scenarios. You need to be able to separate the important keywords in the text from the padding that surrounds them.
  • Look through the wording of each question and pick out the Maths related information. In all subjects, but especially Maths, identify the relevant pieces of the question with a highlighter. Watch out for numbers written as words, for example “thirty” instead of “30”.
  • If no diagram is drawn for you, try to draw one yourself to give a clearer picture of what is being asked.
  • If given a diagram on the paper, mark in the numerical information given in the text of the question onto it. Re-drawing sections of more complicated diagrams into your answer book can help to simplify questions for you. This is very useful is Geometry, Trigonometry, and Area and Volume.
  • Do not leave any blanks, ensuring that every question is fully attempted. If you leave a blank, the examiner can give you at most zero marks for that question part. If you attempt the question; you may get some marks and perhaps more than you think. In summary: No attempt = No marks.
  • If you are dealing with a Trigonometric problem at Leaving Cert level, know how to apply the three basic Trigonometric ratios (SOH, CAH, TOA) , Pythagoras’ theorem, the Sin rule, and the Cosine rule. In these, you have all you need to solve most right-angled or a non-right-angled triangle problems.
  • Relate the information you have in the exam question to the theory and equations you have worked on in class. In Geometry, have you got two right-angled triangles that need to be solved separately? Again, if you are unable to start a question, there is nearly always something you have learned from your teacher or hopefully from my solution books that you can draw on to help you.
  • The relationship between two sets of data is important. This concept links up the ‘slope of a line’ in Co-ordinate Geometry to that of ‘correlation’ in Statistics. Other examples of where topics overlap in Maths at Leaving Cert level include: Co-ordinate Geometry of the line and the Circle and of course Geometry and Trigonometry. Across all levels of Maths, there are many links between topics on the course now. Be sure to ask your teacher to help you understand and be familiar with how different topics can interlink prior to any exam.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone and there are tens of thousands of other students in the same position as you on exam day, many of whom have had their various struggles with Maths. Above all, practice your Algebra and be familiar with what formulas are available to you in the log tables on the day. If you are familiar with the main equations and some theory on your course, you should have everything you need to attempt your Maths paper well and really give it your best shot. Joe

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Homework and Your Child – A Parent’s Guide’, click here.

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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Joe’s Jotter: The Importance of Practising Past Exam Questions in Maths

Practising past exam questions is essential if you’re looking to score highly in Maths. Similar question types come up regularly; but you still need to revise all the topics on your course, as the Maths exam isn’t predictable anymore. Both sections (A and B) at Leaving Cert higher and ordinary levels are equally important and the correct amount of time must be left for the longer questions in Section B, as they tend to require more thought.

The new Maths syllabus at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level is quite crowded with a lot of material to get through, not to mention trying to link up topics in true Project Maths style. Incidentally ‘Project Maths’ was the name given to the subject ‘Mathematics’ when it was changed and rebranded in 2008. It has now reverted to ‘Maths’ after this bedding in period.

Why Past Exam Questions are Key

With so much to cover during class time, it is difficult for teachers to expose their students to any substantial level of exam questions during term time. The reality is that many teachers will only fully complete the course after Easter, through no fault of their own. It is up to each individual student to dust off the exam papers (usually purchased in September) and start by initially attempting part (a)’s and (b)’s of past exam question. You should initially focus on topics you have covered yourself in class in order to build up your competence.

‘Do an exam question a day, and start today’

I would recommend attempting exam questions, to the best of your ability, with guidance from your textbook and class notes. Subsequently, refer to a good solutions book to see how accurately you are progressing. With an unprecedented level of detail, my exam paper solutions (ACE Solution Books) at both Junior and Leaving Certificate levels are an ideal companion to complete this process efficiently. This puts you in a much more commanding position when your teacher does commence past exam questions in class. You should start by practising and familiarising yourself with the language used on past papers. Waiting until they appear on the board in class isn’t good practice in my opinion. This also applies to 5th year students.

Your exam paper focus should always be on practising previous official state exam questions under time pressure. Replicating exam hall pressure is a brilliant way to hone your skills and really check if you can complete the question asked within the time limit allocated. I would start by taking on a short question or two against the clock, and then a longer question, until eventually you feel confident enough to take on a full paper. Constantly doing questions out from your textbook will never fully prepare you for a full sit down test paper in Maths.

How to use Past Exam Questions to your Advantage

Leaving Certificate Maths examines your analytical and critical skills. Most of the questions asked tend to be calculation-based. Hence, it becomes essential to solve as many questions as possible in your revision preparation. Some key preparation tips to keep in mind while tackling past papers are:

  • Solve as many past exam questions as possible from every topic that you study. This will help you understand the type of questions asked. It will also indicate how near or far you stand from your target score in the subject. Also, estimate how an examiner would have graded you on your efforts by comparing your solution against a detailed solution book.
  • Maintain an error-log on mistakes you keep making. This will help you get to know your weak points and what traps you regularly are falling into.
  • Everyone has deficiencies in Maths. To overcome these, attempt extra questions from topics you struggle with. Start with questions you can do. This will build confidence and reduce anxiety on topics you are concerned about.
  • When solving questions, make a habit of always timing yourself. Buy a stopwatch. This will help you improve your speed and manage timing better during the actual exam.

Doing an exam question trial at home every week will improve your speed and accuracy for the final exam, and after some time you will cut out silly errors and feel calmer about tackling a full paper. This process will give you the belief that you can get the awkward question started or tackle the unseen graph/diagram on the day.

 Commence a Strict Diet of Past ‘Exam Questions’ Today

If I was in 6th year, i would move quickly now onto the strict but ultimately rewarding ‘Past Exam Question’ diet. Here are some directions to consider as you trawl through good quality past exam questions and their solutions over the next few months:

  • You need to get practicing multiple real life application questions
  • You need to get familiar with marking schemes and how marks are allocated
  • You need to practice exam questions under time pressure
  • Constantly strive to get used to the wording, layout, and style of past questions
  • Get accustomed to how the examiners are phrasing exam questions now
  • Be conscious of the fact that there is extra text and less numbers on the papers now
  • You need to be aware that you now could be asked to explain your answer
  • Be able to justify your answer using Maths calculations
  • You need to practice question types that ask if you agree with an opinion and why
  • Practice different strategies for starting unseen/unexpected questions
  • Be familiar with the exact meaning of each word that appears on past papers. Joe.

To read last weeks feature article on ‘How to Construct your Revision more Efficiently’, click here.

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

W: acesolutionbooks.com

FB: facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

#:   #JoesJotter

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© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: The Importance of Practising Past Exam Questions in Maths

Joe’s Jotter: The Importance of Practising Past Exam Questions in Maths
Joe’s Jotter: The Importance of Practising Past Exam Questions in Maths