Joe’s Jotter: The ACE Guide to Exam Preparation from Home (Feature 4 of 6)

Working Against the Clock

In order to give yourself the edge over your fellow students, you should work where possible against the clock. There is no substitute for creating a little exam environment at home. Firstly, read and understand a piece of work (e.g. a chapter in Physics) and without looking at your book, take a sheet of paper and over five minutes, write down all the key headings and important information from what you just revised. Go back then and re-read the chapter and update or re-do your summary page. You will notice that your summary page the second time is of much better quality and detail.

In recording and updating your summary page and unknown to yourself, you are actually learning and understanding the information better. Once you believe you have a decent grasp of a topic, you should seek out and try a past exam question based on it. Set your stopwatch to ensure you get the question attempted within the allocated time. It is important to get used to how timing works on exam papers, remembering that each paper in each subject differs.

Ask Your Teacher

Your subject teacher can offer expert guidance on using past papers, marking schemes and being efficient with time. In all cases, reach out to them if you are struggling to get revision started in any subject. They will be only delighted to try help you overcome barriers; always wanting you to do well. One of the ACE questions I would ask them is: ‘ What are the best ways to prepare and then learn the material in your subject’? This open question allows them to give you a range of options.

Through practice and their guidance, you will then find which strategies suit your learning style. This of course is on a trial and improve basis, where you won’t know a methods suitability until you attempt it first. You should also ring up a friend in your class for advice or encouragement to see what their opinion is or what viewpoint they are adopting with certain topics. The more views and advice you obtain, the better decisions you can make that fit your needs.

Practice by Doing

I am a huge fan of ‘summarising your summaries’ in order to have notes written simply in your own language and manageable to learn and understand later. Scientists have found an intrinsic link between one’s hand and brain, emphasising this point. If you manage to source good notes from a friend or online, reading and understanding their relevance isn’t enough. You will need to transcribe their content onto a new page in your own words. When doing this, use simple language, lists and  graphics to make the content memorable for yourself later.

According to the learning pyramid constructed by the National Training Laboratories at Maine (United States), we retain up to seventy five percent of work ‘practiced by doing’. ‘Practice doing’ involves active learning by writing notes on textbooks, attempting potential questions and being willing to make mistakes and learn from them. The retention figure from the pyramid for ‘reading’ reduces to just ten percent. This indicates that we only remember a small amount of what we read.

If your revision sessions thus far have consisted of reading texts (In a recent survey, fifty five percent of students claim that this is their number one study technique), you are wasting time and need to change tact now. You constantly should be reducing the amount of notes you have by re-writing/summarising them. For example, summarise ten lines of written or typed notes into four written. By consistently doing this you are actively thinking about the content instead of just scanning through it.

 Managing Difficult Subjects (Maths for Example)

Some subjects cause more anxiety in students than others. Unfortunately, my own subject, Maths, is one of those for many of you. This is a subject that everyone completes an exam in, and one that needs to be prepared well. With subjects you find difficult, apply the ‘Practice doing’ principle to it, as discussed above. My main advice around Maths (or indeed any subject you struggle with) would be to practice completing as many past questions from recent previous exams as possible. Start with the more straightforward part (a)’s and check your solution against a detailed solution book each time. Then commence the part (b)’s and so on. This will build your confidence levels step by step.

For Leaving Certificate Maths students, the shorter questions are a good place to start with this strategy. When you feel more confident, start combining questions together and measure your performance against the clock. For example, attempt to do two short questions inside the allocated time per question. This strategy links to the ‘home exam centre’ mentioned earlier. I cannot over emphasise enough the importance of testing yourself at home in difficult subjects. Set a quiz (or ask your friend to set one) or write a test for yourself the night before and complete it the next morning, inside a specified time limit. Use test questions from each chapter’s end. Check also if your teacher can e-mail you some mini-tests to tackle. Lack of class testing time means you must cover this base now yourself.

Homework given at any time of the year should be taken seriously. View homework as a challenge to get your method and answers as close to one hundred percent correct as you can. In my experience, the students who do well are the ones who research methods online or Investigate simple examples from their textbook in order to get started on those difficult past exam question. I still go online to verify Maths concepts that I am not one hundred percent sure of. While doing this, I often go on to discover alternative ways to solve problems and gather new pieces of information. The more pathways you can find to solve a given problem, the more options you will have to reapply these to questions presented on exam day. This applies across all subjects.

Recording new formulas and keynotes into a hardback is also a useful exercise, given you can refer to them in one central place from then on. This hardback will become (in time) your ‘go to fix’ if you get stuck on a problem. Ensure to keep all your notes and hardbacks in Maths (no sum copy bonfires), as you may end up studying a module in it at third level. Life can be strange sometimes. Algebra is the language of Maths, so knowing it is certainly a big help in this subject. The examiners place a big emphasis on this topic at all levels of Maths. If you are struggling in the subject, start by revising basic Algebra now. This will give you the foundations for a palatial residence later i.e. success. I would recommend using a small hardback for keynotes in all subjects.

In summary, if there is a subject you find difficult, build up your vocab of words that regularly appear in it, check in with your teacher to find out what core topics you need to focus on, allocate more time to the subject on your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable and ultimately attempt as many past exam questions on it as you can, starting initially with really basic questions from past papers.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Students should work together to Improve their chance of Success’, click here.


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!



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Joe’s Jotter: How to become more successful in 2021 Maths

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.

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: 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.

You must adopt different approaches in Maths; it is unique. A genuine attempt to start a question in Maths will allow you to gain some 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 in order to have easy access to it 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. Joe

To view last weeks Joe’s Jotter feature on ‘Parents & Primary School Children: Working in Harmony’ click here.


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

#:   #JoesJotter


© Joe McCormack 2020

Joe’s Jotter: How to become more successful in 2021 Maths

Joe’s Jotter: How to become more successful in 2021 Maths
Joe’s Jotter: How to become more successful in 2021 Maths