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: Navigating Secondary School as a Student with SEN

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

The ‘Home’ Support

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

The ‘School’ Support

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

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

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

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

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Joe’s Jotter: 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: Summer Nutrition Suggestions for Students

Summer is a time for rest and reflection. As a student, do you ever think about your diet and the foods you intake? Did you go overboard on the junk food this summer? Here are some pointers to read and have a think about as we approach the last month of summer 2021. This article is not to lecture you, but rather to make you think about little adjustments you could make to ensure you are giving you body and mind the best possible chance going forward.

1. Target One or Two Improvements

Rather than aiming to overhaul your diet and what you eat, start by targeting one specific area for improvement before the new academic year kicks off. This should be something that is most relevant to you and is changeable, for example, breakfast. If you are someone who doesn’t eat a healthy breakfast, you could start by prioritising that. As you become more consistent with that meal, you can work on another mini target like eating more fruit and vegetables or reducing sugary drinks. It is important to be realistic about what you wish to achieve and give yourself a reasonable time period to achieve it.

Progress on any changes made should be judged over several weeks, rather than days, as new habits take time to form. Get a shopping list together and ask your parents to stock the fridge and freezer with specific foods. The more whole and natural a food is, the better. For example, a beetroot unpackaged and untouched is far better than a jar of sliced beetroot. You get the idea. If you can do a bit of cooking for yourself, you will never go hungry. Remember that if you fall off the horse with any type of plan, just get back on and go again! In a world of many distractions, any minor improvements to the quality of food you consume will facilitate improved concentration. We all could do with that. More importantly for you, this will allow you to make a fast start in September.

You won’t go to far wrong by increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables for the remainder of the holidays. This will help you build up resistance to any bugs flying around come autumn time. Eating as many different coloured vegetables as you can is the secret to providing plenty of nutrients for your body. If you do opt for a takeaway, cook some homemade vegetables (before it arrives) to eat on the side. This balances the books a little and ensures you are still getting important vitamins and minerals.

2. Hydrate Very Well

Firstly, it’s important to know that your weight affects your fluid needs. You should drink 35ml of fluid daily for every kilogramme you weigh. For example, a 70kg (11 stone approx.) person should drink 2.45 litres per day. The recommended daily amount of water for a teenager is two litres which works out at eight to ten glasses; however, I would recommend that you drink more if the day is particularly hot or if you are exercising. In athletes, research has shown that a two percent drop in hydration can lead to thirty percent drop in performance.

Water is the best form of hydration, and the benefits of water are well documented. Water increases energy, flushes out toxins, improves skin complexion, boosts the immune system, prevents cramps, balances the body’s fluids, promotes digestion, and eliminates waste products. Having all these benefits working in your favour around is only going to help you maintain good health. Low sugar fruit juices, like cranberry, blueberry and apple are good for hydration and contain enzymes and vitamins. Fizzy drinks will also hydrate but again are to be avoided due to their high sugar content. Other foods to improve hydration include Cucumbers, Watermelon, Pineapple, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Pear, Grapefruit, Lettuce, and Melon. Ultimately, sipping on water throughout the day is the best way to avoid dehydration.

If you get dehydrated, your concentration for revision at home or performance on the sports field will suffer. In essence, it affects everything. Here are four tell-tale signs that your body is dehydrated and that you need to drink more fluids:

  • Dry mouth and skin: If you are dehydrated, you may not be producing enough saliva, which will lead to a build-up of bacteria in the mouth. Acne may also occur.
  • Food cravings: The body confuses thirst for hunger sometimes. Drinking water will reduce these cravings, as it is water your body often requires not food.
  • Headaches, tiredness, and confusion: A lack of water can lead to headaches during the day. This makes it very difficult to operate to your maximum capacity. Ask yourself the question, “Am I constantly tired?” If the answer is yes, you might just be lacking water in your diet. The process of learning and retaining information has been proven to be more difficult if your body lacks fluid.
  • Urine colour: The colour of urine should be light if you are well hydrated. The average hydrated person goes to the toilet to excrete urine six to eight times daily.

To combat dehydration, bring a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Keeping bottles of cold water in the fridge at home will make it easy to ‘grab and go’ and you can sip away on it as the day progresses. It is important to note that if you feel some of the above listed symptoms, your body may already be dehydrated. Prevention is better than cure in this case. Small changes, like these, can end up making a big difference. Joe.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Assessing your Revision Achievements in 2020/21’, click here.

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

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

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

Parental Support for Students at Home

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

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

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ACE’ing Your Prep at Home – Final Thoughts

Students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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/

#:   #JoesJotter

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Joe’s Jotter: Parental Insights to support your child through to Exam Day

Dear Parents,

You may now be in the situation where your child is preparing for a final state exam and at times it will seem like you are the one actually sitting the paper. Firstly, ‘you’ getting stressed out and worked up will only make them more anxious. Students need to be encouraged and rewarded and this will be your main role around exam time. Getting annoyed or even angry with your child for not studying or putting in the hours will achieve very little. Ultimately, the only person you are upsetting is yourself. The old adage is apt here:

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink

As a parent, all you can do is put the conditions in place to help them flourish. Purchasing some revision and solution books, making healthy food, providing a quiet house for study and plenty of love and support are all positive actions around this time.

Providing that Subtle Support

Being in the background and offering that hassle free support is what most exam students want right now. Firstly, let’s focus on the support they need for revision and homework now. Homework is an extremely important part of your child’s learning in exam year. Below are some short tips that will facilitate your involvement, in making homework, a positive learning experience for your child:

  • Provide your child with a suitable place and time to do their homework. Minimise interruptions/distractions from television, phones, and other siblings.
  • If a child has difficulty with homework, you should try where possible to help them overcome it with explanations and examples, without actually doing it for them.
  • In the case of recurring homework problems, it is advisable to ring or send a quick note to the subject teacher to explain what the problem or issue is. If you are a parent of an exam year student, a phone call is probably the recommended form of communication at this stage of the year. More detailed advice on homework will follow in feature articles over the next few weeks.

 Encourage them to Express Themselves

If you find your child is getting quite anxious about upcoming exams and needs more than talking, ask them to write their thoughts and concerns on a sheet of paper. Having kept a diary for ten years as a child, I found that writing down thoughts and feelings helped to get them out of my head, so I could deal with reality better. An idea might also be to ask them to write down some positive actions, such as “I will relax and perform well” or “when I get the first question on the first paper started, it will settle me”.

It’s important to guard against what they perceive as failure; support instead of policing is the way to go. To me failure in school is not about grades; the students that fail are those who don’t try, and the same philosophy could be applied to life. From this point of view, encouraging all their efforts and promoting calmness is the ideal standpoint for any parent as exams near.

Get in touch with their school if you are overly concerned about your child’s anxiety, as sometimes it can happen that teachers are not aware of issues with students, and being informed, they can take steps to help them or at least cut them some slack in class. Ultimately, if you feel exam anxiety (or any other serious anxiety for that matter) is reaching an uncontrollable level, you need to seek advice, support, and guidance, probably from a medical practitioner.

 Five Practical Tips to Support Your Exam Student

Parents, here are more real and practical insights into how your support can really help your son/daughter be their best around exam time:

  • Help them maintain a well-balanced daily routine. You should guide your child to aim for a proper balance between revision and rest. After each exam or class test, they need time to rest and recharge before they can do any beneficial study for the next challenge. With a lot of tests in school at the minute, it is important to maintain that freshness where possible. Late-night study sessions are not advised.
  • Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep improves exam performance. All revision should end at least an hour before bedtime to allow your child time to unwind before sleep. Encourage them to conclude revision and start to relax, in order to slow down the body and mind. This will result in a refreshing night’s sleep. It is not advisable to fall straight into bed from the study desk as their mind will be buzzing for hours as they attempt to get to sleep.
  • “You are what you eat”. What you eat and drink affects your performance in any activity, especially one involving mental sharpness. As a parent, you should try to ensure your child has nutritious food as exams approach, starting with breakfast each morning, the lunch they bring with them if they are facing long days, their evening meal, as well as snacks during the day. Grazing on junk food is very tempting at times of increased stress but should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Success is always a team effort. Drawing on the support of everything that is potentially positive in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. Such supports include a heightened awareness on the part of all family members in their interactions with the person doing exams. Meeting with friends and participation in sporting or social activities should be encouraged. All these factors help to maintain a student’s ‘spirits’ during an extended exam period.
  • It is advisable not to over hype the importance of any examination. It is very easy in the middle of a stress-induced experience, such as a major exam, to get the whole event totally out of perspective. The secret here is to try and maintain their normal school routine. Parents should ensure their child is clear that your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in these annual academic Olympics. Your affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them, prior to and during their tests.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Revising from Home for an Exam (Feature 5 of 6)’, click here.

*****

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

*****

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.

*****

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

*****

© 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

Joe’s Jotter: Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home

In light of the current health threat and for the first time in a long while, students (and indeed their Parents) need to examine more closely the daily routine to ensure effective learning is happening as much as possible. Maths is a subject that tends to take up more time than others and hence 3rd and 6th years should use these circumstances to consolidate what they know and spend time on past exam questions and the use of language in it.

From this point of view, I would recommend that all exam students start a ‘Maths hardback’. Fill this hardback with new words, formulae’s not present in the log tables and keynotes. Divide the hardback into fifteen-page sub-topic sections. Secondly, being at home full time is a good opportunity to test yourself against the clock on full or partial past exam questions. Set these as your two main targets prior to returning to school.

Algebra is the Language of Maths

In Junior and Leaving Cert Maths, you need a good solid Algebra foundation to build on in order to excel in topics like Geometry, Trigonometry, Functions and Graphs and Probability. I estimate that Algebra is linked to at least twenty five percent of Maths exam papers at all levels now. Take time to understand the rules of Algebra especially those linked to expressions, functions, and graphs. I, one hundred percent think that Algebra is the most important topic in Maths. The words and phrases that appear on the course and in your past exam papers are equally as critical. The State Exams Commission (SEC) now place more emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean in Maths, than just being able to do numerical calculations.

There is more ‘English’ than ever on Maths exam papers, and it is crucial that you start familiarising yourself with these words. If you are not familiar with the words and phrases that appear on the paper, you may not even be able to get a question started. This would be an awful shame given the amount of time you have spent learning mathematical concepts on your course. If you have dyslexia, I understand that dealing with words in Maths is doubly difficult. You need to be aware that different words have a different meaning, depending on the subject you are studying. For example, the word ‘Evaluate’ in Maths is very different to its meaning in the subject English.

In my book ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects, there is a full chapter advising how you can improve your Maths. In  the book, I present and explain one hundred sample key words and phrases to kick start your understanding of the language of Maths. This list is suitable for both Junior and Senior Cycle students, remembering that some of the more difficult words would not appear on a Junior Cycle paper. I would strongly encourage you to add to this list, investigating the exact meaning of words you come across. You will learn loads through your own investigations, thereby learning by doing.

I advise that every time you encounter a new Maths word or formula that you write down what it means to you in an A5/A6 hardback. This idea can be applied to all subjects and these hardbacks can be carried with you (literally) all the way up to sixth year. Using simple explanations that you understand in your hardbacks will help you recall what the words mean later. Being familiar with the words that appear on a Maths exam paper has now become a key component of success in the subject.

Test yourself at home in Maths

The more ‘exam smart’ you are, the better you will perform on exam day. I have seen the best students do their homework to perfection and really know their stuff but ultimately not reach their potential In Maths come June. Every year loads of super students misjudge the timing on the paper. It is imperative that you stick exactly to the allocated time for each question. In Leaving Cert Maths, you have twenty-five minutes to do a fifty marker (always divide the amount of marks by two to get the time).

You should now start timing yourself on past exam questions at home. At Leaving Cert level, part a’s and b’s of Section A are a good place to start. Attempt questions that look familiar first, maybe even consulting your book/notes from time to time. It’s all learning. Once completed, check your workings out against a good exam paper solutions book. If you have struggled to make reasonable inroads into answering, I suggest you re-write the steps of the full solution on a page, really thinking about why each step is important as you write it. Every few weeks, tackle some longer questions and write out the steps (in English) how you would solve it. This verifies the order of steps and method in your head.

There are many advantages to creating your own ‘home test environment’. You should constantly test yourself on material revised. During these mini home tests, I would use a stopwatch to ensure you are ‘sticking to time’ for each individual question part. This is vital across all subjects, but especially in Maths. In creating this little bit of time pressure, you are replicating the exam hall environment. Train as you propose to play is the idea here.

I am currently conducting Online Maths classes (via the comfort of your own home) for 3rd and 6th year students. For 3rd or 6th years who are not sitting a Mock examination in Maths this year or for those of you who want a Professional opinion on where you are at in the subject right now, check out the ‘ACE Maths Assessments’ section of my website below to see how it could suit your current needs. Get in touch with me If I can help you in any way. Stay healthy during these uncertain times. Joe

To view last weeks feature on ‘My Top Forty Benefits of doing Transition Year’, click here.

*****

More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, 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

*****

© Joe McCormack 2021

Joe’s Jotter: Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home

Joe’s Jotter: Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home
Joe’s Jotter: Core Methodologies for Revising Maths at Home

Joe’s Jotter – Is it wise to remain at higher level Maths?

Much more students over the last few years have taken on Leaving Cert higher Maths. Even though the bonus points are very enticing, you need to be careful you are fully aware of what you are taking on. Having done Junior Cycle Higher Maths and achieved a good score in it, you should by all means give Leaving Higher your best shot. You need to believe you are as capable as anyone despite what may or may not have happened inside the Junior Cycle class. You may have totally clicked or not with your Junior Cycle Teacher, but you are where you are now. There is little benefit in lamenting the past. This extended feature will help those who are unsure whether to take the risk and possibly be unsuccessful the subject. It is also to reassure those who are in there fighting the good fight day after day, taking the odd blow to their confidence. Each year, deciding levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in Maths with the bonus points in play.

I Can Take on this Challenge?

Firstly, there is a misconception out there that if you fail Maths in your Leaving Cert, 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 on your CV for the rest of your life. Also, 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 the higher level. 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. Enthusiasm for the subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  I really feel 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 fifth year, it may be a sign it is too difficult for you.

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. 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.

I’m not Intending 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. I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher/ordinary level Maths. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these borderline students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better. There is a lesson in this analysis. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said,  ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. Your teacher won’t put you too far wrong, as 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 increase your familiarity with the ordinary level standard and the 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

I would advise you to 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 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.
  • 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 the subject balanced against other subjects.
  • Minimum requirements for college (e.g. do you need a H7 in Maths for a course?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down the pros and cons of remaining at higher level and dropping down.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. What is your gut saying to you? Keeping the above list in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages. Use it to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Joe.

To view last weeks blog feature on ‘Two Clever Revision Hacks for Success’, 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!

W: acesolutionbooks.com
FB:
facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/
#:   #JoesJotter

*****

© Joe McCormack 2020

Joe’s Jotter – Is it wise to remain at higher level Maths?

Joe’s Jotter – Is it wise to remain at higher level Maths?
Joe’s Jotter – Is it wise to remain at higher level Maths?