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.

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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!

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© Joe McCormack 2021