In light of the how the last few years have panned out, students (and indeed their Parents) need to examine closely their daily routine to ensure effective learning is now happening. Maths is a subject that tends to take up more time than others and hence 3rd and 6th years should firstly consolidate what they know and then make a list of topics that they need to learn and revise going forward. Spending time on past exam questions and learning the terminology that appears on them is wise use of any student’s time now.
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 sections, one for each topic on the course. Secondly, when revising at home, students should test themselves against the clock on full or partial past exam questions. Set these as your two main targets for the next few months.
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. With all its linkages, I, one hundred percent think that Algebra is the most important topic in Maths. The words and phrases that appear in your book and in the past exam papers have become a close second. The State Exams Commission (SEC) now place more emphasis on students knowing and understanding what things mean in Maths, than just traditional numerical calculations.
There is also 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 this 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 students to add to this list, investigating the exact meaning of words you come across daily. You will learn loads through your own active investigations.
In summary, I recommend that every time you encounter a new Maths word or formula, write down what it means to you in an A5/A6 hardback. This hack 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 homework to perfection all year, really knowing 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, the timing is different this year due to increased choice on the paper. Junior Cycle timing in Maths will be written on the paper.
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 better solidifies the method you used 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 the 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.
Please do get in touch with me if you have any Maths queries. I would be delighted to guide or help you in some way. Thanks for reading. Joe
To view last week’s feature article on ‘The Many Benefits of Doing Transition Year’, click here.
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