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.


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© Joe McCormack 2020