How do they do it? Every year, the Leaving Cert results coverage comes with stories of students who received six A1s or more. This year, 162 students got six higher-level A1 grades, 50 got seven A1s, 13 got eight A1s, and one student got nine A1s.
Of course, many of these students will have taken extra classes or grinds, and international evidence shows well-educated parents are more likely to have well-educated children. The annual Irish Times Feeder School lists also consistently show a relatively lower level of third-level progression among students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas.
Nonetheless, it’s no mean feat to get that A1, and it can’t be achieved without hard work and sacrifice. Are these students unusually gifted or lucky, or is there a knack to getting to an A1?
We spoke to some top-performing students and asked what tips they would give this year’s Leaving Cert students, and how they got through the challenge of what is, arguably, the most difficult set of exams they will ever sit.
Creagh was always drawn to business and computers. His Leaving Cert results – six A1s, a B2 and a B3 – gave him 625 CAO points. This was more than enough to get the course he wanted, business information systems at University College Cork, which required 435 points.
Did he waste those extra points? “I was told I should have chosen medicine or actuarial studies because I had the points. But that would have been a terrible idea. There is no point choosing a course you don’t like.”
He describes his reaction to getting his results as “over-the-top delight”. He’s clearly bright, but how did he get such good results?
I suspected I would get more than enough points. But I wanted a challenge. I wanted to push myself forward, and to see if I could get a scholarship.
Typically I’d go home, grab some food and get straight to work. At the start of sixth year, I only did a few hours of study per night, including homework. Then, coming up to the oral exams, I really launched into it. I’d work until about 9pm and then take a few hours to wind down, usually by playing guitar.
I never studied over weekends in fifth year, except for a little bit around summer exams. That changed in sixth year, when I didn’t take a day off. That said, I always went out if there was something on.
The vast majority of my study involved pen and paper. When you work on a computer, it’s very easy to get distracted by the internet, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
I did work hard, but I always left room for a social life. I was very involved in sports, particularly soccer, GAA and hurling, although sixth-year study gradually swallowed up my time.
I’ve always been logically minded, with a natural talent for maths. When I do something new, it usually clicks with me pretty quickly. Project Maths was new for me, so there was some adjustment. For revision, my main approach involved going through the chapters in the book and looking at sample answers; I would then answer the question without looking at the answer unless I got stuck.
I made notes for some questions, particularly those on statistics and probability.
I chose this subject because it is based around numbers and I found it really interesting when I did it for the Junior Cert. I also had it in the back of my mind that I might consider accounting as a career. It’s a black-and-white subject that follows a clear pattern; you’re either right or wrong.
For this subject, it’s all about practise. I looked at as many questions as possible on the past papers. Accounting is split into three sections, and, despite a few curveballs, there tends to be a certain predictability to the paper. I focused on topics that hadn’t come up for a few years.
It is about knowing what you’re doing, but there is potential for error. It’s easy to forget to do certain parts of the questions or to leave certain things out. You’ll know at the end if the figures don’t add up. When I did questions on past papers, I always timed myself to get used to being in an exam situation.
Exam papers, exam papers, exam papers. I even repeated the same questions a few times over the years because the same topics tend to come up again and again, albeit phrased differently.
My study involved a mix of open and closed books. I read the notes and the textbook and then I’d try to do a whole question. If I didn’t know the answer, I would leave it blank and move on. I’d look up exam solutions and check what the answer was and then I’d come back to the same question and try it again later.
It took me a while to get into this study groove, and as I moved through fifth and sixth year, I saw my results improving.
There are some topics I found more challenging than others. Electricity was a bit difficult, but I didn’t really cover it, as you don’t need to tackle every topic. If you do decide to focus less on a topic, it is worth having some basic familiarity to be able to tackle some of the short questions.
This seemed like a good option to take along with maths and physics. It is essentially the mathematics of physics. In physics, you might learn a lot of theory about what happens when two balls hit off each other, but the applied maths will show how far or fast the two balls will travel.
My approach involved doing old exam questions, occasionally checking in on a website that had all the past papers and worked solutions on it. I really tried to be organised: I did the questions on refill pads If I worked out a solution, I would then add it to other solutions on that topic.
Design and communication graphics
This is a course that involves a lot of work with computers, and 40 per cent of the marks are awarded for a project that involves a programme called SolidWorks. My main tip is to start early, because a lot of people run out of time by January, when the project is due. Look at examples from previous students and find a layout that will work for your project.
Do as many exam papers as you can. A lot of the first half of sixth year gets consumed by the project, so try and work away at the drawing and the exam papers as you go along, otherwise you risk forgetting.
I got an A1 in German, which was much better than my B2 in honours Irish. I did a German exchange to Cologne during transition year, and I really connected with the language. I spent two weeks in a German school and then did two weeks of work experience with a roofer.
During that time my German got better and better, and I learned a lot of new vocabulary. The summer before sixth year I went back to Germany again, having become good friends with my exchange partner.
In choosing what language to take, I was influenced by the fact my brothers had studied German. The structure of the language is quite logical, which also appealed to me.
I did a lot of practice for the oral exam and found that helped me with the written language as well. I think this approach is important for learning any language. I made a lot of notes and focused on questions the examiner might ask. Our teacher also did some extra sessions after school.
I read old exam papers and different comprehensions, picking up as much new vocabulary as I could, reciting it a few times to commit to memory.
In conversation with Peter McGuire
When newspapers publish study guides, aspiring or current medical students tend to feature prominently. There’s a good reason for this: the CAO points for medicine remain among the highest of all courses, and medical students not only have to work particularly hard but also have to figure out a study plan that will deliver the best results.
Aisling Dunne, who studied at Coláiste Iognáid in Galway, knows how this pressure sets in. She is now in her second year of NUI Galway’s medicine course, which includes a year of pre-med. She secured six A1s, a B1 and a B3: 625 Leaving Cert points. She is adamant that much of her success is down to the support of her school, but what did she do to maximise her success?
Our school really encouraged us to keep up hobbies and extracurricular activities right through fifth and sixth year. I played hockey and found sport and exercise focused my concentration when I was studying and was a major stress reliever. Stress will get in the way of effectively absorbing information. I also kept up piano classes outside school and made sure I was kept busy aside from study.
In fifth year, I just kept up to date with my homework and studied for Christmas and summer exams. In sixth year I’d come home around 6pm – I usually had some extracurricular activity on – and would have my dinner before homework and study from about 7pm until 10pm, with breaks. Weekends got a lot more intense towards the end of sixth year, but I made sure to take some time off too. Planning and scheduling became very important.
Four hours is enough. It’s more efficient. When people say they put in five hours, they don’t: they procrastinate for an hour.
I put in the greatest effort for English and maths, and probably less effort for French and Irish, because your competency in languages really builds over time.
I tried to understand the information in every subject rather than just rote learn and regurgitate answers. And I understood what the examiners were looking for and what they wanted us to say.
Our teacher encouraged us to find our own style of writing, our own voice. Everyone played to their own strengths. I had written several short stories and was able to use the structure of one of these for the exam, but I had to adapt it.
For English, especially paper one, it’s important to look at the marking scheme, and practise writing accordingly. In paper two, it does help to know your quotes and get into the practice of writing essays.
Most importantly: be engaged with the material. We were encouraged to choose poets we liked, or find something about the play or novel we could connect with.
I went to a Gaelscoil and was in the Irish stream until Junior Cert. But the basic principle holds: speak as much of the language as you can, especially as the oral exam accounts for 40 per cent of the overall mark. It is important for getting a good result. Our school had lots of conversation classes, and we spoke to each other as much as we could. Practise with your classmates, and with anybody who can speak to you as Gaeilge, and go to Irish college if you can. This is how you build up your vocabulary.
Be aware of intonations, sounds and dialects when you’re listening to aural comprehensions.
We did a lot of grammar, which was really helpful, and we also learned lots of seanfhocail (sayings).
I chose French because my family went on holidays to France when I was young and the country was more familiar to me.
In fifth and sixth year, we did a lot of work on grammar and built our vocabulary around that grammar.
We used to do a written question every two nights for homework. I mainly focused on homework rather than study, although as the big exam got closer, I did a lot of reading comprehensions from past papers.
As with Irish, practise speaking as much as you can. Our teacher organised extra conversation classes and I had an opportunity to go to France during transition year, which gave me a chance to learn more.
I always liked maths, and it helped that our honours maths class had a competitive atmosphere. We were one of the first years to sit the Project Maths exam. A lot the class were unsure of the new syllabus, and a lot of my year were doing honours maths because of the 25 bonus points. Once you got your head around Project Maths, it started to make sense. I liked the parts where the focus is more on maths than on writing. Ultimately, for Project Maths you need to really understand the ideas a lot more. You also need to figure out exactly what the examiners are looking for. It helps to look at the marking schemes.
If you keep up to date with your homework, it is a big help. For your own study, it is important to try as many questions as you can, then go back and look at the marking scheme. If you don’t succeed, try it again, and if you don’t understand, ask your teacher or some of your classmates.
We related biology to the world around us; for example, our teacher took us on a field trip to a bog. Biology is all around us, and it’s good to connect it with our own bodies and health, or the natural world. This means that, rather than focus only on learning things off by heart, we tried to really understand it: that is the foundation for answering questions.
The textbook was my main anchor. But we sometimes looked at YouTube videos and cartoons to deepen our understanding.
I learned a lot of the diagrams and practised drawing them. Then I’d check the marking schemes. I did questions from past papers with the book open, and also did questions with the book closed.
I made out my own notes on topics in a style that suited me, using different colours to highlight key words and ideas.
I chose this subject because it appealed to me, but also because it was useful for medicine. Again, I made my own notes in a style that appealed to me. We had a test once a week and did every exam question from past papers twice. We did so much that we really came to know the course.
Break the material down into the various topics. If you know your experiments and understand the organic chemistry, you are halfway there.
In conversation with Peter McGuire
When we last encountered Andre McLeod, he was preparing for his HPat medical school entry examination.
He was a student in Limerick Tutorial College, and it was his second time doing the Leaving Cert, having narrowly missed out on a place in medicine last year. He was nervous but optimistic, and it turned out he had reason to be: in 2014 he knocked the Leaving Cert challenge out of the park. He got six A1s and has since started his medical training in UCC.
“It was a huge relief to get the results,” he says. “It was a shock too. I had been working so hard, I expected to do well, but I really didn’t expect to do that well. I’m delighted that I made the choice to repeat. It was well worth it.”
So how did he do it?
I knew what I wanted out of the year, so I was very focused. I hit the ground running, which is definitely the best way. Ironically, as the end of the year drew close, I found it harder and harder to focus, so I was very glad to have put so much work in early on.
When it came to actual study hours, I guess I was doing about four or five hours a day before Christmas. Later on, that rose to seven or eight per day. Because I was a repeat student, I didn’t have to do any of the filler subjects like religion so I could just use that extra time to study.
It would definitely have been harder to have this level of focus if it had been my first time doing the Leaving. You have to know what you’re aiming for as a repeat student.
It wasn’t constant. I went out at weekends; there were a lot of 18th and 19th birthday parties. In the evenings I’d play a bit of Xbox to relax, but I never got distracted from why I was doing it all. I’m delighted. It was all completely worth it.
Maths and sciences would be my strongest areas. I put a lot of time into studying maths. It’s worth it for the bonus points. The key for me was exam questions. I did all the exam questions I could find. There are lots of sample papers at this stage, and by the time I’d finished all of them I could practise them all over again. It was like having a new set of questions.
I’d sit down, and try to do a question under exam conditions: within the time limits and so on. If there was anything I couldn’t do, I’d bring it to my teacher and ask where I was going wrong. You definitely need a good relationship with your teacher for this approach.
Basically, having done all the questions like that, when it came to the exam there was nothing on the paper I hadn’t seen before. I had practised so much, there was nothing I couldn’t do. You don’t have a choice of questions in Project Maths, so you need to be really familiar with the questions. Project Maths is all about understanding the maths. Practising the exam questions really helps with that.
You just have to learn your stuff in geography. It’s such a massive course that it helps to be very systematic about everything.
The best advice I got when it came to geography was to get to know the exam and marking schemes; this gives you an idea of how to maximise your marks. You have to make it easy for an examiner to give you marks. If you know how many points of information you should put into an essay, you can get your marks without wasting time. Examiners hate waffle.
When it came to the topics, I got sample essays and distilled them down to the important points. That way, when I was doing exam questions I could just write the important points and then add the filler. You need to be efficient. The geography course is so massive, you can’t cover everything.
Business My least favourite subject. I just found it really boring. I learned everything off by heart and practised exam papers as much as possible. I found it a real challenge.
I didn’t think the exam had gone well on the day, and I was really disappointed, so it was a massive shock that I got an A.
It helped that we did exam questions in class. The marking schemes change quite a lot in business, but exam technique is really important. You need to present your work in the correct way.
Examiners really want to give you marks, so if you know how to lay out a business question and present everything clearly, you make that job really easy for them.
There’s so much in biology that, honestly, there’s nothing for it but to learn a topic and do an exam question.
I found that using notes that distilled the course down to exactly what you need to know helped. There’s a lot of padding in biology textbooks, so if you can get rid of that and slim the whole thing down, it helps.
Again, I found using past exam questions as a guide to what to study really helped. I’d do questions and ask my teacher if there was something I couldn’t answer. If you just focus on learning the course, I think your exam technique suffers. The Leaving Cert isn’t just about what you know, it’s also about how you approach an exam. Biology isn’t a tight exam time-wise, but I still stuck to the time limits laid down.
I learned from last year that you need to be really, really precise in the chemistry exam. If you spell a word in the wrong way, it can cost you. There’s more learning in chemistry than in exams such as physics. There are a lot of small things you need to know and have clear in your head.
I’m not somebody who can look at a book and just absorb the information. I have to practise, take notes, do things. Again, exam papers were a really useful resource and I actually found mnemonics really useful for remembering what I needed in chemistry.
Physics is a lot more like maths than any of the other subjects. If I put in the effort to understand a concept, it definitely paid off. It’s time-consuming, but time well spent.
Exam questions are important again, and I practised writing out experiments over and over again. You can control that part of the exam.
I guess with physics, it’s important to start early. If you put the time into understanding everything, and practising the experiments, you can do really well. If you don’t have the time to do that, and you’re panicking, then it can all go wrong. Slow and steady progress is best.
In conversation with Gráinne Faller
Advice from those who’ve been there
1 Just study, don’t procrastinate. #RepeatAdvice @SueBo_
2 Put away the laptop. Get your parents to hide the battery so you won’t be tempted. @paddykell
3 Draw up a realistic timetable. Short, frequent study sessions. You need to be doing more than your homework.
4 Organise yourself. It’s never too late. Clear notes, tidy folders. Don’t stress yourself out. @Orlaith_Farrell
5 Don’t prioritise any one subject. All subjects should get equal time. Allow two hours each weekend for each subject and around 30-40 minutes per night for studying what was covered on that day in the classroom.
6 Print chief examiners’ reports for your subjects. They give sample answers which you can use as a guide for answering style. #studytips, @NatashaLynchEF
7 How much time do you spend on the internet? Half-an-hour in the morning, an hour in the evening? It all adds up. Two hours a day is 14 per week, 56 per month. Imagine if you were to spend just half of that revising.
8 Fewer late nights. The worst thing you can do at the weekends is spend the whole night up, and the whole day in bed. Try to get to bed by 1am at the latest on weekends, and get up early .
9 Divide up work with a friend, then meet up, photocopy each other’s notes, teach each other what you learned. #studybuddy, @NatashaLynchEF
10 Reading a book isn’t studying – it’s reading a book. Set a target: “I will revise this topic for 45 minutes”. Take notes as you go. Put away the books. Do an exam question. Now that’s study.
11 Get familiar with the layout of the exam paper. Some papers are tricky and complicated instructions could throw you on the day.
12 Don’t cut too many corners. Every year students emerge devastated because they listened to rumours about what was coming up. The truth is anything can come up. The papers are designed to be unpredictable.
13 Record your revision notes on a dictaphone, download onto your phone, revise on the move. #studytips, @NatashaLynchEF
14 Understand what you’re studying – or at least try. Rephrase in your own words when possible. Students who do well in exams don’t just vomit up facts, they demonstrate real understanding.
15 Keep the CAO in mind. Students tend to forget about what they put down on their CAO forms in the rush to study for the Leaving Cert. It’s no harm to keep thinking about what course you want to do, and keep researching different areas. @paddykell
16 Don’t talk about what study you’re doing and don’t listen to other people about what they’re doing. Lots of people lie about what they’re doing or not doing. The naturally brilliant friend who did nothing but somehow managed a B1 in the mocks is probably telling fibs about how hard they’re working.
17Eat! Porridge can be perfectly edible with some minor adjustments. Some fast ones include putting chocolate chips, bananas, peanut butter, or even molasses and strawberries on it. It takes the notion of inedible slop away and keeps you going all morning. @ClareReidy1
18 My friends and I started our own nerdy trend of dunking Nature Valley bars into yogurt pots, which I understand sounds revolting to some people, but it got us through. @ClareReidy1
19 Have something to divert your attention: being solely focused on a few days in June at this stage will fry your brain.
20 Exercise. Don’t study any later than 10pm, and if you can find the energy, go for a walk. It releases endorphins in your brain that make you feel good about yourself, and it clears your head after hours of studying. @paddykell
21 Peanut butter cups and chocolate bars with nuts are brilliant brain food, and addictive too. @ClareReidy1
22 Keep the exams in perspective. None of the following things will be dictated by how you do in the Leaving Cert: where you live, who you marry, how often you marry, how many icecreams you eat in your lifetime; your overall health and well-being; the number of stones that work their way into your shoes resulting in you repeatedly hopping about on one foot to remove them; the amount of love in your life.
23 About 75 per cent of Junior Cert and 55 per cent of Leaving Cert English is completely unseen until you open the paper. That does not mean you can’t study for the exam. You are learning skills rather than rote-learning information.
24 Read, read, read. If you don’t read widely, you’ll never become a good writer.
25 Learn quotes from your texts. Record them onto your smartphone or iPod and listen on the way into school.
26 Don’t learn essays off by heart. If you’re writing a short story, have some examples of characterisation and setting ready to adapt to your title. Creative writing needs to be vivid and entertaining. Show, don’t tell. The reader should have specific sights, sounds and smells in their minds-eye as they read your writing.
27 Read your work out loud. You’ll hear mistakes sooner than you’ll see them.
28 Judging a character is complex: examine what they say, what they do, how they look, what they think and feel and other people’s opinions of them. Don’t take them at their word – characters often lie, to themselves and others.
29Learn to spell the word character. There’s only one “h” and it’s at the beginning.
30Structure your answers. Stream-of-consciousness style answers rarely achieve a good grade, particularly if you get stuck exploring one point in excessive detail.
31 Essays on studied texts must use a formal style. Points must be supported with relevant and accurate quotes.
32 Know your single text very well, inside out. Whether you’re using reference or quotation to support your answer, you need to know the text in detail.
33 In the comparative study, you should ask yourself “what’s this text all about?”. When you make a list with that heading for all three texts, you can more clearly see what they have in common. You then need to find key moments in each to support your comparisons. And you should be comparing them all the time.
34 You have about an hour per section in the exam. Most people will write between seven and 10 paragraphs. Time yourself and write three paragraphs in 20 minutes for a bit of bite-sized preparation if you’re pressed for time.
35 Don’t listen to the poetry tips. Prepare your favourite poets well and you will be rewarded. The more you have to say about a poet’s work the better, so have a view which you can back up by referencing the poet’s work.
36 Practising past exam papers is a very important part of developing good exam technique. Start now if you haven’t already.
37 You must know the proofs and theorems and the explanation of the vocabulary used.
38 Use the official marking schemes. They often show more than one acceptable method of solving a question. The marking schemes also show you how marks were allocated by the examiners across all parts of all questions in previous exams, but there’s no real need for you to analyse this. It is not possible to predict the allocation of marks within a question – the allocation can vary hugely and in unexpected ways.
39 Suppose you decide to give five hours a week to maths, a reasonable amount at this stage of the year. Break this up into five 35 minutes slots each week-night giving you just about two hours at weekend.
40 Maths is the only Leaving Cert subject without a choice on the paper. Therefore you must keep up with the material covered in class.
41 Weekend study ideally should be used for attempting questions from past papers and sample papers. It is vital to know the exact set-up of your exam, how many questions, the wording used, etc. Time yourself to get used to the time restraints.
42 The project maths marking scheme is quite different from the marking scheme used in the past. There are five marking scales, with up to six categories per marking scale. It’s a lot more complicated than the previous system.
43 Begin with your favourite question. It will help settle your nerves on exam day. Of course if you prefer a sequential approach, do that.
44 It sounds obvious but get used to reading questions carefully. Make sure you’re not missing any information.
45 It is vital to practise and be comfortable with the basics before attempting the new word problems in maths. These questions have to be read very carefully. Try to understand the problem. Look at the information given. Jot down all the quantities given and what is being sought, ie, translating the English words into mathematical sentences. Often there is an equation that links the data you have with the data you require.
46 Sometimes you think you know a topic, but along comes a question which can be phrased in a way you have never seen before. Don’t let this throw you. The more practice you have from tackling different questions, the more confident you will become when you face a strange looking question.
47 If stuck, don’t look up the solution too quickly. You will often learn more by tackling it on your own for a while, even if you have to read the solution in the end.
48 Show all workings within your answer – do not do rough-work on a separate page. Don’t use Tippex, instead cross out any errors with a single line. You might get marks for the work you have crossed out, but not if it’s Tippexed. Also, if you solve a problem using a calculator, write out some or all of the steps taken. Don’t just give the answer. This is to ensure you get marks even if you make a slip.
49 Drawing a diagram or even a basic sketch can often be very helpful to get started in tackling a question, and may gain marks for you.
50 Get familiar with your formulae and tables booklet. It provides a lot of useful information. Use it.
51 Homework is actually study. It is recapping on what was taught on that day in the classroom and is more often than not, directly based on an exam question: ie, poetry questions or a léamhthuiscint or a character from a prós story.
52 Students often go home and learn a teacher’s answers on either filiocht or prós off by heart. You don’t need to do this. You should perhaps study how the question is opened – the structure of the answer – keeping an eye on relevant quotations used.
53 In the filiocht sections, if you can translate the poem you have virtually every answer required on the day as all poetry will be printed on the actual exam paper. The only areas that should be learned off by heart are the grammatical terms that will be asked in question 6A in the léamhthuiscint section – terms such as aimsigh and so on.
54 Past exam papers are vital. They show the layout of the actual exam and how questions may be subdivided in various sections. It is good practice to study a certain topic and then do out exam questions, keeping an eye on time constraints and sticking rigidly to them.
55 Keep re-reading the question over and over to ensure you are actually answering the question asked. No marks will be awarded for information that is not relevant. In the filiocht section, if you are asked on theme, only on theme and not feelings or emotions.
56 At this stage, you will have completed your mock exams and will have sat through two full papers in Irish. Whatever mistakes you may have made, will not be repeated in June. Remember, you will always learn by your mistakes. If you ran out of time in Paper 2 – a very long paper – you will need to adjust the length of time you spend on the various sections.
57 Don’t neglect the importance of the oral Irish examination which carries 40 per cent of the total exam mark. Know the picture sequences well as there are 80 marks going for this section. Practice asking questions. Students are generally better at answering questions than asking them. Also practise reading the poetry on a daily basis – with 35 marks for reading a mere 10-12 lines it is worth more that the entire poetry or prose course.
58Remember that this is a conversation, not an interview. The examiner is there to help you reach your highest potential.
59Marks are awarded for structure, communication, vocabulary and pronunciation, and vocabulary is really how you phrase your responses. Don’t use slang terms too much. Rich vocabulary is all about using a different way to say something.
60 Pronunciation is very important and accounts for 20 per cent of the exam. Listen to French, German or Spanish radio and record yourself to perfect your accent.
61Try spending 10-15 minutes a day on your oral work. Once you have learned a topic, practice it out loud on your own. When you are more confident, practise with a friend or a relative.
62 Ask your teacher to test you on previous aurals from years back as far as the early 1990s if possible. Listen to your own CDs and downloads.
63Log on to Google.fr for French, Google.de for German or Google.es for Spanish and search YouTube for clips in your chosen language. Even if you don’t understand every word, your ear will become accustomed to it.
64 For French, log onto tf1.fr and listen to Le Journal de 13h or 20h, a popular news channel on French TV. You can also listen to French news on rfi.fr and radiofrance.fr.
General language advice
65Do not learn off big long essays on every topic. You will get bogged down and become disheartened. Write three points on each topic and learn about 20 words of vocabulary. Make sure you have decent sentences to begin and end a written piece.
66 Don’t use Google translate as it translates literally and does not take context into consideration. Wordreference.com is an excellent translation site. It will only translate one word at a time, so it can be frustrating but there are interesting help forums on the site.
67Familiarise yourself with the way questions are asked at the end of each reading comprehension.
68 Don’t be tempted to learn off opinion pieces by heart. It is unlikely that the piece that you will have learned will answer the question given in the paper. You will be heavily penalised if you don’t address the question, even if the language that you have used is correct. Instead, build up your vocabulary for the different topics on the syllabus and practice with past or mock examination papers.
69Check out @PetitTweetCork for tweets in French to help LC students in prep for French exam. @NatashaLynchEF
70 It is best to spend 30 minutes at one time studying biology. Take a short, five-minute break after 30 minutes and then move on to the next subject.
71Try to spend about four 30 minute sessions per week devoted to answering past papers. These could range over the short questions in section A, the experimental questions in section B and the long questions in section C.
72About 25 per cent of the marks are gained from knowing your definitions. These should be learned off by heart.
73 Between 15 and 30 per cent of the marks are gained from the experiments. As there are only 22 experiments, it is possible to cover one experiment per day over the course of a month. When learning the experiments you have to know the steps taken and the reason for taking each step.
74Up to Easter, your study should range over the entire course. From Easter, concentrate on particular topics. These are the topics that come up every year along with any topics that are more likely to come up this year.
75Know what is involved: time – the geography paper is two hours and 50 minutes long; structure – five full questions have to be answered. All questions equal 80 marks.
76Plan your study. At least 80 per cent of your time will be spent on study so it is essential you acquire the skills to study effectively.
77 Plan reasonable targets which you can achieve in each study session, eg, write out 15 significant relevant points (SRPs) on your selected topic.
78Focus on topics that are examined every year. These include: core unit 1 – landform development; plate tectonics; human interaction; core unit 2 – economic activities in an Irish region; economic activities in a European region; economic activities in a continental/sub-continental region; economic elective – impact of EU policies on Ireland; multinational companies.
79When you read your notes, select the key words or phrases which will help you to remember what the topic is about.
80 Make a topic summary by placing the core theme or topic title in the centre then draw lines from the centre and write sub-themes at the end of the lines. Along each line, write the key words or phrases linked to the sub-theme.
81 Cover all the major topics. Don’t try to predict what will be examined. Instead, practise answering examination questions from past papers. Time yourself and see if you can write an answer in the time which the examination will allow you.
82Remember that the 30-mark parts of the question should have 15 SRPs
83 The usual key words are: “account for” – explain and give reasons; “compare” – point out similarities and differences; “contrast” – point out the main differences; “describe” – state the obvious; “explain” – write out the key points and write an explanation.
84Spend at least an hour-and-a-half on business revision every second night. So three or four one-and-a-half hours study sessions each week.
85The applied business question (ABQ) is on a five-year cycle, so the ABQs of 2008 and 2003 will be structured identically to 2013 and these ABQs must be practised first, before any other year.
86 Long question practice: 25-mark questions – spend 10 minutes on them; 20-mark questions – spend eight minutes on them. 20-mark questions are the most common and students mistakenly spend 10 minutes on them, which soon builds up to a lot of two minutes’s lost during the exam; 15-mark question – spend six minutes.
87The two most popular verbs are “illustrate” and “evaluate”. Yet with our above structure we automatically deal with these verbs. The example deals with illustrate and the student can use the advantage or disadvantage as their personal opinion by putting “in my opinion” in front or their advantage or disadvantage. This is excellent as it is a genuine opinion not rote learned from a textbook.
88 ABQ – you have 45 minutes to answer this section. It is essential to practise it as it takes most students over an hour to do this question. But after five or six ABQs the speed naturally develops. If you do not practise the ABQ, you will not get it done in under an hour in the Leaving Cert – major mistake.You should be doing at least one ABQ each week from now until the exam.
89 The long question can often contain one sentence, but there are two parts to be dealt with to correctly answer the question. The long question may also have a short story as an introduction, if so students must refer to the short story in their answer or marks will be lost.
90By now you should be finished, or nearing the completion of your special study. Look over the requirements for length, sources and background information, and remember someone will be reading 300 of these over a couple of weeks in the summer, so make it memorable.
91 Every topic will have details that are essential eg, terms such as fascism, sectarianism, ecumenism. Make sure you know essential dates and what order events happened. It’s like telling a story. Don’t leave out the important bits and it’s not very interesting if you tell it in the wrong order.
92 Don’t think of learning off essays. It would be great if you get the exact wording in your exam questions but it’s unlikely to happen, so think of moveable information that you can use to answer any question. Practise writing a point per paragraph; remember the answer is marked mostly paragraph by paragraph and if your work is organised and thoughtful, you’ll do well.
93 Remember, honours history is not about writing all you know about a topic. It is about learning to make links to the question you are answering with the information you know. For example, a question on the factors that led to the growth of fascism is not write all you know about fascism: you must isolate what brought about its rise such as instability after the second World War, the economic situation, threat of communism etc.
94Look at your documents: many students regard this question as a formality but knowing the topic, and how to handle written and visual sources can be worth an extra grade.
95Don’t forget to revise your compulsory case studies. There are only three, so make sure you know enough to write a mini-essay of two-and-a half pages in order to answer the contextualisation part of the question.
96The home economics course is huge. Break it down. Have a timetable, and take it one day or week at a time.
97Do three or four short questions every night. Each one is worth six marks – that’s 1.5 per cent of your total mark. Use your textbook to answer them, so you build up a bank of accurate information in your head.
98 Practice question 1 (a) in section B. You will have to analyse a graph or a chart in this question. It doesn’t appear in any textbook. You need to be familiar with it.
99 Read one exam question each night. Highlight key terms. What is being asked? Look at the marking scheme. How are marks distributed? Many students have the right information but lose marks because they don’t know their marking scheme.
100Know all the topics in your elective. Part (a) is compulsory. If you cut corners, you may get caught out.
is a first-year student studying English, Italian, French and art history in UCC.
Michael Dwyer is a fifth-year student in Gorey Community School.
Patrick Kelleher is in first year studying English and history in UCD.
Orlaith Farrell @Orlaith_Farrell
Susan Carey @SueBo_
Fintan O’Mahony, English and history teacher in Scoil Mhuire, Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary.
Evelyn O’Connor , English teacher and founder of leavingcertenglish.net, which also has a section for on the Junior Cert.
Elizabeth Hayes-Lyne, French teacher in CBS Sexton St, Limerick. schooloffrench.ie.
Natasha Lynch, essentialfrench.ie.
Eamonn Toland, themathstutor.ie.
Teachers from The Institute of Education: Sandra Cleary, home economics; Paul McCormack, English; Jim Carberry, geography; Michael O’Callaghan, biology; Carole Oiknine, French; Hilary Dorgan, maths; Keith Hannigan, business; Clare Grealy, Irish; Susan Cashell, history.