Leaving Cert Maths is undoubtedly one of the more important subjects that you will take at school. Most third level colleges have a pass in Maths as a basic entry requirement and there are 25 extra points on offer when you take the higher level paper. I achieved an A1 grade in my Leaving Cert HL Maths exam and I believe that with a simple and methodical approach to studying and taking exams in this subject, you can make great improvements. Many students feel overwhelmed at the size of the course and the array of topics to be covered, but when the subject is broken down into sizeable chunks, you will find that things will become slightly easier. The following are some tips I would give to students sitting the exam.
Understand Techniques and Concepts
Project Maths has lead to a marked change in how Maths is presented and examined in the Leaving Cert exam. In the past, the majority of the time, students would have been working towards getting a final answer. Now, the focus is more on problem solving, and explaining why you believe a particular approach is appropriate. This means that to do well in the exam, you must have a thorough understanding of all concepts on the course. When studying or doing questions for homework, try and ask yourself why you are doing a particular manipulation or calculation. This is especially important in chapters such as Algebra or Calculus that tend to appear frequently in both papers and in questions dealing not necessarily with those particular topics. You must understand a topic to know when it is appropriate to apply it in a question.
Attempt Every Question
I cannot stress how pivotal this is to succeeding in the exam. Even if you have no idea how to approach a question, you should write something down. This could be a formula coming directly from the log tables or a manipulation of what you already know. For example, in one question in the 2012 paper, 15 out of the possible 25 marks could have been obtained by stating a formula given in the log tables. Here, no approach could have been made in answering the question but you would have still salvaged 60% of the marks by simply writing something slightly relevant down. This shows how important it is to attempt every question.
Read Every Question Carefully
This had always been a major downfall for me. We tend to focus on mastering the abstract topics on the course and not giving enough attention to the simple aspects of the exam such as reading the question carefully. To counteract this, I brought a highlighter into my exam and I highlighted the key words in every question. Also, I paid particular attention to the way the answer was to be presented such as rounding a figure to one, two or threee decimal places or to the nearest significant figure. In the mocks I lost around 5% of the total marks by not doing this which shows that carelessness really does cost you.
Keep Your Work Neat and Tidy
By keeping your work neat and tidy, you are keeping your examiner happy. They will be more likely to check your workings and award partical credit if you label your rough work and keep it neat. It will also make it easier for you when you go back checking your questions at the end of the exam. If you think you have made a mistake, simply just draw a line through your work and start again. You can essentially answer a question in numerous ways and the examiner is obliged to award marks for whichever way is correct.
Every school night from January to June of my leaving cert year, I would attempt past leaving certificate exam questions. Generally, you should divide the amount of marks allocated for the question by 2 to determine the time it should take to complete the question. These questions should be done without the help of notes to give a sense of real exam conditions. Indeed this should always be your approach when doing Maths. Do the question and then look at the answer afterwards to see the best approach. Every now and again and even in the exam itself, you will meet a question that will appear to be too hard. In that case, you should focus on what you already know about the topic in an effort to solve the problem. Most importantly however, don’t panic as it will affect your problem solving and critical thinking ability and have a detrimental knock-on effect for the rest of the exam.
Know Your Calculator
Your calculator and maths set are the most important pieces of equipment for Maths. I would suggest bringing two of each into the exam hall as you never know what will happen on the day. Ensure that you have an in-depth knowledge of how to use all the relevant functions on your calculator. Your teacher will probably show you them, but if not, there are many useful online videos for all calculators to show you how to use them effectively. By being adept in using your calculator, you are saving valuable time in the exam. Calculator use for some may be the easiest part of doing maths but it is pivotal for success nonetheless.
I can tell you now with absolute certainty that there will be questions on Algebra, Calculus, Trigonometry and Probability + Statistics in this year's exam. These topics were known as the “Big 4” in my class as they appear so frequently. If you struggle generally with Maths, you should spend most of your time doing these chapters as the bulk of the marks are going for them. That being said however, Maths is one of the most unpredictable exams in the Leaving Cert and you should be expecting the unexpected!
Finally, the last piece of advice i would give would be to take the paper suited to your ability. Do not just take the Higher Level paper just because there are 25 extra points going for it. It is better to be safe with a pass at ordinary level than failing the Higher Level paper. I suggest that you should take mock exams and assess your abilities from there.
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Best of luck in the exam!
Michael Ryan, Dental Science student in Trinity College