It’s the final countdown: 50 days to go to the start of the Leaving Cert

Top tips and tricks: our experts show how to make the most of the study days ahead

Tue, Apr 15, 2014, 08:41

50 days to go to the exams. It seems like nothing but it’s still a long time when it comes to study. We in The Irish Times know people who know a lot about how to prepare for exams and we asked them to give their advice about how best to use the time that’s left. There is a Leaving Cert focus to some of the advice but most is just as applicable to Junior Cert students.

So first off, whether you are facing into the Leaving or Junior Cert, don’t panic. It’s not too late. If you are panicking anyway, there is advice here for you. If you’re well organised there are tips here for you too. Most people are in a better state than they think and the biggest battle, apart from maintaining focus, is a psychological one. Simply trying to stay calm, and by extension, healthy and well rested, can be a battle.

So here are our expert tips for how to make the most of the next 50 days.

Tips if you’re panicking:

Breathe. Giving in to that sinking feeling will get you nowhere. You can make things significantly better than they are now.

Begin now. Just open a text book and start. Focus on the words in front of you and forget about everything else you have to do.

Do not look at everything you have to do. You’ll just get overwhelmed. Break things up. Only focus on what you’re doing today. Do that well and move on.

No idea where to start? Well ask yourself: are there any guaranteed questions or topics on your chosen exams? Those sound like a good place to begin.

You’ll be tempted to read through mountains of text and call that study because it will feel like you’re doing more.

English teacher Evelyn O’Connor advises:

Reading a book isn’t studying. (It’s reading a book.)

To study:

- set a target (I will revise this topic for 45minutes);

- take notes as you go.

- put away the books. Do an exam question. Now that’s study!

Do you have subject notes? Or very kind and wonderful friends who might allow you to copy theirs? Use them to minimise the amount of text you need to get through.

For quotes and definitions you need to know by heart, record them on your phone and listen back while you’re on the bus or getting ready for school. Leave a gap in the recording so you can repeat the information back to yourself.

If you’re stuck on a topic, ask your teacher about it. You’ll understand something far quicker if it’s explained to you.

If you’re really having trouble focusing on your own, think about whether it would help to study with a friend. This can work really well – you can bounce off one another, quiz and explain things you don’t understand. The ideal way to do it is to split the work, each do your bit and then share notes and knowledge before attempting some exam questions. However, if you’re not serious about focusing do not waste a friend’s time. Likewise, if your study partner is distracting you, forget it.

Remember, even if you’re completely unable to retrieve the situation, high points are not the only route to college, if college is where you want to be. People do post-Leaving Cert courses and enter college through alternative routes all the time. The system is a ladder and you can generally get as far as you want with a bit of hard work. If college isn’t for you, you have that in common with all manner of successful people like Simon Cowell, Seth Rogen, Eminiem and Richard Branson.

Tips if you’re okay but wishing you had done more by now:

You probably know more than you think. Now is the time to focus, not to throw in the towel.

Clare Grealy, Irish teacher in the Institute of Education advises: Don’t prioritise any one subject. All subjects that a student intends using for their calculation of points should get equal time. This being the case I would allow two hours each weekend for each subject and around 30 to 40 minutes per night in studying what was covered on that day in the classroom.

Learn from the mock exams. Examine your answers. Where did you go wrong? How could you have done better? Any obvious mistakes? After the actual exams, post mortems are a terrible idea. Right now, they can be very helpful.

Summarise your notes. Use key words to see what you remember about a topic. One idea will spark off another. If you get stuck, go back to the books. Don’t give up. The more you relearn, the more you will recall. advises: Write down key concepts you have to learn on small sheets of paper followed by examples of how they are used. Post these sheets around your house - by your bed, on the toilet door, in front of the CD collection. This kind of immersion helps with remembering things like equations, quotes and foreign languages.

Do not cut corners. Almost every year in The Irish Times, we hear about what’s tipped to come up in the poetry section of the English paper. Many, many times, the tipped poet hasn’t come up and there is outrage, devastation and plenty of upset, but honestly, who’s to blame for that? Don’t rely on tips. Have a back up plan.

Finding it hard to fit in all the work? 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.

Tips if you’re happy with your study to date.

Don’t relax now! If you got good results in the mocks do not believe for a second that your work is done.

Practise exam questions. Time yourself and be ruthless about it.

Have a look at examination marking schemes and how marks are distributed. If you’re having trouble, ask a teacher to explain it to you. Understanding how to maximise your marks can give you that extra few per cent.

Be fair to the people around you. It’s neither big nor clever to lie or indeed brag about how much you have done. Your results will hopefully reflect the work you have put in and then everyone will know all about it.

If you have been working really hard, you’ll be engaged in a real battle to keep yourself on an even keel in the run up to the exam. Stay calm, stay focused. Make sure you are well fed, healthy and well rested. You will be fine.

Make a pact with yourself not to do post-mortems during the exams. If something does go wrong, you can only focus on what’s coming next. Once an exam is over there is nothing you can do about it.

Tips for everyone

Write out a daily timetable for revision from now till the end of your exams. Allocate half hour slots for each subject, allowing more time for the nearer exams. Do not ignore any subject. Variety helps maintain interest. Write summaries of each topic. Include exercise and regular breaks –

Do not spend lots of time colour coding and laminating said timetable. A couple of notes on a foolscap page is fine. advises, “Sometimes reading through notes doesn’t result in learning or understanding. Include the following in revising each topic:

- vocabulary, technical terms definitions

- summaries of points

- formulae, rules, diagrams, charts

- ability to understand relationships

- if you’re answering essay questions, make quick plans for how you’d structure answers on each topic

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 he or she is working.

Keep an eye out for revision opportunities if you’re near a college or university. NUI Galway is holding a university taster day including revision sessions in key subject areas as well as tasters of various college courses on the 23rd of April. No charge for attendance but you must book. See for details.

Evelyn O’Connor writes: Understand what you’re studying (or at least try...). Re-phrase in your own words whenever possible. Students who do well in exams don’t just vomit up facts, they demonstrate real understanding.

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