Don’t panic: Last-minute subject-by-subject Leaving Cert exam advice

Experts share their top tips on how to maximise your performance on the big day

The big day is nearly here. If students’ nerves are jangling, that is entirely normal. All the more so for the class of 2023: the cancellation of Junior Cycle exams in 2020 and 2021 means many have never undertaken a State exam before.

“When you’ve already sat a State exam, you have an understanding of how it works,” says Jack McGinn, education officer with the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU).

“Many students feel worried, but it’s important to note that the marking schemes will ultimately reflect this and that everyone will be in the same boat.”

The good news is that is it never too late to take on board advice from the experts which can help maximise your performance when the exams come around.



Paper 1, Comprehension

Note the general theme on the front of the paper. Choose your question A based on the questions, not the topic. You must be able to answer all three questions. Pay particular attention to Q (ii) as this has proved challenging in recent years.

Question B is a test of concise writing, so 2-2.5 pages should suffice.

As the composition section is worth 25 per cent, it is essential that you do a detailed plan. This will allow you to focus on writing a coherent essay while avoiding the common pitfalls of repetition and writing irrelevant points. Aim to write four to five pages.

Paper 2

Relevance and timing are crucial if students are to do well in this paper.

Underline the key words of the set question. Write two to three synonyms over these words to avoid repetition of key terms.

You must be ruthless with timing. Look at the marks for each section and subtract five minutes to get the ideal time

Ensure that you write a title sentence at the start of each paragraph using the key words or synonyms. All material written must be relevant to the set question and supported with suitable quotations. You will not get marks for writing material outside of the bounds of the question.

You must be ruthless with timing. Look at the marks for each section and subtract five minutes to get the ideal time. For example, your single text is worth 60 marks so 55 minutes should be spent on this section, and so on.

Predictability is no longer a feature of the English paper, but Paula Meehan is new to the syllabus so should not be ignored.

  • Tips by Gillian Chute, English teacher and provider of online grinds at


Prepare for your essay with reusable arguments, set up for your topics with key words and prepared sentences. We often see an option on ‘saol an duine óig’ or ‘an córas oideachais’. Topics that were not examined last year are An Ghaeilge, spórt, athrú aeráide and an córas sláinte. Remember, quality over quantity!

Revise all pieces of literature, leave nothing to chance. Be able to write generally on íomhánna, mothúcháin, téama, codarsnacht, stíl an dáin and on the poets, along with satire and use of brackets in ‘Mo Ghrása idir lúibíní’ and the meadaracht and background of ‘An Spailpín Fánach’.

For all the prose and dramas, know the characters and their outlook, and be prepared to give examples of their important parts in the story and their impact.

  • Tips by Nuala Uí Cheallaigh, Irish teacher at the Institute of Education


Paper 1

Since 2020, Leaving Cert maths offers a choice of questions on the exam paper. You are required to complete five out of six questions in Section A, and three out of four in Section B. It is very important that you manage your time and adopt an appropriate time strategy.

It is not possible to predict precisely which topics will appear on the paper, but higher level students should be comfortable with De Moivre’s theorem, proof by induction, solving cubic functions and exponential and log questions.

For ordinary level, students must be competent in all aspects of the algebra course, and make sure to practise functions and calculus questions together as they tend to interlink on the paper.

Paper 2

Make sure to bring your maths set and use a pencil that is legible when completing constructions, as the papers are now being scanned and corrected online.

It is not possible to predict what exact topics will appear on the paper, but higher level students should be competent with z values and confidence intervals, the binomial theorem as applied in probability, and questions involving the line and the circle.

For ordinary level, students should be comfortable with statistics and data, probability, trigonometry, the line and the circle. All students need to ensure that they know where to find appropriate formulae in the log tables to maximise their time.


Many questions you will face in Leaving Cert biology will require you to know definitions and be able to label diagrams. Students should take a look through all the main diagrams in their textbook, and most textbooks have a handy glossary of key terms at the back.

The biology paper has so many questions that most sections of the course tend to get at least some coverage

The marking scheme for Leaving Cert biology exams is extremely strict in terms of what answers will receive full marks. You should try to avoid using imprecise language wherever possible.

I always encourage my students to spend time looking at biology marking schemes to see the level of detail required for full marks. The biology paper has so many questions that most sections of the course tend to get at least some coverage. If I was to make predictions then I would advise students to make sure they have covered ecology and the scientific method.


Make sure to have a clear plan for your timing in the exam. Leaving Cert geography requires you to write multiple essays which can mean students frequently run out of time and are forced to leave questions out. Remember, the examiner is looking for SRPs (Single Relevant Points) in your essays, so make sure to make clear statements of fact and avoid waffle.

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While it is always tricky to predict what will be on the Leaving Cert geography paper, the good news is that there is always plenty of choice, with many questions to choose from. Make sure to remind yourself of the basics, such as how to correctly give a six-figure grid reference on an OS map.


The paper is 2.5 hours long, encompassing the reading and writing tasks. There is then a short 10-minute break, after which students complete the aural or listening section of the exam.

For the reading comprehension, students must read two texts and answer questions based on those texts. The first text is usually journalistic in style and tends to address current issues.

The second text is usually an extract from literature, and is more challenging. My top tip is to start with question six, as this is asked in English and may give an indication as to the subject matter.

For the written section, my top tip is to keep your French clear and simple. Make sure that your opinion questions have an opening, main point/counter or supporting point/personal point and conclusion.

Finally, while it is impossible to predict what will appear on the paper, I suggest focusing on sport, technology, health, social media, the environment, the economy (especially the cost of living crisis), conflict (including refugees and war), Europe, and education, including the pressure on young people.


Select essay questions from past papers. Write out the introduction. Bullet each paragraph and include a link sentence connecting to the set question. Include five quotes. Write out the conclusion. You will get through a lot of material this way and increase your choices.

It is impossible to predict what essays will appear, so it is essential to concentrate on the DBQ (the Document Based Question).

There are only three topics, so don’t come out of the exam and say: “I didn’t think that one would come up”. Prepare all three.

In the exam, spend no more than 42.5 minutes on each answer.

  • Tips from Susan Cashel, history teacher at the Institute of Education

Pens at the ready: the dos and don’ts of getting ready for the exam hall

Patricia Harrington, guidance counsellor at St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School in Dublin 8, has tips for what to expect the night before and on the day of the exam:

1. Do check the time of exams being held the next day – don’t assume or guess. Pack your bag and pencil case carefully; gather your pens, pencils, eraser, maths sets, calculator, coloured pencils, and markers. Don’t forget that you can’t ask for these during the exam.

2. Don’t use multicoloured pens – make sure to write in blue and black pens only. Make sure you have these and spare pens packed.

3. Do go back over what your teachers told you with regards to layout of the paper and timing. When you go in to sit an exam, you should know how many questions you must do on each paper and allow time for each one.

4. Don’t leave things to the last minute. Be organised: get up on time, give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast, and get to school before 9am.

5. Do read the questions with your pen in your hand and underline key things you must answer. Present information well to maximise your grades – presentation is key.