100 top tips for exam success

What should you be doing now if you want to succeed in the June exams? We asked twittered eeted teachers, students and exam veterans on Twitter for their tips. Here's what they came up with

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.


Oral exam

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.

Aural exam

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.

Home Economics

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.


Clare Reidy

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.

This article was first published in March, 2013.