Examwatch: Five things we learned from day one of the Leaving Cert

Last minute tips, zeitgeisty examiners and Covid safety rules

Masked security guards watch students  arrive at school for the first day of China’s national college entrance examinations, known as the gaokao, in Beijing. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP Photo

Masked security guards watch students arrive at school for the first day of China’s national college entrance examinations, known as the gaokao, in Beijing. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP Photo


1. Safety rules not quite so strict after all

If you think the Covid-19 safety rules are tough for the Leaving Cert this year, think again.

In China, millions of students are taking on the gaokao, its version of the Leaving Cert, reputed to be among the toughest exams in the world.

Its public health rules are pretty exacting: exam candidates and staff are required to undergo 14 days of health monitoring in advance and provide details of their whereabouts. They are also required to have their body temperatures taken on entering an exam hall, while staff in most cases are required to be vaccinated or have negative PCR tests.

In addition, some local governments are arranging for the transport of students in medium or high-risk areas to exam centres by hiring hundreds of taxis in a bid to redue the risk of cross-infection.

Unlike Ireland, however, in some cases they are providing for students who are close contacts to take the exams in special quarantine-type settings.

2. Zeitgeisty examiners

You might not assume that the suits who devise Leaving Cert exams have their finger on the pulse of cutting-edge culture.

You’d be wrong.

This year’s English papers shows a team of exam-setters well and truly surfing the cultural zeitgeist.

The impact of Black Lives Matter, as Peter McGuire reports, is evident across both papers: at higher level the late actor Chadwick Boseman plays a starring role, while students were also asked to explore why commemorative statues may be controversial.

On the ordinary-level paper, an appearance by Denise Chaila, an Irish musician with Zambian roots, is a nod towards a more diverse and modern Ireland.

3. Experts’ last-minute tips

Baffled by the choice and changes in this year’s papers? We’ve asked the experts for some pointers to help you navigate through the exams.

Michael Doran, geography teacher at The Institute of Education, shares his tips for success in this year’s exam:

* Answer all 12 of the short-answer questions. Do not leave any unanswered.

* Read questions carefully. Note key words, e.g., factors, influences, causes, effects, etc. Refer to them in answers.

* Make use of the extended time this year, e.g., 42½ minutes for answering parts A, B and C of a Physical Geography question.

* Do the long answer Option questions (e.g., Geoecology) early in the exam.

* Note the easy marks gained for drawing sketch maps, drawing graphs and graph/statistical interpretation in the ‘A’ questions.

* Make sure to refer to examples of location in each of the essay answers.

Eamonn Toland at TheMathsTutor.ie also shares his tips for the maths papers General advice: At this stage, exam technique comes into focus as one of the most important items to revise. You’ve been building up your maths knowledge and skills for years, and you want to do yourself justice by getting the best grade possible in the exams.

To do this, you need to have your exam technique ready for action. Make sure you are completely clear about exam structure, mark allocation and time management, which have all changed in 2021 due to the pandemic. Prepare your exam kit, including your geometry set, and know when to use pencil or pen in the maths exam.

Once you are in the exam, you can put your time management plan into practice, and start getting it all down on paper, while avoiding errors. This can make a huge difference to your exam performance and your final grade.

(For details of all aspects of exam technique, download your free copy of our exam technique guide at www.themathstutor.ie/booklet/)

Paper one: This is your first time seeing a Leaving Cert maths paper with a choice of questions. You need to do four out of six questions in section A, and two out of four in section B.

Also, for the first time, section A is now worth more than section B. You need to allocate your time in proportion to the marks available. Have a clear and simple time allocation strategy, and try to stick reasonably closely to this in the exam.

Paper two: Learn from your experience of having completed Paper 1. If you need to allow a little more time to choose your questions, then do so. Using five minutes extra if you need it at the start to ensure you play to your strengths is well worth the investment of time.

If you found your timings were a little off in Paper 1, try to learn from that. Perhaps you got a little bit bogged down in one or two questions. If so, be a bit more aware and strict in executing your timing plan.

Note: The main elements of Paper 2 have traditionally been statistics, probability and all parts of geometry. Paper 1 is traditionally dominated by number, algebra, functions and calculus. However there can always be an element of overlap between Paper 1 and Paper 2 at Leaving Cert level. Problems involving area and volume can easily occur in either paper, and in previous years we have even occasionally seen topics appear on paper 2 that had already appeared on paper 1. The good news is that the element of choice available this year should help students to work around any unanticipated or weak topics.

4. Number of the day: 68%

- The proportion of Leaving Cert students who opted to take on the English written exam, though whether everyone turns up is another matter.

5. Tweet of the day:

“Accredited grades are really the only thing saving my brain from utter collapse. I don’t know how people did the leaving cert in a normal year...”
- @hang3supr3macy 

6. Up next:

Thursday, June 10th
Engineering (9.30am)
English paper 2 (2pm)