Heads down for the Junior Cert


JASMIN HUSYMANS, a student at Muckross Park College in Donnybrook, in Dublin, secured 11 A grades in her Junior Cert exams last year. How did she do it?

“First, stay calm,” Husymans says. “Most of the course should be finished in school, so make sure you plan what you’re going to study each day. Writing out lists helped me keep focused.”

One of her main study methods was to do mini-tests, writing out a few questions after each chapter. Husymans also used study flashcards.

Tammy Strickland is a Leaving Cert student at the Institute of Education in Dublin. During her transition year she created a website for Junior Cert students, JuniorCertMindMaps.com, where she provides advice and comprehensive course summaries for 10 subjects in mind-map format. She will be releasing similar course summaries for Leaving Cert subjects next September.

Strickland advises students to break up afterschool time into chunks of between half an hour and an hour, assigning a subject to each time slot.

“Try to spread the time for each subject evenly, perhaps giving weaker subjects a little more time than others. Set targets and goals for each study session, making sure your target can be achieved within the time you have allotted – don’t try to cover the Renaissance, the explorers and the Industrial Revolution in one history sitting.

“Include breaks for sport or your hobby of choice, for relaxing and for eating meals. Go to bed early, and don’t panic if you happen to leave out one study session or don’t cover as much as you had hoped to – just reassign the work to another slot.”

She adds: “Remember not to base your study practice on the number of hours you stay at your desk. Studying should be all about hitting reasonable targets. It is much better to revise in this systematic way than to work aimlessly for hours on end.”

Getting high grades doesn’t come easy, Husymans says. “Write out notes to cut down on the chapters. I took breaks every 30 minutes, which was vital. I found that if I didn’t take a break my studying became ineffective and I would lose concentration. I kept my studying to a maximum of three subjects a day. Maths is known as being tricky, but my advice is to keep doing examples.”

Lastly, Husymans says that she started studying early. “Don’t leave it to last-minute cramming, as you will only stress yourself out. I made sure that I kept up sports and music – you need a balance while studying. As my maths teacher said: ‘The Junior Cert is not the end of the world.’ ”


April 17th-30th

Start revising topics you learned in first and second year. Draw up a study plan. But make sure not to neglect current class work and homework from courses that are not yet finished.

May 1st-14th/May 15th-28th

Continue revising as per your study plan. By now you should be revising topics covered this year. Stick to your study plan and make sure to take a few minutes out of each study session to scan through everything you have revised in the past few weeks; you’ll probably be surprised at the volume of material you have worked through.

Remain calm in spite of the upcoming exams. Never give up your rest periods, and make sure to leave your working environment for regular breaks. If you feel stressed, listen to music or go for a walk – or both. Remind yourself that you are on track with your study plan and be confident in your progress.

May 29th-June 6th

In these last few weeks everyone tends to become more extreme in their work ethic. Cramming is always a common mistake during this time. Plan your remaining time carefully and do not overwork yourself. If you have been putting in the work in the last six to eight weeks then there should be no reason to stress out and try to work even harder. Stick to your study plan and you will get what you want done.

Take your breaks regardless of the pressure you may be feeling with the approach of the exams. The Junior Cert may be two weeks away, but you still need to keep your sanity. Exercise when possible, or listen to music. Do whatever it is that makes you forget about studying (temporarily). Eat as healthily as possible and drink plenty of water, to keep yourself fresh and hydrated. Avoid caffeine leading up to exam time, especially on the day of the exam, as you don’t want to crash unexpectedly.

My best advice for the final days and hours leading up to the exams is to relax. Once you have followed your study plan then there is no need to become stressed. Try to avoid cramming on the morning of the exam. At this point you have already done as much as you can possibly do. To maximise your performance, the best thing to do is to walk into the test centre with a clear head. This will give you a better chance of achieving high scores when tackling difficult questions. Make sure to get your eight hours of sleep before all exams – no all-nighters or panicked sleepless nights.


April 17th-30th

For essay work, focus on the short story. Over the course of three nights, plan a story, write the opening paragraph, and develop it with dialogue, character development, climax and closing paragraph. Repeat this.

Revise five poems with themes such as family, love and nature. Revise key quotes and notes.

Focus on the main character in the fiction and their relationship with one other character. Look at key characteristics, changes and developments.

May 1st-14th

Never waste a car journey at this stage. Debate with your siblings and parents all the points you can think of about teenage-related topics, such as sport, social networking sites or the use of mobile phones, as you enlist everyone ’s help to prepare for the debate topics. Look at past exam papers.

Continue revision of the poetry with war poems.

Study fiction. Revise the central themes of racism, love, money, hatred, exclusion.

Study drama. Look at the main characters and their relationships.

May 15th-28th

Write short, personal pieces about topics such as happiness, love, sadness, war, recession or sport.

Media studies is a good excuse when you need a break – say that you have to research Facebook or watch a TV programme! Look at all the key areas of social networking, television, radio, advertising, cartoons and so on.

Practise functional writing: formal and informal letters, emails, blogs, CVs, reviews, reports and speeches.

May 29th-June 6th

Get lots of rest and take breaks. Do some work on the unseen aspects of the paper, finish off the poetry by looking at a poet (for example, Heaney) and take two poems that cover a similar topic Examine the themes of the drama, like racism, love, hatred, wealth. Use the bullet points that now fill the refill pad and be proud of all your hard work.

* Mary O’Farrell is a teacher at Mountrath Community School, in Co Laois, and chairwoman of the Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English



April 17th-30th

Begin by going over Irish vocabulary. Understanding and knowing Irish vocabulary is the key to success. I recommend you look at vocabulary on topics such as people (daoine), places (áiteanna), shops (siopaí), public buildings (foirgnimh don phobal) and facilities (áiseanna) in the town (sa bhaile mór), school (scoil) and subjects (ábhair scoile), pastimes (caithimh aimsire), sport (spórt), types of music (cineálacha ceoil), events (imeachtaí), weather (an aimsir), holidays (laethanta saoire) and accidents (timpistí).

May 1st-14th

You now have revised your vocabulary and you are confident enough to look at briathra (verbs) and réamhfhocail (prepositions). Go over verbs in the past, present and future tenses in particular. This will help your written work and the grammar questions at higher level. Practise writing short postcards, emails, paragraphs, stories. Practice makes perfect. Taithí a dhéanann máistreacht!

May 15th-28th

Time now to read back over and analyse comprehensions in your exam papers and to listen back over listening tests. Your Irish preparation over the past few weeks should be helping you greatly. Higher-level students should now be also looking over the Unseen Prose and Poetry questions in exam papers, and going over the stories/poems they studied in class.

May 29th-June 6th

As exam time approaches, time to put into use the excellent revision you have done over the past month. Remember to read all comprehension questions carefully. I recommend underlining or highlighting question words in the exam papers.

* Dónall Ó Murchú is an Irish teacher at St Aloysius’ College in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, and vice-president of Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge (Irish Teachers’ Organisation)


April 17th-30th

Number systems: Know the difference between the sets N, Z and Q, be comfortable with rounding and approximating numbers. Understand operations by using Birdmas (brackets, indices, roots, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction). Practise indices, ratio, proportion and scientific notation.

Draw Venn diagrams for sets, as well as understanding set operations such as intersection, union, difference and complement.

Tax is a challenging topic for many students: make sure you understand terms such as standard rate, higher rate, cut-off point and tax credits.

May 1st-14th

At this point you should be looking towards completing your revision of paper 1. This means that you should be grappling with algebra, functions and graphs. The biggest area here is algebra, which dominates the paper.

Practise things like multiplying out brackets, simplifying and evaluating expressions. If algebra is getting you down, mix it up by looking at questions involving functions and graphs. Make sure that you are familiar with the different types of notation that can be used for functions.

May 15th-28th

You should now have a good grasp of paper 1 and can turn your attention to paper 2. The easier half of this paper concerns perimeter, area and volume, co-ordinate geometry and statistics. When you are looking at solving questions on area and volume, you need to be very familiar with your mathematical questions. Know where to find the formulae that you need and be particularly aware that not all formulae are in there.

Statistics is a nice question and probably the most popular one on paper 2. Make sure that you practise drawing and interpreting things like bar charts, pie charts, trend graphs and histograms.

May 29th-June 6th

Turn your attention to geometry, transformation geometry and trigonometry. Practise your theorems and proofs at regular intervals, bearing in mind you may be asked to perform six constructions: constructing the perpendicular bisector of a line segment, bisecting an angle, constructing a triangle, dividing a line segment into parts, constructing the circumcircle of a triangle and constructing the in-circle of a triangle.

Don’t forget that mathematics is an active subject that involves practice, practice, practice. If you end up getting bogged down in a topic, then switch to a different one and return to the original when your head has cleared. At this point you should be very familiar with the layout of the papers and the types of questions that usually come up. A lot of the battle is recognising what the question is asking and building up your confidence. The more questions that you look at and practise, the better prepared you will be for the exams.

* Brendan O’Sullivan is the national secretary of the Irish Mathematics Teachers’ Association, and teaches maths and English at Bruce College in Cork