How I clocked up 625 points in the Leaving Cert
Liam Mariga scored the maximum and reveals how to boost your chances of success
Liam Mariga, a student at Midleton College, Co Cork, achieved maximum points in his Leaving Cert last year. Photograph: Jim Coughlan.
Liam Mariga was one of just seven students to achieve eight H1s in the Leaving Cert last year. Now studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin, the Cork student shares his tips on how to make the most of the run-in to the exams.
During fifth year, I didn’t do too much extra study. Instead, I just made sure to keep up to date in all my classes and to really try understand the content as opposed to just trying to learn it off, as I believe that this works better for answering exam questions.
I have always had a passion for science, so I chose the three sciences and applied maths. In my opinion, it is important to pick subjects that truly interest you, as this will help motivate you during sixth year.
In sixth year, I ramped up study, doing three hours on weekdays and five hours on the weekends. After the mocks, I was studying almost fully through past papers, trying to get familiar with questions that repeated.
In the English paper, the composition is worth one quarter of the overall mark. This means that a large portion of your time should go in to preparing for this. Obviously, quotes are also very important for the exam. I used to write down a topic, such as a character question, and then find and learn all the quotes that would fit it. There are a good few quotes that can be used for lots of questions, so find them and learn them well. Give yourself plenty of time for quotes so that you’re not going in to the exam gambling on a certain poet or question.
In both English papers, timing is crucial. Make sure that you know the time you are meant to spend on each section, and stick to it religiously. You don’t want to waste all your time on a smaller section that might only be worth 30 or 40 marks, and then lose out on a much bigger section because of it.
With the oral being worth so much of the overall grade, it is essential to prepare well for the oral exam. Make sure to know all your role plays, and practise steering the conversation towards topics that you know well and are confident with.
For the essays, I would advise learning vocabulary for topics as opposed to learning full essays off, as this will give you more room to manoeuvre in the exam. Also, adding a seanfhocail or two will help to clarify your point and show fluency.
Learning off key words that are repeated in the listening is a good way to help you as you’ll be able to pick them out with even the hardest accents.
With maths, practice is really the key. I started off by answering all of the questions in the textbooks, and then moved on to using past exam papers. I found that I learned much better if I only used the solutions when I was completely stuck. Maths is definitely worth an extra bit of work with the added 25 points, and I also really enjoyed maths, so I spent a good bit of time working at it.
If you find yourself really stuck on a certain topic, try looking online for a better method of answering the question or for a better explanation of your current method.
For Spanish, our teacher was great at getting us to learn new vocab. Each Monday, we would get a list of 20 or so words, which we would be tested on the next Monday. This really stood to us in the exam, as these words came up in writing the opinion pieces, and also in the comprehensions.
I went on a Spanish course in Spain the summer before the Leaving Cert, which really helped both my oral and aural skills. In the oral, it is very important to learn the role plays well, and to also have your answers prepared for each topic, and try your best to show off some advanced vocab if you get the chance.
Applied maths was definitely my favourite subject, which really helped me to study for it. As it was my favourite, I would either study it at the start of the day to get focused for study, or leave it until last to give myself a reward to look forward to at the end.
With applied maths, the questions really do repeat, so I chose to cover seven topics fully, and also left an eighth as a backup in case the paper didn’t go my way. Once you have covered the basics of each topic, work on all the past questions that you can find on the topics until you are familiar with everything that they ask.
With biology, I found it extremely helpful to look at marking schemes and find the key points that the examiners wanted you to know on each topic. Once you finish a chapter or topic, try and answer all the past questions that you can find on it, then correct them against a marking scheme and make notes of the key points that are needed in each question.
Remember also that for the shorter-answer questions, the space given for your answer is a good indicator of the level of detail required. This means that there isn’t much point at all in trying to cram in an extra three lines down the side of the page if they aren’t required. This will then free up more time for you to answer the longer questions.
Chemistry is probably the best example of a subject where understanding must come before learning. In the exam, you are given plenty of time, so try to answer all the questions you can – remember your best eight questions will be counted!
You must make sure to cover the mandatory experiments well, as this can guarantee four of the eight questions for you. Learning how to do the calculations is also important, as almost every question will have one calculation or another.
Making sure to have a strong grasp of the basic concepts, such as calculating molarity or balancing equations will really help you in understanding the more complex concepts as they usually have some relation to the more basic concepts.
For learning off the titrations, I used to write the equations, indicator and colour change out as often as possible, as these are really helpful for answering the titration question.
For physics, the experiments are fairly straightforward to learn, and are worth 30 per cent of the entire paper. Focus on learning the diagrams and equations needed for each experiment, which will hint at the procedures and graphs needed.
I personally didn’t like electricity at all, so I learned some of the basic equations that may come up in question five, and pretty much left it after that. Instead, I focused on the other topics and made sure that I had a good understanding of them.
The crossover between physics and applied maths really helped with all of the calculations, and there was also some overlap with chemistry too.
Once again, checking the marking schemes for keywords is important in physics, as they can be quite specific with some definitions, so make sure that you know them well.