Eight ways to get the most out of your mocks
Go over your mock papers in detail: they are a map to better performance in the actual exams
Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
1 Learn from your mistakes
The mock papers you wrote earlier this year were given back to you by your teachers for a very important reason: they are a map to better performance when the real exams come around in June.
Many students will simply bury the scripts at the bottom of their schoolbags and never look at them again. This is a fatal error, which will result in you repeating the same mistakes in the actual Junior or Leaving Cert in June.
Now is time to read every word you wrote in all your mock papers, see exactly where you secured good marks and, most importantly, where you failed to secure them.
Most students do not re-read their mock scripts, because reflecting on the reasons why we have underperformed can be a painful task. But consider how successful sports teams improve their level of performance: they study their performance, frame by frame, after every match to identify areas of improvement.
Maximising your own performance in the real exams requires the same attention to detail. If you don’t do this, you will simply repeat the same mistakes in June. If it is what helps your sporting heroes to give their best, why not you?
2 Analyse the marking scheme
You should read your answer to every question in the light of the proportion of marks available that you secured. If your score was 100 per cent, move on. If not, compare your answer with your textbook or, where possible, with the “marking scheme” on the State Examination Commissions website (examinations.ie).
When you identify the error you made, write down the reason why you lost marks. Do this for every single question you answered in all subjects. This might take some time, but it is the most effective way to improve your exam performance in June.
When you have finished the task, draw up a checklist of the key mistakes you made across all your mock exams, and put in place a plan of action over the next two months to help eliminate all of those errors.
3 Draw up a detailed study plan
Having identified what you need to do to improve your exam performance, draw up a master study timetable, showing all major themes in every subject that you will revise over the next two months. You will have to exclude time spent in school, eating, sleeping, relaxing or exercising.
At the end of this simple process you will have a diary to follow day by day, and a body of time to prepare for each exam you have to take. Be very specific about when you are going to study each day, so that you do not fritter the time away, promising to start studying tomorrow.
At the end of each topic studied, draw up a small summary of the key points and write them down on a small revision card to be quickly revised just before the exam in June. As you do this, cross off the topic on your posters. This will enable you to see at a glance the progress you are making and will give your confidence a huge boost.
4 Use the marking schemes to improve your presentation
If you are studying past questions on either Junior or Leaving Cert papers, always evaluate your answer against the marking scheme for that question.
The marking schemes for all past papers are available online at the State examinations website. If you undertake this exercise, after you complete each question within the time limit that would apply in the examination itself, you will very quickly see where you are failing to gain marks that are potentially available to you.
Two students with the same amount of information on a topic can get radically different grades, depending on how each presents the information.
5 Stay healthy
Performance in any examination is determined by your physical, psychological, emotional wellbeing, as well as by your level of preparedness in the subject material.
Physical wellbeing is determined by diet and exercise. Those facing into the stressful conditions of examinations need regular physical exercise, be it through sport, walking, jogging or swimming.
As always, you need to avoid alcohol and drugs, not an easy task given the peer pressures on your age group.
You also need to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet, avoiding excessive sugar and junk food.
6 Access your allies
Psychological and emotional wellbeing is determined by the quality of our relationships. Friends and fellow students can give great support. The most important support comes from within your family, where a hug, an encouraging word or an unexpected treat can make all the difference.
7 Ask for help, if needed
Remember that you only have a finite amount of time left, and you must use it where it will be most effective. Your teachers will be the best source of support to you because they know where you need to improve your performance. If you are completely at sea, ask your teacher for help. Only where they cannot give you the time required should you consider seeking an external grind at this stage.
8 Pool your study with friends
One useful tip to ensure you fully understand a topic is to explain it to yourself. This can also be done with fellow students, with each taking a topic. Having a parental presence while you and your friends are pooling your understanding ensures the work actually takes place (and a steady stream of teas and snacks are provided).
WAY TO GO: THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF SUCCESSFUL STUDY
- DON’T procrastinate: just study.
- DO organise yourself. It’s never too late. Clear notes, tidy folders. Don’t stress yourself out.
- DON’T prioritise any one subject. All subjects should get equal time. Allow two hours each weekend for each subject and about 30-40 minutes per night for studying what was covered that day in the classroom.
- DO print chief examiners’ reports for your subjects. They give sample answers, which you can use as a guide for answering style.
- DON’T stay up too late. 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 at weekends, and get up early.
- DO ensure you 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 write down facts, they demonstrate real understanding.
- DON’T just read a book. That’s not studying. Set a target: “I will revise this topic for 45 minutes.” Take notes as you work through the topic, put away the books, do an exam question. Now that’s real study.
- DO exercise daily. Try to go for a walk. It clears your head and releases endorphins in your brain that make you feel good about yourself.
- DON’T listen to other people about what they are 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.
- DO keep the exams in perspective. None of the really important things that happen in your life will be dictated by how you do in the Leaving Cert.