How to make the most of the Leaving Cert run-in: Study tips, social media and taking breaks

Teachers and experts share their subject-by-subject guide for how to best prepare for the exams

The exams have not yet begun, but the end is in sight: students are now closer to the freedom of July than they are to the end of their mocks.

But how can students make the best of the next two weeks?

Wellbeing

“Get off social media for the next few weeks,” is the first piece of advice from Anne Conway, a guidance counsellor at Clogher Road Community College in Dublin 12.

“This requires some self-discipline and, ideally, parent buy-in: it doesn’t mean shouting and roaring at them, but supporting them in using their phone less.

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“Exam stress and worry is normal, but I would encourage students to harness this anxiety and energy. Put a plan in place, not just for study time, but also for leisure. Take the time to get organised and prepared. Of course, this approach starts in first year, but it is worth restating.”

Conway says it is important not to spend all your energy now.

“Students need to balance health, mind and body. They should be talking to family and friends, eating well, keeping hydrated and getting lots of rest and sleep. Get away from the desk, go to the gym, play sport or get exercise. Have a positive mindset, and keep talking,” she says.

All well and good for a teacher to say, but they don’t have to sit the exams. Isn’t the harsh reality that there isn’t time for anything but study?

“You need good physical and mental health to take on the exams,” Conway says. “We know the course is massive. We also know how much content your brain has to take in – but it can’t do this if you haven’t eaten properly and taken breaks. Remember that 20 minutes of good study is better than an hour of broken, distracted study.”

So, for now, planning your time is key. For the day itself, Conway says students should ensure they have any tools they need for the exams, such as pens and calculators.

“Know the exam structure, and have a plan if you feel it doesn’t go your way, such as an apprenticeship, PLC [Post Leaving Certificate Course] or a year out. Last year, there was lots of upset around maths paper one, but remember that everyone is sitting the same paper, and the marking scheme will reflect its difficulty.”

As for parents, Conway says it is important to keep the lines of communication open, try to keep a calm house, and ensure that the student arrives at the exam centre with everything they need.

Maths

Tips from Stephen Begley, Studyclix.ie subject expert and maths teacher at Dundalk Grammar School
Paper one:
  • Practise past paper questions topic by topic. This way, you’ll see the similarities across years and get used to the keywords guiding a question. Algebra, functions and differentiation always dominate paper one, so mastering these across the next two weeks will stand to you in both sections A and B.
  • Know what is in your log tables, particularly with differentiation and integration: make a list of formulas that aren’t in the tables and learn them. Know your calculator inside out: how to graph functions, where to find buttons such as pi, e, factorial and choosing.
  • Familiarise yourself with the topics that are likely to come up. It’s hard to predict the exact questions on paper one, but regular suspects of algebra, complex numbers, differentiation, and integration would be expected across the short questions in section A, while functions, logs, calculus and financial maths are good bases to cover for the long questions in section B.
Paper two:
  • Know the usual suspects. In section A, we can expect to see co-ordinate geometry of the line and circle, probability, statistics, trigonometry and geometry, while section B typically features statistics, trigonometry and probability. There are several probability and statistics formulae that you need to learn by heart, so identify these; you don’t want to be scrambling through the log tables hoping they’ll appear.
  • Ensure you can easily switch between radians and degrees on your calculator and keep a good eye to guarantee you’re using the right one in the exam.
  • Know your formulae. The log tables will be your best friend in this exam so get familiar with what is in there and where to find everything. Always double-check that you’ve written a formula down correctly – you don’t want to lose silly marks for information already provided!

English

Tips from Conor Murphy, an English teacher at Skibbereen Community College
Paper one:
  • Familiarise yourself with the exam paper and be conscious of the fact it was designed to lead you into the essay question. The comprehension question, A, reminds you of the various genres as well as genre techniques. B reminds you of the need for structure and purpose. Remember these elements when you attempt the final essay.
  • Revise techniques rather than specific genres. There are so many different genres that can be assessed in B, and in the essay, trying to study each one will become overwhelming. Think about the techniques as moving from aesthetic to persuasive, stopping off at narrative and informative on the way. So, you are looking at things like using an appropriate hook, the power of the adjective, the use of aesthetic language, the various rhetorical techniques available. Then look at the question and, with the audience and medium in mind, plan with reference to these techniques.
Paper two:
  • Ignore poet predictions. The poetry question is worth 50 marks, the main text (usually Shakespeare) is 60 marks and the comparative 70. Keep this in mind when you study.
  • Narrow down the quotes you are learning off. Instead of having hundreds for the main text, look for a quote that will work for numerous elements. Look at a quote like the famous “get thee to a nunnery”. How many elements can this be used for? Hamlet, Ophelia, treatment of women, lust. This is why the quote is so often (over) used. Use this exercise as a way of revising Hamlet.
  • Similarly for the comparative, narrow down the scenes you are studying to scenes that can be used when talking about at least two of the comparative modes. Obviously these will include the opening and closing of the text. When you have these narrowed down, zoom in on specific elements (dialogue, images, stage directions). These are your specific pieces of evidence needed to illustrate your essays.
  • In general, test yourself on the various aspects of the course. Pick a topic and write down what you know, under headings. Use this as a way of revising and finding out what you need to study.

Irish

Tips from Dr Michael Casey, Irish teacher at the Institute of Education
Paper one:
  • With paper one, time is on your side, so plan the structure of your essay before you write. Engage with your essay title. If your essay deals with how young people are worried about a certain topic, explain those worries. Showcase all of your idiomatic phrases, that saibhreas na teanga will earn you top marks.
  • During the aural exam, work smarter. While the instructions are being read out, get a head-start on the questions highlighting cé, cad, cén fáth and key vocabulary.
Paper two:
  • Time management is vital for paper two. Start with what is sure to come up – the story, the poem, and your question four – to free up more time for your reading comprehensions.
  • For the story, know your summaries; for poetry, know your images and meter, and the life of the poet. Remember, question six (grammar and opinion pieces) is worth the same marks as a poem or story, so practice it every day before the exams. Go n-éirí libh.

French

Tips from Elizabeth Lyne, director of FrenchNotes.ie
  • The French Leaving Cert paper is 2.5 hours, encompassing the reading and writing tasks. There is then a short 10 minute break, after which students complete the aural or listening section of the exam.
  • For the reading comprehension, students have to read two texts and answer questions based on those texts. The first text is usually journalistic in style and tends to address current issues. The second text is usually an extract from literature, and is more challenging.
  • My top tip is to start with question six as this is asked in English and may give an indication as to the subject matter. Read each section carefully, underlining key parts of the questions, so that you know exactly what you are being asked.
  • For the written section, my top tip is to keep your French clear and simple. Make sure that your opinion questions have an opening, main point/counter or supporting point/personal point and conclusion.
  • Finally, while it is impossible to predict what will appear on the paper, I suggest focusing on sport, (Paris Olympics), technology (AI), health (vaping), the environment, economy (housing crisis), conflict (including refugees and war), and education (including school uniform). There may also be a question on voting.

Biology

Tips from Róisín Doyle, biology teacher at The Institute of Education
  • Every year, section A tends to start with a 20-mark question on the topic of Food. Knowing your ecology definitions (these will benefit you later in the paper also), and having DNA and cell division prepared, will contribute to a total of 100 marks in section A.
  • For section B, have your 21 experiments prepared – focus especially on those related to the topic of food, enzymes and plants. There will be three questions in this part of the paper: answer two of them for a total of 60 marks.
  • Section C is worth 240 marks – complete four out of a possible seven questions. Going by historical papers, you can expect questions on the topics of ecology, genetics, photosynthesis and respiration. I’d also recommend that you revise human and plant reproduction, plant structure and transport, and the monera and fungi kingdoms so you have a good range of content covered for the exam.

Geography

Tips by Lesley Aslin, geography teacher at The Institute of Education
  • Timing is a challenge in the geography exam. Be strict, allocate a set time to each question, then leave it and move on to the next one. A part answer is better than no answer. Aim to start all the required questions rather than miss an entire one.
  • Carefully read each question, and highlight the key words in it. Remember, you need 15 SRPs (significant relevant points) for each 30-mark question. Define the key term in the question and include your examples early on in your answer, eg, name of feature/locations. Keep your points concise, there is no room for waffle. If the question has a number in it, split your SRPs accordingly. For instance, if you are asked to “describe and explain the formation of two igneous rocks”, you need 7-8 SRPs for each rock.
  • Make sure your answer is balanced. While it’s difficult to predict what will come up in the exam, some common topics do tend to reoccur in physical geography. Questions are frequently asked about a landform of erosion/deposition, and human interaction with the rock cycle/surface processes. Be sure to study for these.

History

Tips by Jamie Dockery, Studyclix history expert and teacher at Tyndall College
  • As the history exam approaches, it’s vital you practise writing out your essays at home. The best way to do this is to revise your notes and essay plans and then write the essay under time pressure (42 minutes maximum). Try to do it without any notes in front of you. This will prepare you for the exam and give you a clear sense of what topics you are comfortable with.
  • The exam papers and marking schemes are your best friend. Go through them and be familiar with what types of questions come up and what the examiner is looking for.
  • The history paper is always tricky to predict. Make sure you know your “case studies” and “key personalities” – but don’t rely on these alone if you are hoping for a top grade.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with exam stress, free support is available. Phone The Samaritans on 116123 or talk online to Jigsaw, a support service for young people.