Monday 23 October 2017

Maths magic

Ordinary Level Maths in the Junior Cert is designed to provide students with fundamental mathematical skills that they can apply with confidence during their continued education, life and future work, writes Katie Bullen, teacher with Yeats College

A key element of the mathematics syllabus is the inclusion of problem solving, which is intended to encourage students to develop a positive attitude towards mathematics and build up the confidence to handle problems in both familiar and unfamiliar contexts.

There are two papers for ordinary level mathematics, each two hours long and both are worth 300 marks. All questions have to be answered on both papers so it is essential that you are able to answer questions on all parts of the course.

Paper one will examine material from Strands 3, 4 and 5 of the new Project Maths syllabus; they are number, algebra and functions respectively. This is the first year that functions is being examined under the new syllabus and this completes the introduction of the full Project Maths syllabus.

Paper two will examine material from Strands 1 and 2 of the new syllabus. Strand 1 is statistics and probability and Strand 2 is geometry and trigonometry.


To do well in your mathematics exam it cannot be stressed enough that you need to practise, practise, and practise some more. When studying, pick a topic and first go over some examples; the key is to ensure that you understand what's going on with each step. Next try some for yourself, using examples as a guide. Start with the easier questions and as you get more comfortable with the topic try the tougher questions. Once you've built up your confidence with a topic test yourself with some questions without using examples and notes. This will highlight if there are any areas that you don't fully understand and need more work.

Problem solving is an important skill to develop; during your exam you are not only being tested on your knowledge of mathematical techniques but also on whether you understand how to apply these skills in different situations.

When given a problem solving question, there are several important steps to follow; make sure to read the problem carefully, several times if necessary. Note the information given and what you are looking to find. Think through and plan how you are going to work out the solution, draw a diagram if you can. Then when you are working through the problem, ensure that you understand each step carried out by asking yourself 'why am I doing this step?' If you cannot understand your work well enough to be able to explain it to another person then it may be difficult to understand how to carry out the more challenging questions. Finally make sure to read the question again to check your solution and ensure that you have answered every part. In particular students often miss out on marks by forgetting units or rounding off incorrectly.

Before your maths exam, ensure that you are thoroughly familiar with your own calculator. Know how to use all the common functions such as the power buttons, square roots and fractions. It is also important to ensure you are familiar with the Formulae and Tables book. Not only does the book have area and volume formulae but it also has the quadratic formula, and formulae related to coordinate geometry.

The exam

On the day, when you receive your paper, have a quick look through the questions and note the topics that you are the most comfortable with. It is always best to start on the questions that you are confident in and can answer with minimal problems. In this way the exam is started on a positive note and it may provide extra time for those questions that prove to be more challenging. If you find yourself spending too long trying to finish one question, move on and come back to it, if you have time at the end.

Irish Independent

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