Thursday 23 November 2017

Is it better to stick with higher level maths?

Going to college

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

The Leaving Cert class of 2012 was the first to be awarded CAO bonus points for achieving a minimum 40pc, traditionally regarded as a 'pass' in higher level maths.

The 'honours' maths course is notoriously heavy. In the past, a large number of students who were capable of taking higher level chose to drop to ordinary level in an attempt to ease their workload. The introduction of bonus points for higher level maths was intended, in part, to tackle this issue and it has certainly increased the number of students sitting higher level. In 2012, 11,131 students took the higher level paper; in 2016, this increased to 15,198.

As a guidance counsellor, I regularly met students who, despite earnest effort, reached the point where they realised they may not 'pass' this paper. It was always a difficult decision for these students to drop to ordinary level, but, as maths often appears as an entry requirement for courses, we generally agreed that if there was even the slightest risk of 'failing', the better choice is to take ordinary level.

In 2012, 2.3pc of students who attempted higher level, did not 'pass'; by 2016, a lot more students pushed themselves to attempt this level and the number who did not achieve a 'pass' grade increased to 4.5pc.

A new CAO points scale is being introduced this year and it retains bonus points for higher level maths. Students will receive 71 points if they achieve 40pc in the 'honours' papers (compared with 70 points in 2016). Very little difference.

However, for borderline students, the potential consequence of 'failing' has been greatly reduced. Now, a student who achieves between 30pc and 39pc (H7 grade) will receive 37 points. This is equivalent to achieving 70-79pc (03 grade), at ordinary level, recognising, for the first time, that had the student sat ordinary level, they were likely to have achieved this grade. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, all courses that require applicants to have passed maths for entry will now accept a H7 as an equivalent to an ordinary 'pass'.

So, even if a student does not achieve 40pc at higher level, as long as they achieve a minimum 30pc, they will not face the severe consequences of not being able to present maths as a matriculation requirement. This student will also receive a decent number of points for their efforts.

This is not to say that students should remain in higher level maths, regardless. When choosing at which level to sit, it is important to consider seriously the advice of the teacher as well as how much time and effort it is taking for the student to remain at this level. Could the student receive the same, if not better result, with much less effort by changing to ordinary level?

It is likely that these changes will encourage many students to remain in higher level maths for as long as possible. It is also likely that some of these students are simply not suitable for this level and we may see an increase in 'fails' at higher levels maths in 2017, not to mention an increase in stress and worry for those trying to hang on, regardless.

If students are considering which level of maths to take this year, they should listen carefully to the advice of their teacher - they do have students' best interests at heart. Next, students should review all course choices making sure they are absolutely clear on the maths requirement for each course in which they are interested. If still unsure, consult with your guidance counsellor, who can assist you in teasing out your feelings and potential consequences of your decision.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

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Q. I am a Leaving Cert student and I am feeling stressed. It feels like there is not enough time to finish everything that needs to be done and I am falling behind on work. I feel like my time might better spent at home just to focus on my own priorities. How can I maximise the last couple of weeks of school?

A. At this time of year exam stress can become a real problem and my students regularly worry about how to reduce its impact. Learning to manage stress is a life skill with which many adults struggle so it is impossible to resolve such issues in the limited time available. There are, however, a number of things any student can do to help them get through this immediate challenge. Some stress is good: it motivates us to do our best and helps us keep our focus.

Try not to think about everything you must do before June. Focus on what you need to do today and remind yourself that every little bit of study you get done could earn you extra points in the Leaving Cert.

Whatever you do, do not stop going to school. There are massive benefits to continuing to attend. Yes, your teachers may be focusing on revision but this will allow you to pick up tips and to fill gaps in your knowledge. Additionally, school will offer opportunities to focus on life away from exams: seeing your friends and participating in end-of-year events and sports will all add to your school memories as well as offer a welcome relief to stress, which will make your study more productive and efficient. Take care of yourself and, if you continue to struggle, consult your guidance counsellor.

Ensure you take care of yourself and if you continue to struggle consider making an appointment with your guidance counsellor who will have a lot of experience with students how have experienced similar issues

Irish Independent

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