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I'm no genius but I got 600 points in my Leaving. Here's how I did it...

Right now is the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Formulate a goal. A clear aim will help you to retain a positive and organised mind amid the frantic fuss of pre-exam jitters.

There is no doubt the Leaving Cert is a laboured task. However, if you stick with me over the next fortnight, I will break down various elements of Leaving Cert examinations. This will help you to create an effective study plan applicable in the weeks approaching these crucial exams.

To those of you who underperformed in the mocks, do not lose hope. Indeed, sitting mock exams is a profitable experience. They can give you an idea of the exam layout and timing. Although, I would not advise any student to get hung up on their mock grades -- good or bad -- a student who struggled in their mocks should be motivated to put in some hard work in the coming weeks.

However, a student who performed well in the mocks should not get complacent. Many students who achieve high grades in mocks often mistake this as a guide to prioritise their study of weaker subjects. I would strongly advise you to remain focused on every single one of your subjects, regardless of your achievements in the mocks.

At this stage of the year I'm sure you all own a set of past papers for each subject. Use them! This material should be central to your study. Many students shy away from past papers for as long as possible. Two weeks prior to the exam is too late. I reckon the majority of students are unaware of the benefits stored in past papers. I will advise you how to best use them later on.

Study for Leaving Cert exams does not mean cramming. In order to make considerable progress in the next few weeks you must avoid the temptation to cram. Effective learning takes place in chunks. A heap of work left to the last minute will appear overwhelming. Do not allow yourself to fall into that dangerous place. Take action now, break this study up and tackle it over the upcoming weeks.

Another issue for many students is language learning. If this obstacle applies to you just stay focused. I would advise you to pay particular attention to your oral material. Orals are just around the corner. Get going now. I'll focus on languages in much more detail in another article.

I have chosen to cover issues such as time management, past papers, stress, class tests right up to the dreaded night before the exam. This exclusive collection of articles aims to give you the edge in June.

Before I bombard you with extensive advice and study tips, I must take a moment to stress the importance of a well-balanced routine.

Do not lose your head in this rat race. Make sure you take a second to yourself to breathe: see friends, watch trashy TV, hit the gym. Do whatever it is that relaxes you.

Do not set unrealistic study goals. They never work and leave you feeling defeated. Tailor your study plan to your needs. And remember the surest way not to fail is to be determined to succeed.

Don't lose sight of the end goal. Remain alert, stay calm and nurture a pragmatic attitude towards your study. Consider the following guidelines and you will be studying smarter in no time.

1 Make a study plan daily as well as weekly Although I was advised otherwise, I found it pointless constructing an overall study plan with the intention of sticking to it every week. Each week numerous demands such as class tests, project deadlines and mock orals arise. It is necessary to break this work into chunks of study each day. The average person can only hold seven items in their short-term memory at a time. When you chunk information this capacity is increased.

At this stage of the year, you must take one day at a time. Go to bed each night confident you are more prepared than you were when you woke up that morning.

2 Focus on mistakes made in class tests and learn from them A habit I found useful was to highlight the sections where I lost marks in class tests. Flick over the highlighted sections regularly. Chances are you will not repeat them when it matters, and it only matters once. Don't get hung up on mistakes at any other time -- they don't matter -- but focus and learn from those errors.

3 Concentrate on topics instead of time Replace thoughts such as "I'll do two hours of chemistry today" with plans like "I'll revise four titrations in volumetric analysis today." Time will pass regardless of how effective the study is. Be able to recognise counter-productivity and steer clear from it.

4 Be active when studying Avoid sitting at a desk reading page after page until the words have become blurred and your mind has wandered somewhere else far more exciting. Engage with the material you are covering. It is crucial you adapt your learning technique to match the demands of each subject.

5 Find a fixed area to study This spot should be mentally linked to productivity. Banish all sources of distraction. Make sure you have adequate lighting and equipment.

6 Stack up on stationery and get going This is how it goes: actively read material covering a topic. Put this material out of your sight, take out a blank sheet of paper and write down everything you can remember on the topic; bullet-point form is ideal. Then compare your notes to the material and write anything you didn't remember in red pen on your sheet. Make sure you memorise the red content before moving on.

7 'Talk out loud' formula This applies during revision. Glance over the material and then put it away. Talk out loud to yourself. Pretend you are teaching the topic to an imaginary student.

This may sound strange but I found it extremely effective as the information stuck in my mind due to the repetitive nature of the exercise.

8 Familiarise yourself with exam-style questions using past papers Do not hesitate to jot down your answers on the actual past paper. If you flick through them regularly you will be surprised how many answers will stick in your mind. Also, it is vital that you know the breakdown of marking schemes. When you practise exam-style questions, attempt to answer them paying attention to the marks available. It is a wise idea to download and print all marking schemes which are available on examinations.ie. Skill in handling exam papers is vital.

9 Learning off incessant facts and reams of pages will not guarantee your grade. You must have the capacity to practise what you preach.

Minister Quinn expressed concerns recently regarding the issue of students memorising answers to Leaving Cert exam questions. I can accept that some subjects do overly rely on memory work. One subject I did that for which springs to mind is biology. However, I do not think the education system in place is simply a memory test.

Rote learning will not achieve an A1 grade in most subjects, if any. Additionally, examiners are hunting for any trace of learnt-off material.

Grades are slashed if there is evidence to suggest answers are a regurgitation of memorised material.

Equip yourself with the required skills to adapt information appropriately to a given question. This will be advantageous when it comes to June.

How to study for your English Exam. See tomorrow's Herald


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