Sunday, 22 January 2017

How to Approach the Leaving Cert Mocks

Hey guys! I sat the mocks a year ago and they proved really helpful for the actual Leaving Cert, so here are my most helpful tips on how to approach the mocks -- before, during and after.


Study hardest for the Mocks. I honestly think I studied a bit harder for the Mocks than I did for the Leaving Cert, and that really helped because I'd done all the hard work of creating the neural architecture to house to information in January. That's what takes the longest and requires the most study, and so once I'd created those groves by going through and working until I understood as much as possible on the courses I was studying, come May I could just go over the information and slot them in and then do more exam papers to perfect my exam technique. 

Creating those grooves is the most important part and it can't be done in a cramming session. It really helps to do it properly a solid few months before the Leaving Cert, then just go back over it before the Leaving Cert and things will be really easy to learn.

Here's a picture I took at 2 am while doing some pre-mocks study. (I'm not necessarily saying study until 2 am -- it's just that that day I was out with friends so I could only start at 10 pm.)

Don't try to predict questions - just learn the course. Not only does predicting questions often backfire in exams - like in LC 2016, when we were all expecting Yeats because of the 1916 centenary - it also increases your stress and chances of blanking. Personally, I dislike it because it's dishonest. I think that, if you possibly can, you should learn the subject in good faith. 

Find and tackle your weaknesses: triage. I focused on four subjects for the exams (Physics, Chemistry, Maths, History) because I didn't need to study for English/Irish/French. I took a page for each subject, wrote down all the topics and rated them from 1-3 based on how well I knew them. For the actual Leaving Cert, I studied all the topics, but obviously there wasn't as much time for the mocks so I prioritized using that system. You can find out what you're prepared for by doing the exam questions on the topic from, say, 2013, 2010 and 2008. For the ones you know best, you can just do exam questions and make a revision sheet from your mistakes. For the ones you're worst at, go through the chapter and make notes from scratch, then summarise them, then do exam questions, then make that revision sheet. 

Write. READING YOUR TEXTBOOK IS NOT EFFECTIVE REVISION. I've seen people do that to study for the LC and it does not go well. You need to do something. The most effective things, I've found, are to (a) test yourself (b) write stuff. I lost my Physics notebook twice and had to write it all out from scratch and it was so beneficial that I did it all for Chemistry by choice. When you're writing stuff, try to understand it first and then write it, rather than just writing down the letters while ignoring the meaning.

Avoid memorization. I definitely did not sit there for four hours a day memorizing. That would've been hell and I wouldn't really have been engaging with the subject. Always always try your best to understand the material so you can synthesize it yourself on that day. 


Fight the mind games. I've found that a lot of getting through the Leaving Cert is just remaining unintimidated in the face of hard things under pressure. This especially applies in Maths; you can get something you don't recognise at all and you have to be able to stay calm and make the most of the understanding you do have. Usually, it's just something you do know but in weird language/disguised somehow. Here's how to deal with a question that's making you panic:
1. Rewrite the question. If it's still as unclear, rewrite it in words that are more familiar to you.
2. Identify the topic(s) in the question.
3. Write down the formulae you know 
4. Estimate your objective, e.g. "I probably want to come out with a non-negative number between X and Y".
5. If necessary, convert everything into standard units and simplify.

Even if these steps aren't all helpful by themselves, they're brilliant for getting your mind thinking in the right direction and staying focused rather than spiraling in fear. 

In subjects like History, they can do this with weird essay titles. You need to be alert enough to notice an "or" or "and" and to figure out what they're looking for in your answer. People make stupid mistakes because they freak out. It's very easy to do, so if you feel it coming on try following some variant of the steps above. It's worth taking the time to make a plan because it can save you so much in purpose marks.

Tiredness. The Mocks are SO TIRING. I don't know how it is in your school, but in my school they were all shoved into 7 school days, whereas in the actual Leaving Cert they're over 3 weeks. That meant two exams pretty much every day. I could barely think in my Physics and Maths exams. There's not a huge amount you can do of this, but it's important to be aware of it and to prioritise sleep over cramming (assuming you've studied beforehand). 

Don't cheat. Don't be one of those people who goes to other schools where people have already done the Mocks and gets the questions off those students in advance. It's straight-up cheating, and it'll just put you at a disadvantage at Leaving Cert. This is one reason for the very rare cases when people's points actually go down at Leaving Cert from the Mocks.


Results will, almost certainly, go up. I got 540 in the mocks and 600 in the real thing, which to my knowledge is a fairly typical increase. Lots of people score just below their course requirement in the Mocks and then well above in the LC. Results are artificially lower in the mocks for many reasons, e.g. accelerated exam timetable, less choice in the exam. So don't panic. But do take note of where you did unexpectedly well and unexpectedly badly and recalibrate your focus in the run-up to June. 

If you're panicking, 1. take a genuine break (not a Twitter/Facebook scroll -- something actually relaxing). 2. Make a list to get your head together. 3. Make some progress. Chip away at that mountain until it's a mountain no more.

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