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Leaving Certificate: Ordinary Level Maths

The vast majority of Leaving Certificate students opt to take the ordinary level exam, typically in excess of 35,000 students each year.

The Department of Education has tried to increase the number of students opting for higher level maths over the past few years. This has been the driving force behind the new maths curriculum (Project Maths).

For many students, ordinary level maths is their only ordinary level subject. This means that it tends to be put on the "long finger" to a large extent. Over the years a vast number of students have depended on their result in ordinary level maths to secure a place in college. It is also worth noting that an A1 grade in ordinary level maths (or any other ordinary level subject) gains 60 CAO points which is the equivalent of a C3 in a higher level subject.

Also, many college courses have minimum requirements in ordinary level maths above the basic D3. Many courses in science and business, for example, require that entrants hold a minimum B3 grade in ordinary level maths to gain entry. This very often comes as a surprise to students who focus their energies on satisfying points requirements and spend very little time looking at particular matriculation requirements. Points are irrelevant if these matriculation requirements have not been satisfied.

The most important thing that students need to think about in maths is to take the "little and often" approach to learning. In sport everyone would agree that it's far better to train for 30 minutes each day, seven days per week, than to train for four hours on Saturday and do nothing for the rest of the week. This idea is fundamental to achieving success in the maths exam.

The best way to perfect this is to practise questions two at a time, giving yourself 45 minutes to complete them. Once this task has been completed, you should straight away log on to www.examinations.ie and check your solutions using the marking schemes available.

Once you complete this task a few times you will develop a clear idea of what the examiner is looking for in June and, therefore, increase your likelihood of achieving top grades.

The Plan

To achieve success you must have a plan. This plan must be flexible and must involve revision of the entire course and not just your favourite parts. Once a topic has been revised it is very beneficial if you write down some revision notes and pointers, so that the next time you revise the topic you are starting off from a more advanced position.

This means you are not wasting time getting yourself set up for study.

Timing and Exam Technique

It is essential that there is a strong emphasis on exam-style questions and honing your exam timing. In a perfect world it should take 22-23 minutes to complete each question in the exam.

This allows 10-15 minutes to read the paper and double check your answers at the end of the exam.

The best way to perfect this is to practise questions two at a time, giving yourself 45 minutes to complete them.

Once this task has been completed, you should straight away log on to www.examinations.ie and check your solutions using the marking schemes available.

Once you complete this task a few times you will develop a clear idea of what the examiner is looking for in June and, therefore, increase your likelihood of achieving top grades.

Basic Concepts

The main emphasis of the ordinary level maths curriculum is to build a concrete understanding of the basic concepts of maths. The examiner is not trying to trick you, in fact they want you to pass and perform well on the paper. It is amazing how many marks are allocated for performing simple mathematical tasks. For example, you will need to factorise and solve basic quadratic equations or simple simultaneous equations. These two topics appear many times each year and can be found on either of the two papers.

It is essential that you perfect the basic tasks before worrying about more challenging topics.

Know your log tables

It goes without saying that you will have extreme difficulty completing your exams within the given timeframe if you do not know where the different formulae are in the log tables.

There are many formulae involving area and volume, statistics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry as well as differentiation in the tables, so find out where they are now rather than in June. Focus your time on learning how to use these formulae and less time trying to learn them off by heart.

Diagrams

Don't be afraid to draw diagrams (even if you are not requested to) as you will often find that the solution to the question is in the picture. This is especially true of the Geometry section. If you are asked to draw a diagram or a graph, please take the time to do it properly. There will be occasion in the exam where you are asked to draw a graph of a function or maybe to draw a histogram etc. This should be an opportunity for you to pick up marks, not to lose them.

Make sure that the axes are labelled correctly and that units of measurement are included where relevant. It is ridiculous to be found scrambling for a calculator, compass, set-square, ruler etc on the morning of the exam. The correct equipment should be used for drawing diagrams at all times. Do not draw freehand diagrams in the exam as the cost will be severe.

Marking Scheme

It is essential that everyone sitting the exam is aware of how it is to be marked. In maths, there are two main marking criteria. Errors are mainly divided into two groups:

> Numerical slips An example of this would be accidentally multiplying (-2)(3) and getting 6 when the correct answer is -6. This error will cost you 1 mark and will be written as S(-1) on the exam script. > Technical blunders This is a situation where a student makes a fundamental error in a question and will cost you 3 marks. It will be written as B(-3) on your script. Attempt Marks

It is essential to note that if you make any valid attempt at a question you must be awarded at least the attempt marks for that question.

Usually 2 marks on a 5-mark question and 3 marks on a 10-mark question. This means that if there is any sense in what you write you must be given the attempt marks as a minimum.

With this in mind you can see that it is vital that you do not leave any blank space on your exam. Explain everything clearly so that the examiner will have as many chances as possible to give you marks.