Crucial Advice for Leaving Cert Students

With the Leaving Cert now just a couple of weeks away, Rachel Farrell, an economics and business teacher in the Sacred Heart Secondary School, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, gives students some last-minute tips to help them prepare for the event.

Examinations provoke anxiety for most students, with many worrying before, during and even after. Students should bear in mind that the Leaving Certificate is not a punishment; instead, they should see it as an opportunity to demonstrate how much they know and understand.

There are no short cuts, and students must ensure they cover all aspects of the syllabus. Students learn in different ways, and each student needs to reflect on what works best. It is still not too late to improve and prepare for examinations. To help students prepare, here are some tips that may help.


Practice past examination papers. Marking schemes and solutions are available on the state examinations website at, which is an excellent resource. When practising and revising, students need to check the answers to the practice questions to identify strengths and weaknesses. Then work on their weaknesses to address any gaps. Writing questions and solutions ensures that a student is active rather than passive in the learning process.


For the last few days, students must study in a suitable location, a place where they can concentrate and won't be disturbed. A quiet room with no TV, radio, laptop or iPod. At this stage, the more similar to examination conditions, the better.

It is important to have adequate lighting and ventilation. A student may decide to work with fellow students in groups but, as time is precious, remember that students are assessed individually and it is important to make the most efficient use of time.

Study should now be the main focus, and a student needs to discard other commitments until completion of the
examinations. When revising, it is important to divide material into achievable chunks. Students should allow time for each subject and should take regular breaks to relax, perhaps five minutes every 40 minutes or so.

Also make sure to commence revision with the most difficult subject which requires detailed attention. Students must constantly review their study. When a student is revising, saying the information and recognising it is not sufficient. Students should have blank sheets of paper and test their recall at regular intervals by writing answers.

Taking notes forces students to understand and helps them to relate material.

At the exam

Students should try to keep optimistic about the Leaving Cert and should go to the exams focused and calm. They should read over their paper carefully. It is a good idea to begin with the easiest question.

Sketch or list an outline answer, with an emphasis on important points. Attempt all required questions and ensure not to leave blanks. Write eligibly and neatly and structure answers carefully. A good idea is to put each point in a separate paragraph.

Students must make sure to check how many marks are allocated to each question. Mismanaging their time in an examination could cost them a grade. As timing is so important, a student should not spend more on a section than the allocated marks merit. Students should leave five or six lines after each section so that if they think of an extra point later, they have space to insert their answer.

If students get delayed on a particular section, it is imperative to move on. A student can always come back to it. Remember that the biggest mistake in an examination is to leave questions unattempted. By making an effort to put something down in each part of the question, they will acquire a substantial amount of marks.

Interestingly, the easiest marks to get are the first marks in each part of a question, while the most difficult ones are those for the final 10 per cent which are acquired from the perfect answer. Students must have the times worked out and rigidly keep to them. A student won't be penalised for wrong answers, so it is important to attempt all parts.

Read the questions carefully and don't waffle or continue to repeat points. There are no additional
marks for restating points, even if you phrase the point differently. It could happen that part of a question is on the next page, so a student needs to spend some time reading the paper carefully.

It is also important to mark each section of each question clearly, e.g. Q. 3. (A) (i). Students should also include their rough work, as this may be eligible for marks. It is very important to read the question carefully, particularly
looking for 'outcome' verbs such as 'state', 'explain', 'outline', 'describe', 'analyse', 'discuss', 'evaluate' and 'illustrate'. 'State' simply means to say briefly or define what a term means.

If explaining, ask yourself would another person understand this concept/idea/term now that you have explained it.
In other words, have you made it clear? 'Outline' means to give a complete overview, so you need to cover the entire concept. This is why a 'brief outline' is often asked for.

'Analysing' means you break something down into its constituent parts. 'To describe' something is like drawing a
picture with words. A discussion looks at something from a number of sides or from a number of points of view. 'To evaluate' something means to make a judgment on it.

Make sure that your judgment is informed - i.e. you must be able to back it up with evidence. Ensure that you give advantages, benefits, disadvantages and risks. 'To illustrate' means to show and give examples. All students must take care of themselves, particularly prior to and during the examinations. It is imperative to be in excellent mental and physical condition, though a little amount of stress can help students to prepare.

After an evening's study, a student must relax. It is not a good idea to stay up too late, as a good night's sleep is essential. Punctuality is really important, arriving at the examination centre in adequate time, thus ensuring the student is relaxed.

Remember a student should use whatever technique works best, ensuring to write while revising, which can help to retain information. The following strategies may help.

Summary notes

At this stage, you should be using summaries, which are condensed versions of all your

Mind maps

Mind maps or concept maps are visual ways of presenting notes. They shows relationships in a two-dimensional way, rather than linear.

Graphic organiser

These provide a visual method of developing, organising, summarising and testing students' learning. They provide a scaffold to develop ideas, which can help to build confidence. The 'fishbone' is excellent for summaries. This is available on the PDST website (

When revising or practising exam questions, students can also use Venn diagrams to practice 'compare and contrast' type questions or explain the similarities and differences or distinguish between two concepts. 'Compare' means that you must look at similarities, or what is common to both. 'Contrast' requires students to show differences and distinguish what is unique to each.


These reduce summary notes further into key points, with formulas and diagrams, if appropriate.

(Article courtesy of Sunday Business Post and special thanks to Rachel Farrell).