Joe’s Jotter: How to ACE Your Maths Exam

By Joe McCormack

No matter how intelligent you are or how well you prepare, if you are not exam smart, you will underachieve in any Maths exam. It is vital to have a plan in place for the content that can appear on your Maths paper. You need to go in there with your eyes wide open and be tactically aware in case things go a little bit wrong on the day. The following are my ACE tips to deal with a Maths exam paper more efficiently. These apply to both state exams and the upcoming final summer tests for all other students.

Sensible Tips When Dealing with a Maths Exam Paper

• Units matter. If they are present in your question, they are required in your answer.

• Do not put anything into the calculator that you have not already written down in your answer book.

• You can get almost full marks (high partial credit) with just one slip/mistake in your solution. High partial credit could gain you as much as seven marks out of ten.

• If you make two or three attempts at a question, they will all be corrected and the highest marks from your efforts will be counted.

• Marks will be allocated for work done on diagrams that have been printed on the paper.

• Be careful when dealing with minus signs.

• You must show your workings out for all questions.

• Write down every single step until you arrive at the solution.

• If your answer is ‘off the wall’, it is probably incorrect.

• If there are many steps required in a solution, you need to keep going back to check completed steps for accuracy; otherwise, you may need to re-write the whole solution.

• Never rub/Tippex out any work done even if you think it isn’t neat. Draw a single line through any part of the solution you are unsure about. The examiner must correct it.

• When asked for your opinion, give it, and refer to any numbers or statistics given in the question if available.

• Algebra is the bedrock of all Maths courses and is the main area that students struggle with. Practice it repeatedly.

• Get used to attempting questions involving real life statistics.

• Estimating the heights of larger objects outside is now an important part of Geometry and Trigonometry.

• In Co-ordinate Geometry, the slope of a line has become more important in practical style questions.

• More recent Maths exam questions tend to contain an increased number of words. The reason for this is the examiners need more English to describe real life Maths scenarios. You need to be able to separate the important keywords in the text from the padding that surrounds them.

• Look through the wording of each question and pick out the Maths related information. In all subjects, but especially Maths, identify the relevant pieces of the question with a highlighter. Watch out for numbers written as words, for example “thirty” instead of “30”.

• If no diagram is drawn for you, try to draw one yourself to give a clearer picture of what is being asked.

• If given a diagram on the paper, mark in the numerical information given in the text of the question onto it. Re-drawing sections of more complicated diagrams into your answer book can help to simplify questions for you. This is very useful is Geometry, Trigonometry, and Area and Volume.

• Do not leave any blanks, ensuring that every question is fully attempted. If you leave a blank, the examiner can give you at most zero marks for that question part. If you attempt the question; you may get some marks and perhaps more than you think. In summary: No attempt = No marks.

• If you are dealing with a Trigonometric problem at Leaving Cert level, know how to apply the three basic Trigonometric ratios (SOH, CAH, TOA) , Pythagoras’ theorem, the Sin rule, and the Cosine rule. In these, you have all you need to solve most right-angled or a non-right-angled triangle problems.

• Relate the information you have in the exam question to the theory and equations you have worked on in class. In Geometry, have you got two right-angled triangles that need to be solved separately? Again, if you are unable to start a question, there is nearly always something you have learned from your teacher or hopefully from my solution books that you can draw on to help you.

• The relationship between two sets of data is important. This concept links up the ‘slope of a line’ in Co-ordinate Geometry to that of ‘correlation’ in Statistics. Other examples of where topics overlap in Maths at Leaving Cert level include: Co-ordinate Geometry of the line and the Circle and of course Geometry and Trigonometry.

Across all levels of Maths, there are many links between topics on the course now. Be sure to ask your teacher to help you understand and be familiar with how different topics can interlink prior to any exam.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone and there are tens of thousands of other students in the same position as you on exam day, many of whom have had their various struggles with Maths.

Above all, practise your Algebra and be familiar with what formulas are available to you in the log tables on the day. If you are familiar with the main equations and some theory on your course, you should have everything you need to attempt your Maths paper well and really give it your best shot. Joe.

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More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition (Maths and English) Classes for Junior Cycle (2022) and Leaving Certificate (2021) Students, ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

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