This post is a little different from what I normally do, but I was inspired to write it as I’ve gotten a lot of messages over the past few months from people asking for advice in relation to the leaving cert because they know from my Instagram page that I study genetics, which as of 2015 has a points requirement of 560 points. You can view the points requirements for all courses on the CAO website here.
Okay, let me take a step back! To all my non Republic of Ireland readers, you’re probably like what is she talking about at all? In (I’m just going to say Ireland now, FYI.) Ireland, the last exams you ever take in secondary school are called the Leaving Certificate. The leaving cert and the results you obtain are the most direct way of going to college (or university if you call it that.). You generally sit a minimum of 6 subjects, of which Irish, English and Maths are mandatory. It runs on a points based system, where each subject at higher level has a maximum of 100 points available and each ordinary level subject has a maximum of 60 points available – besides honours maths where they give you an extra 25 points just for sitting the paper. So basically the most points you can obtain in the leaving cert is 625. When I did my leaving cert, the points brackets were as follows:
I realise that that’s all changing now, and the points brackets are going to become different but I’d only like to talk about the leaving cert I experienced. So yeah, the leaving cert and getting what you need to get into your course is probably the quickest way to your desired carreer – yay you say! – haha……… no.
DISCLAIMER!!! Before I get started properly, there’s a reason I didn’t call this post “How to study for the leaving cert” or “My advice for the leaving cert” or “Look at the points and marks I got in my leaving cert!”. This post is simply what it says in the title… my experience of the leaving cert and how I found the whole ordeal. I am in absolutely no way trying to brag about what I got in the leaving cert, I’m only posting what I got on here for clarity and to show what worked for me. I am not a teacher, I do not know what’s best for you, so please don’t take my word as gospel. What worked for me may not work for you and that’s okay! You just have to find your own way through it and maybe this post will contribute to that.
Okay let’s get started!
Okay, so first I’ll talk about the general timing of the study I did. Basically, In 5th year I tried to do 2 hours of study a day, which I did in supervised study in school from 4-6. Then when I got home I just did my homework. In 6th year I did the same two hours, but when I came home I did 2 more hours from 7-9 as well. Now, obviously there was days where I couldn’t do it, or I had something on but I tried to stick to it as best I could. I had 8 subjects, so I studied each for a half an hour a day because I have a fairly short attention span. I felt I needed to do that much, I’m quite a slow learner and I learn things by writing them out so it takes me quite a while to get a small amount of work done. Adjust your schedule to suit yourself.
My general advice for sitting any exam would be to get lots of sleep, drink lots of water and have it with you. Have some sweets or something with you incase you start feeling tired and need a bit of a sugar rush. I’m really not a good crammer so I wasnt up the night before trying to stuff more information in. I know we all get nervous, but try to remember that this isn’t the be all and end all of your life. If you don’t get what you want, there’s plenty of other ways of getting into it. Dont over analyse the paper afterwards with your friends. When it’s done, it’s done. Forget about it. Have a bit of confidence in yourself – it goes a long way!
PICKING YOUR SUBJECT CHOICES
This is a simple one really. If you have an idea of what field or career you would like to go into in the future, it’s a good idea to take the subjects that the course requires or at least subjects that relate to the course. It’s also super important to pick the subjects YOU have an interest in, don’t let anyone tell you what to do or make you do a subject that you don’t want to do.
I loved history for the junior cert but was completely advised against taking it for the leaving cert because “it’s a lot of work.” – newsflash, every subject for the leaving cert is going to take a lot of work! The work is just easier done if you have an interest in doing it. Anyway me being me, an easily influenced 17 year old at the time, listened to those around me instead of myself and took “easier” subjects. (There’s no such thing – it all depends on the person.) Anyway, it all worked out and I did just fine because I think i’m the kind of person who pretty much liked every subject in school. I didn’t have a notion of what I wanted to be when I was older, so I took two science subjects, a business subject, a language and music as well as the mandatory three to cover all my bases. This worked out fine for me, because like I said I find it easy to have an interest in most things, and doing these subjects meant I met the subject requirements for almost all of the level 8 courses in Ireland. The subjects I took were:
I took all of my subjects at higher level. I did this because I didn’t feel much pressure to drop to ordinary level in anything (except maths – we’ll get to that later.) and wasn’t exactly sure what my best subjects were and what I would end up counting as you only count your best 6.
EACH INDIVIDUAL SUBJECT
Apologies in advance – this could be very long.
It was definitely one of my favourite subjects to study. I always read as a child and my mam was always really into English as well. I liked to write essays and get feedback on them, I found it really interesting to see what others thought about my writing. Which is also another reason why I write this blog! English is a tough subject, I know it just didn’t gel with a lot of people because they weren’t interested in it but had to do it as it was mandatory.
I always studied English by writing exam question answers. I would get out my exam papers and start from the most recent year and work my way back. I would try to write the exam questions in the time allocated to each one, and when they were finished I handed them up to my teacher to correct after class. He always had them for me the next day and I would take on board any critiques and any praises and try to incorporate this feedback into any future essays I wrote. I wasn’t assigned the questions I was doing, I just picked them out myself and worked at my own pace. So if you feel like you need a little extra practice, you could do some extra questions and I’m sure your teacher wouldn’t have a problem correcting them.
LEARN YOUR QUOTES! – Quotes are hugely important for all of the English set works and if you can learn a whole song off by heart, you can learn your english quotes too. I also learned as many poetry terms and writing skills (like the rule of 3 etc.) as I could.
Get a thesaurus, and every time you see yourself using the same word too often find a synonym for it in your thesaurus. My vocabulary grew immensely by doing this and examiners love when you vary your words. I read the newspaper as often as could as well – it gave me a good idea of how to formally write and gave me lots of fancy words to use in my essays as well. If I didnt know the meaning of a word I would just look it up.
With English, and pretty much every other subject, practice makes perfect. You will have that nasty bump on the side of your finger by the end of it.
My Irish result was also a complete shock. I was a D Irish student in 5th year and was worrying about passing! However my mam speaks fluent Irish so she helped me heaps with the oral. I always tried to speak the language at home, even if no one else was! Talk to your friends in Irish and just really really give the oral your all. Its worth 40% after all. I learned the picture stories in my own words and with the basic Irish I knew. The examiner just wants to be able to have a conversation with you, they want to give you marks!
My experience for the written paper was awful haha. Okay, not awful but I honestly hated the Irish poems and stories and just did the absolute bare minimum for it. I just learned the jist of the poems and stories and the characters names, and winged the rest. Like i said, speaking the language and learning it at home gave me some really good basic Irish skills that got me through the written paper in the end.
I just loved German and I took to it really well. Again I focused on the oral. I made sure i was able to improvise just a bit. I didn’t stress too much about the questions that came with the pictures I just tried my best to understand them. I had a special topic that I could always go to if I was stuck. Be clever.. Like for example, say you love GAA and they ask you what facilities are in your local area? Say there is a GAA pitch and then speak about how you love GAA, have a whole paragraph prepared and the time will fly!
My oral notes turned out to be really helpful with the written paper. The questions are essentially the same. Like english, I practiced the writing bits and handed them to my teacher to correct! I learned each new word and verb that came my way. With the comprehensions I underlined what I didn’t understand and look it up. I always tried to give as much information in my answers as I possible could.
I listened to the CD for the listening part of the exam at home and in the car. I actually used to watch German Vloggers on YouTube because I found it interesting and it helped with my aural skills!
Okay let me think about business..
I HATED business in 5th year! I studied it and wrote long notes but seemed to forget it after a day! I think now the reason for that was learning TOO much! Sounds weird, I know.
Anyway taking that into account, I altered my strategy. As you know yourself the business books are HUGE! Seriously daunting to look at and think ” I need to know all that to get an A1? ” You don’t! I made very clear and concise notes for each chapter that were customised to suit my method of learning. I Left out all the waffle in the book too.
An example of this would be:
Functions of the Eu Comission:
-Draft new laws
That is literally all I wrote in my notes. I didn’t explain how they enforced the law etc. One quick look at my notes and I could see whatever I wanted at a glance. Made things much more manageable! Now obviously I did have to know how they enforced a law or drafted one but I would learn that by reading it from the book, whilst writing my concise notes!
Besides that again I just did exam question after exam question week after week. Again, practice makes perfect.
The wording of the question is also really important. Make sure you illustrate with an example when asked to illustrate, Name when asked to name etc.
Also examples! I always gave an example where I could just incase. Make sure your examples are new and up to date. Instead of just using the typical supermacs or pat the baker for your indigenous firm, use Voya Skincare instead or any new up and coming business. Same goes for any examples. Do a bit of research or even suggest to do it in class! It’s worth your while. It puts you ahead of all the other “boring” scripts and makes you stand out!
Okay this was my timing plan:
Short questions: 20 mins. With practice you should get them done quicker than this.
ABQ: 60 mins. Might seem like a lot but you need it trust me!
Long questions: approx 25 mins each. This needs practice so set a timer and be strict on yourself! If I ever completed my short questions before time, I used the extra time here!
The dreaded ABQ.. Practice again!
My layout for the ABQ was the following:
John displays some characteristics of an entrepreneur. Illustrate with some examples from the text
John is a very ambitious Entrepreneur ( point )
Ambition involves having the the drive to better yourself and come up with successful business ventures ( define )
The texts states that ” John is very hardworking and always wanted to be his own boss ” ( quote )
For example, John does indeed set up his own business, John Ltd. proving he is an ambitious entrepreneur. ( example )
BIOLOGY & CHEMISTRY
I put these two together because I studied them in the exact same way.
I feel like I’m being really repetitive now, but again doing exam questions is the best way to practice for the science subjects in my opinion. I had my exam papers, printed off the marking schemes and just re did the questions again and again and looked for trends in the papers. These exams are so repetitive and full of definitions that you could definitely get a high B by just practicing the exam papers in my opinion.
I also found videos on youtube really helpful for the science subjects as they made them a bit more interesting and easy to understand.
Drawing pictures and diagrams always helped me to remember and understand things too. I used to draw comics for the history part of chemistry and cartoons for respiration and photosynthesis.
Besides that I had a keen interest in the sciences and found myself well able to relate to them! I do understand that people find science subjects difficult and that some people just dont click with them, but a bit of practice at the papers should get you a long way in no time.
Ew. I know. I’m not ever going to say maths is easy. I hate it even now while I’m doing it in college. I didn’t do amazingly well in maths so I cant give the best advice on it. I did fine, and the fact that I did higher level and got the 25 extra points really boosted my points at the end. I know the idea of honours maths can be daunting, but in my experience, even if you’re doubting yourself, do honours maths. Unless you are absolutely sure you’re going to fail it or the stress is absolutely too much for you. It was really worth it in the end. I did grinds in maths because I felt I needed that little extra bit of help and explanation and I think they really were worth it. I understand that some people just are not mathematically minded and thats fine! Im sure there are other subjects you are brilliant at and that you’ll get on well in. It’s just I know a lot of people who didnt do honours maths and really wish they did because looking back they think they would have been able for it. It is your own decision though so only do what is 100% right for you.
I’m not the best person for maths at all, so what I did was write out the steps on how to answer a question in plain english. Funny I know. Like when differenciating, I would write on a little card “bring the power to the front and lower the power by one to differenciate” or when integrating I would write “raise the power by one then put the whole thing over the new power”. (God, I hope those are right lol.) Besides that, I did lots of exam papers again and I had ones that had worked solutions online so they were really helpful if i ever got stuck.
Just said I better throw this in here. I always loved playing the piano so I thought it might have been a good idea to take on music as a subject outside school. I did a grind every week in it. Looking back, it was a lot to take on and it ended up being my worst subject. That was my fault because I just couldn’t give the time i wanted to give to it because I had 7 other subjects as well. I wish I had thought more rationally about it, and maybe kept music as a fun pastime or hobby during the leaving cert. Don’t get me wrong, the subject is interesting and you can learn a lot of cool stuff about music from the course. If i had been able to donate more time to it i’m sure i would have loved it but i found it very stressful as it was not included in my school schedule.
The CAO is the Central Applications Office and all and all when someone talks about the CAO, they’re talking about the form you fill out with all of the courses you are considering. This is their website: http://www.cao.ie. From my experience, there are lots of people who make mistakes when filling out their CAO form. In my opinion, you should always fill out your CAO in order of preference, not points. SO many people get that wrong. Why would you put something you want less above something you want the most? Just because your first choice might be 400 points, and your second choice is 500, that doesnt mean you put your second choice first. What if you got those points and ended up with a course you dont want? Even though you could have had one you wanted more? Preference, not points! It’s like a mantra!
ALSO, they’re 10 level 8 spaces on your CAO, and 10 level 6/7 spaces on your CAO. FILL EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM OUT. Why limit your choices? I had courses on my CAO that ranged from like 200 points to 570 points JUST INCASE. You never know what might happen and you definitely don’t want August to come around and get offered nothing.
Speaking of offers, you get offered one course from level 8, and one course from level 7, depending on your points. You get offered the course highest on your list most near the points you got. If you get points higher than all of your choices, you get your first choice. You CANNOT pick a course lower down your CAO if you get the points for your first choice. Just please please please put what you want first, no matter how many points it is, don’t rule it out. On offers day, you just log into your CAO account and press accept, easy as that!
I waited until now to this post because most of you have probably finished your pre’s or are in the middle of them. All I will say is that they are a practice run, and that’s all they are. Its a chance to perfect your timing and a chance to see what its like to actually sit the exams before you have to do it for real. DO NOT let the results you get in your pres phase you. You still have about 4 months afterwards to study and learn. Do not panic. I jumped between my 500 point pre result to my 595 actual result, and it was a shock. I genuinely thought what i got in the pres was the best i could do. That’s a silly thing to think though – obviously there was potential to improve between February and June. Its nice to have an aim for the pres, but don’t be devastated if you don’t reach it.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you get like 625 points in your pres don’t sit back and think you’re Einstein. Keep the good work up and the same, manageable level that you had before. You can lose a lot of brain cells in four months, let me tell you.
HOBBIES AND SOCIAL LIFE.
YOU NEED TO DO THINGS THAT DON’T REVOLVE AROUND THE LEAVING CERT. YOU NEED A BREAK. If you play sport great, if you play an instrument, great! If you like to go out at the weekend – wonderful! If you like to play xbox, watch youtube netflix whatever! Whatever you do that you enjoy, don’t give it up because you have to do the leaving cert. We all need time to spend on things we enjoy doing. I never ever did any study on a Sunday. That was a day just for me. That way I could go out on a saturday or just stay in bed all day if I was exhausted. It was definitely one of the best things I ever did. I loved to read, I loved makeup and clothes and just watching TV. One day off a week was definitely beneficial for me. I studied from 10-4 on a saturday in the local library so I had all day on saturday after 4 to myself as well. Doing well in the leaving cert doesn’t mean studying all day everyday. That’s not physically possible.
Make time for your family, friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other. I know people say that relationships can distract from study, but I can personally vouch that they don’t everytime. Use those around you to help you study. Have little study groups where you actually do work, or just quiz each other on questions. I learned a lot that way.
But besides the study, go and have fun with those around you. Don’t close yourself off, its definitely nice to rally around each other especially at a stressful time.
CHOOSING YOUR CAREER
I know picking what you want to do with the rest of your life from as young as 16 can be daunting. I never truly knew what I wanted to do, I still don’t. I tried to choose what I was interested in. I was good at science, found it interesting and thought I could make a career out of it. Just try and choose something you can see yourself happy doing for a long time. I’m not saying the rest of your life because there’s plenty of time to change career or course in the future. I’m an advocate for thinking I’d chosen the wrong course – but that’s a post for another day. Would you guys like a starting college post too? The good and the bad? Let me know. Just think about what you love doing and what subjects you’re interested in. And don’t worry if you don’t know yet, a year out to decide is always an option and you have right up until the end of June of your leaving cert to make a decision. Go through the books from the colleges and read up on the modules in the course and see if they suit you. Boards.ie is a great place to find people who are in college doing your course so you can ask them questions.
I’d also like to say a little something about choosing WHERE you want to go to college. Don’t just follow your friends for the sake of it. They’ll still be there, and if you go somewhere different you’ll make plenty of new wonderful friends, I know I have. I know its easy to say that, and it’s hard to go out on your own, but I do promise that everything will be okay. I went to college not knowing anyone really. I had friends in other colleges in Dublin, so I saw them every now and again, but I made lots of new friends who I now consider my best friends as well. I even live in the same ROOM as the craziest one. It all works out.
I think that’s all I have to say. I hope this posts helps at least some of you. If you read it all, well done haha! If you read it out of pure procrastination, don’t worry I’m the queen of procrastination myself! All the best to all you, everything will be fine! Now go and ace those exams, I believe in you.