Saoirse Kearney shares her experience & study tips for the Junior Cert
The Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate are both very important and very stressful exams, but a lot of the time the Leaving Cert overshadows the Junior Cert as there’s hype over the CAO and college. This may be the case but the Junior Cert is important in many different ways. It’s the first time that you experience what a State Exam is like and the amount of preparation that is involved. It’s a very stressful and sometimes traumatic experience for a lot of people. I completed my Junior Certificate in June of last year. I chose The Higher Level paper for all of my 10 subjects, and received a total of 6 A’s and 4 B’s. I am proud of my grades but this bothered me as my aim was to get A’s in every subject.
In the final weeks coming up to the Junior Certificate I started to panic as I feared that there wasn’t enough time to study every topic in every book for every subject. The thoughts of having to complete 14 exams which totaled to 32 hours in an exam centre, all in 10 days was terrifying. Listening to other peoples study routines and how much they were studying also worried me, but I realised at the end of April last year that the same study plan doesn’t work for everyone and that you’re the only person that can decide the amount of work and study style that is best for you.
By this stage in the year all your language orals should be completed and your practicals should be finishing up in the next week, so now all your attention turns to studying. All through 2nd and 3rd Year we are always told different ways to study and what was the ‘most effective’ way of studying. Some of these included spider diagrams, flashcards, buzz words and memory cheats. But again, it’s up to you to find what study method suits you best. I personally found flashcards useful for subjects like Science, Home Economics, Geography and Spanish. For Spanish and Irish I did vocabulary tests every few days on different topics, for example.
For History I found memory cheats very handy. Let’s take the “People in History” Essay question with the topic of Christopher Columbus, I made a cheat to help me remember key points to use in the essay.
• My memory cheat would look something like: Columbus Got Frightened In Norway Cos 33 Sailors Captured Him For Attacking
Although this cheat has no relevance to the topic of Columbus, it’s catchy and easy to remember. Now I knew that the first letter or number of every word in the sentence stood for an important point so in the exam I could develop each into one or sometimes a few sentences. Below is what the letters really stand for.
• Columbus Genoa Ferdinand Isabella Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria Canary Islands 33 days at sea San Salvador Cuba Hispanola Failed to find the spice islands Amerigo Vespucci
I also used cheats for Business and Science and overall found them very helpful.
Breaks, Sleep and Eating
I know what it’s like when you feel like you can’t afford to lose time to take a break or other times you feel like throwing the towel in and spending the rest of the year on a permanent break, but it’s essential that you have a good schedule for breaks. Last year I made sure I took at least a ten minute break every hour to an hour and a half, this may seem like a lot of time to be wasting but trust me you’ll feel re-energised by taking a few minutes to rest and by doing so you’ll be able to take in more information.
If someone was to ask me “what’s the most important thing when studying”, I would say sleep. Study and Homework can sometimes go late into the night but I think it’s essential that you get at least 7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep each night, especially in the last two weeks coming up to the exams. During the exams I would advise to sleep even longer and to take naps after exams if possible. I’m not going to lie, you will be very tired in the last week before exams and during the exams so try to get as much sleep as possible. If you are waking up sweating with the worry over your exams then don’t worry you’re not the only one, a lot of people have sleepless nights coming up to exams. It’s important to talk to a friend or family member if you’re stressed as this may help to reduce stress.
Also food is very important. Unfortunately, I turned to sugary foods like chocolate and cakes last year as do a lot of people, but I wish I had stuck with healthy foods. I would suggest having a good healthy breakfast every morning. This can be a problem for a lot of girls especially as many don’t eat breakfast at all but it’s vital that you have breakfast as you will be more alert and be able to take in more information. Porridge is a good choice as it is a carbohydrate and releases energy slowly, therefore it will keep you energised until lunchtime. In addition to porridge also have at least two pieces of fruit for breakfast.
Also, try to exercise every day, go for a walk, get fresh air, practice your favourite sport. Taking an hour or even half an hour every day to do something to take your mind off study will help you in the long term.
I think overall Maths can be the most daunting exam for people. It’s not like other subjects where you can memorise definitions or points, people fear maths as the questions are unknown and sometimes you can’t really prepare for certain questions. You can memorise your theorems but chances are a theorem may not come up in your exam. The only thing you can do to prepare for maths is to practice, practice, practice! Even if this means doing the same question over and over again, the only thing you’ll do is improve and become quicker at answering questions. I know I sound like a teacher but practicing questions helps. Most maths teachers choose the Edco examination papers, these are helpful but my maths teacher chose to get exam papers from educate.ie, I found this company’s exam papers incredibly helpful as they not only had the past exam papers but they had many practice papers and they also had twice as many questions to practice than the Edco papers.
Mocks can be an eye opener for most people, sometimes you may not do so well in a subject that you are good at, in others you might get a better result than expected. What I will say is not to take your mock results for granted, they are only a tester, they don’t symbolise what you will get in June. For example, I got the highest result in my year for Home Economics in my mock, I won the Junior Cert Awards for both English and Home Economics in my school, and I was also praised for my cross stitch project and my cooking by many teachers. When it came to the final weeks of study, I didn’t spend much time on Home Economics as I thought I already had an A in the bag. When results came out, I got a B and I was certain that whoever was correcting my paper had made a mistake, but after getting my paper rechecked my result remained at a B. To this day I regret not spending more time on Home Economics and for taking my mock result for granted.
Tips for the exam day
• Have a good sleep the night before
• Eat a good and sufficient breakfast
• Make sure you have all equipment needed for exam eg. Pen, ruler, calculator, etc.
• Remember your exam number
• Arrive at your exam centre at least 20 minutes before your exam is due to start
• Wear a watch- it’s vital that you’re aware of your timing during the exam
• Prepare a rough plan in your head for what order you plan to answer the questions in
• Stay calm
• Read over every question before you hand up your paper as once you hand it up there’s no going back
At the end of the day, just stay calm and know that there is only so much you can do, we’re only human. We’re not supposed to remember absolutely everything we’re told especially when we’re gaining huge amounts of information at one time like in the Junior or Leaving Certificates, but you can work on ways to remember certain material and ways to look after ourselves during an intense time of studying. Talk to your teachers or parents/guardians if you are worrying or stressed, they’re all here to help you.
Please note: Blog posts reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union. If you are interested in becoming an ISSU Exam Blogger, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, school year and contact details.