Exam Times- Leaving Cert Maths

“Algebra is the language of maths and if you’re weak dealing with expressions and equations in Algebra it will hamper your ability to answer questions right across the course”.

Aidan Roantree, senior maths teacher at The Institute of Education and author of this week’s Exam Times supplement has some key advice for students preparing to sit the first complete Leaving Cert Project Maths exams in June…


  • Arrive with plenty of time to spare. If you are rushing into the exam, you will be too flustered to do yourself justice, at least for the first while.
  • Have a positive frame of mind as you enter the exam. View the exam as a positive opportunity to show what you can do, and get the credit you deserve for all the work you have put in. The glass is half full, not half empty.
  • Start immediately, by reading the entire paper, mapping out the questions you think you can handle, and noting those you think may be difficult. Read each question extremely carefully, making note of all that is required.
  • Answer the questions on the basis of ‘easiest first’. Start with the question you consider the easiest, then do the next easiest, and so on. Because of the layout of the answer booklet, it will be obvious which questions you have left undone, as you return later.
  • Show your calculations. You sometimes (not always) get full marks for a correct answer without work shown, but if you get the wrong answer, you will possibly get little.
  • Plan your timing carefully. In practice, you can only plan for the total marks for a question: halve the number of marks to find the number of minutes available for a question. After that, you should try to play it smart by guessing which parts are likely to be awarded the most marks, and concentrate on these.
  • Watch the key words, or even underline them. Some examples are prove, verify, show, find, solve, evaluate, graph, plot. If a question says ‘hence’, as distinct from ‘hence, or otherwise’, you must use what went before to complete what follows. Using any other method will not get you the marks.
  • Before leaving a question, check that you have answered everything required.
  • Make some attempt at every part of the questions you are doing. Any right step will get you at least a partial credit. From the past marking schemes, this could be a huge portion of the overall marks for the question, and make a significant difference to the grade you eventually get.
  • Realise the importance of algebra, and the need for care and accuracy when using algebra.
  • In any question that requires an explanation of a key concept, try to be as precise and accurate as possible. Vague, imprecise answers are marked down significantly.



  • Don’t bring in a new calculator bought on the morning of the exam. You need to be fully familiar with all the common operations on your calculator.
  • Don’t be disorganised. If your teacher tells you that your work is hard to follow, take it that the examiner, who doesn’t know you at all, will find your work even harder to follow. This may be fine if your work is correct, but if there are errors, the examiner is not obliged to try to read your mind.
  • Don’t spend time trying to guess answers. Even if you get lucky every now and then, the risk is too great and you are just wasting time.
  • Stay focused. Don’t daydream, or become worried about how you are doing. There will be time for both after the exam.
  • Don’t spend too much time on a difficult part: there is probably only going to be a few marks allocated to it.
  • Don’t forget to bring your calculator, pens, maths instruments, and perhaps some sugary sweets or chocolate into the exam. By the end, you could probably do with the energy boost.
  • Don’t perform any difficult calculations in your head. Use your calculator.
  • Don’t leave early. Where are you going? If you stay, you might be able to pick up a few marks that could make all the difference.
  • Don’t stay up late the night before (or worse still, do an all-nighter) trying to learn off things last minute. You will be in no state to do yourself justice the following morning.
  • Don’t be afraid to state your opinion in questions that require verbal answers. If you write down anything reasonable, you will probably score very well.


Full Supplement Download

Published on Thursday, 23rd January, this supplement focuses on Leaving Certificate Maths (Higher and Ordinary Level).