Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_kentoh'>kentoh / 123RF Stock Photo</a> Chinese Symbol for "Success". 




26 February 2018 Update










Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor   |   Volunteer Tutor with Second Level Students   |   

A Member of The Tutors' Association




The details regarding the marking or grading of State examination papers relate to the practise in Ireland.    However, the ideas on approaching exam preparation applies to many.











The way we do Exams has changed a good deal in recent years.  Many more people are studying alone via on-line tutoring or through correspondence courses.  However it is being done, it is now happening all the time.  At any time, somewhere, someone we know is sitting Exams!



'Mock' Exams, as they are called in Ireland as preparation exams for the State Examinations of Junior and Leaving Certificates, will be starting soon.  Please get your revision plan done now if not already in place.  Please read the details below on how to approach your work and the actual examinations.




Please see my Post, THE STUDENT TAKES THE LEAD DESIGNING WORK PLANSwhich should help you with planning your revision, and which you may care to use as the basis for asking for assistance from a teacher, tutor, or someone you know who has a level of expertise in any of your exam subjects.
















WHEN you get home, if you are asked 'HOW DID IT GO?' just say 'FINE THANKS', and go someplace quiet.


DON'T get involved in any discussion of the Exam Paper and, most certainly, DO NOT get caught up in a conversation where you are asked 'And, what did you put down for that question?'. 





YOU did the Course

YOU did the Studying

YOU did the Preparation

YOU sat the Exam!


Do not let anyone else's ideas on the day's exam paper get stuck in your mind.  Whoever is asking you this question is probably not au fait with the Course.  No matter if it is meant kindly or is just curiosity, DO NOT get dragged into a WASTE OF YOUR TIME AND ENERGY.





YOUR NEXT JOB is to lay out your PREPARATION for this evening,

TO BE READY FOR TOMORROW, sticking to your schedule of diet, exercise and relaxing.

If you find your mind wandering to the Exam(s) of earlier in the day, STOP, count to five, and blank them.







YOU CANNOT SPEND TIME listening to a classmate or friend carrying out a post mortem on his or her exam(s) of the day, possibly daily.

SUGGEST he or she speak to someone at home, that you have a very tight preparation schedule.














The following are so obvious, it is easy to forget them!



BE CERTAIN you know the rules on what you may, and may not, bring into the Examination Hall. Make sure you know well in advance, so that you do not have a nasty surprise close to the date. 

Some watches or bottles of eye drops may be banned, for example.



HAVE A GOOD, filling, breakfast every Exam morning, of a cereal, I love porridge as it keeps me full for hours, plus a banana and some fresh berries, and a good drink. You expend a great deal of energy in an exam. Eat what makes you feel comforted and full.



A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE your first exam, go through a calming ritual of checking your pencil case to ensure: all your pens (in a choice of colours) and highlighters work, and that you have backups; your pencils are sharpened; you have a piece of string or thread (for Geography or similar subjects where you might need to measure a map); include your ruler, sharpener, eraser.  You will have given yourself time to buy any replacements required.  You may be required to take your pencil case contents into the Exam location, in a transparent bag.  Put this bag in your schoolbag now! 


Leave your original pencil case in your bag in a locker with other personal items.  Bring back-up pens, pencils, highlighters, plus your sharpener and eraser, into the Exam Hall.



DO NOT FORGET your contact lenses plus polished, back-up, spectacles, or whichever you use.  Put these with your pens, etc, in your bag: belt and braces!



ALSO BRING an energy bar or two, tissues, a bottle of water, lie your watch flat on your Exam desk (having checked it is correct before you leave home).










ALWAYS ask for ‘Extra Paper’ at the very beginning of every formal Exam.  It is very important to have it from the start,  when you are reading through all the questions first, as advised by your teachers.


Ideas or facts shall come to mind while you read; always make a note of them on your ‘Extra Paper’ and you can incorporate them into your answers when you come to answering the relevant questions.  


When you are choosing which questions to answer, the notes you have made during your initial read-through of the exam paper will help make your choice easier.


Put a short hand identifier at the top of a page, such as, S1, Q1, and use that page only for notes on that question.



When you go to write your full answer to each question, you will have made it easier for yourself to recap your ideas and identifying where you put your notes and prompts.  Equally, if you have finished with that question, and a relevant idea or a nugget of information hits you, when you have already carried onto another question, make a note of these nuggets on the relevant, notated, page of your 'Extra Paper', and when you have finished your other questions, you can put a note at the end of the question for which you have additional information, using large capital letters, and colour, directing the examiner to where the extra part of the answer is to be found in your ‘Extra Paper’.  Make sure to mark your additional section(s) clearly, using capital letters and colour again.


As you will be making various types of notes on the relevant ‘Extra Paper’ page per question, during the course of the Exam, if you find you are RUNNING OUT OF TIME, and do not get a chance to include them in your written work ~ always rememberthe examiner SHALL look through ALL your rough notes, which you include with your main written Exam paper sheets.  You shall  be given extra marks for facts or ideas that you have jotted down, but have not had time to incorporate in the actual answer.  ALL these notes are worth marks.


Having done your written Exam paper run-through, to ensure you have covered all the required questions and checked for errors, do take the last few minutes matching your ‘Extra Paper’ notes with your 'Section Number, Question Number', for example, on your written Exam paper, to maximise the benefit of these nuggets.








TAKE YOUR TIME reading the questions.  You want to be sure you understand what is required before you start on an answer. DO NOT WORRY about losing time. It is much more important to choose the correct question(s) to answer.


Likewise, TAKE AS LONG as you need in choosing the correct essay title. You have to decide which one you know you have enough material for to cover all the sections, plus give a full length essay.   DO NOT choose something just because it is on a subject you like.  BE CERTAIN you choose an essay that you have already worked on, or have prepared paragraphs that could be tailored to fit it.  It does not have to set the World on fire, but it DOES have to be as error-free as possible, and well constructed.









Think about each sentence before you write it down.  Does it actually get across the information you want the examiner to hear from you?


Try to write with the idea in the foremost of your mind that the reader of your work has no idea about the course work on which you are answering questions. 



Ask yourself ~ "If I knew nothing of the history, style, setting, era, backstories, and the relationships between the people (in a play, novel, film, history period, etc, on the syllabus), would my written answer explain everything a reader would need to know, to understand the relevance of the question, and satisfy all its requirements?"



Equally, for History as an example, are you certain that you have placed the protagonists of the era on which you are writing in their proper contexts, relating them to their ideologies or connections with power blocs.


If you realise your work is NOT expressing what you need it to ~ STOP! 

CUT YOUR LOSSES, and start again.  You CANNOT  waste time fixing bad work.  Just salvage the good bits.


If you are answering a question on a play, or novel, etc, make sure you always give the full name(s) of the character(s) to whom you are referring and the full name of the play or novel, etc, and that of the playwright or author.


For example, in English Literature, if you are discussing "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, first performed in 1600, and speaking about the callous Claudius, now King Claudius, as he had murdered and taken the place of his brother, King Hamlet, including marrying King Hamlet's widow, Queen Gertrude ~ be certain you do not get lost in a stew of 'he said', 'she said',  leaving the reader unclear as to whom you mean to convey is speaking, to whom he or she is speaking, and who else is present and listening.


If it makes it easier for you, write columns of names of the various families and groups in the Play, or use webs and / or colours showing the family connections.  This would help you keep on top of who is on whose side. 


These systems would apply equally well to History, Politics, Social Studies, Psychology, etc. If you have these aids prepared well in advance and read through frequently, a recap before the specific exam should be sufficient to give you confidence you know and understand the various types of connections.


Are there any words in your planned sentence you are not totally confident you can spell correctly?   If the answer is ‘yes’, think of a new way of putting the sentence that uses words you are confident you can spell correctly.



[Your practise answers and essays should be where you discover the words you cannot spell and when you find out how to spell them. You should also start to use a Thesaurus, if you haven't already, to find other similar words, so that you will not be repeating words but, instead, displaying the breadth of your vocabulary and the precision of your understanding.]



Try to keep your sentences short, and always make sure you have included a verb (an action work).  For example, “Oscar Wilde was the master of the witty and sophisticated comedy of manners”.  'Was' is your verb in this sentence.  If you keep your sentences short, you are less likely to mix up past and present tense, or singular and plural words.


If there is no verb in your sentence ~ it is NOT a sentence. 

This error shall be punished.








I really wish I had been given this tip when in school!



People use phrases all the time like, Everyone knows the Easter Rising was in 1916.  Well, in fact, NOT everyone knows that.  If you are writing an essay, or answering a question, always remember ~ 'the examiner does NOT know what I know!' Therefore, every single piece of information you have, in any way relevant to a question, no matter how obvious you think it is, should ALWAYS put it in your answer.


For example, if you were answering a question on a Roddy Doyle novel, or any novel on your course, you should makesure to mention in your answer that Roddy Doyle won the Booker Prize in 1993 for his novel “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”.


That kind of detail is what gets you the extra marks.  If you forget the date of his win, not to worry, still mention that he won the Booker Prize, or whatever facts have stuck with you.  Every single detail of information you give is worth marks (The names of any books, short stories, films, plays, poems, novels, etc, are always put in inverted commas, as above.)


If you are writing an answer on a play, film, or novel, always name the work, and the author or director at the beginning of your answer.   People sometimes do not do this, thinking if it is mentioned in the Question, it is not necessary to include it in the Answer.  YES IT IS! ~ you are judged SOLELY on what you put down on the Exam answer paper(s).  


If you are answering a question on the poet Keats, or Shelley, or Wordsworth, or one of the other “Romantic Poets”, mention that fact, and also list some of the other “Romantic” poets (as above), even if you did not do their work during your studies. If you can include titles of some of their work, do.  If you know of a friendship between the Poet of your question and another poet, or writer, or publisher, etc, mention it.  This shows you have a broader base of information than just the work on your course. 


If you are writing about historical / political characters, please include every detail you may know about them.


Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, had dreadful halitosis, and also had a serious novocaine addiction, along with other prescription medications, supplied to him by his personal physician.  Given that latter piece of information, is it not easier to see how his paranoia grew out of control?  Does this not help explain some of the great purges he made amongst his most senior officers, and some of the mistaken tactical decisions he made, especially later in the War?


An examiner may well get an idea from your work that you are knowledgeable on a subject, but he or she CANNOT GIVE MARKS ON A HUNCH!





Useful Work on Essays and Grammar Definitions

My photo of a tree in Stroud Museum's Gardens, Gloucestershire, England.






The following essays are laid out as suggestions on how to tackle an essay title, getting the best value possible from your previous work.  The only way to write with fluidity is to write frequently, regularly, and to the best of your ability. Always check your spelling at the end of composing an essay, or any written work.

Please use a proper, good quality, dictionary. The 'spell check' on a computer is not good enough to pick up errors such as 'manor' instead of 'manner', or 'practise' instead of 'practice'.






Hospice / Senior Citizen Club / Older Persons' Residential Homes


Introduction (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Always get the name of the essay chosen into the first sentence, and then explain what you understand it to mean, and how you are going to use it in your essay.

Outline what you know about the Hospice organisation, or whichever topic you choose. Give a minimum of three sentences in your introductory paragraph. Every paragraph has to have a minimum of three sentences.



Body of Text (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

People often make an effort at Christmas to remember family and friends who are in hospital or in a residential home for older people.  Discuss a couple of ideas on how you could make this a special time for them.

Think about the various things young people could do to help as volunteers in the local Hospice or local club for senior citizens. Use your imagination to consider the skills you and your friends have, and how you could use them.

Sadly, many older people have no physical human contact apart from nurses or care staff ~ if you can do a manicure, that would be lovely, but just bringing a bottle of pure, perfume and paraban free cream, to massage into the hands of an older person, while he or she chats to you, will be a great pleasure to him or her, and you might be repaid with a story from his or her youth! What else can you think of?

Have you heard any stories from older people which gave you an insight into how life was lived many years ago?

How do you like to remember someone close to you who is sick or who has died? What were you able to do to help either the sick person, or to support a family member at this difficult time? Put what you believe you would like to do, if you haven’t had such an experience yet.


Summary (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Sum up the points you have made in the main Body of Text. Then go on to write on the subject, saying if you would you be inclined to help in a Hospice, or any other such establishment. Mention if they had helped a friend or family member of yours. This is a composition, so make up your views and opinions, if you have no experience.  Say why you would like to volunteer, if that is your choice.


Try your best to keep your work within the allotted exam time, minus five full minutes, as you will need to check your work slowly and carefully.






Christmas / Special Occasion / Celebration (for example Family Christening, significant Wedding Anniversary or Birthday – 18th, 21st, 75th, 90th)


Introduction (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Always get the name of the essay chosen into the first sentence, and then explain what you understand it to mean, and how you are going to use it in your essay. Use a minimum of three sentences in your introduction. Every paragraph has a minimum of three sentences.



Body of Text (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Suggestions for what to put in your Body of Text follow. Of course, you will have your own ideas which you will wish to use.

What are the favourite dishes in your family for celebrations? Who is the best cook and best baker?  Describe what is involved in preparing some of them. Who does what jobs around the house, plus shopping for food, decorations, and presents?


What is your favourite part of the preparations for Christmas or any celebration?   Do you do Kris Kindle in your family?   Do you have a price bracket?  What works best in your family for a good Christmas / celebration / etc?  Is Christmas now a time for parties or does it still retain some of its religious connotations.

Mention who else in your family or your circles of friends are also involved in your Christmas, celebration, etc ~ for example, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older members of the family, neighbours. Write about what traditions or games you may have in your family for special occasions ~ charades, Cluedo, poker, hide-and-seek.



Summary (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Sum up the points you have made in the main Body of Text. What does the occasion mean to you?   Do you think these celebrations are ways of making the family connections stronger? Mention a few very special memories of past occasions.


Try your best to keep your work within the allotted exam time, minus five full minutes, as you will need to check your work slowly and carefully.




Some of the Special People in your Life / Hobbies / Pastimes


Introduction (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Get the name of the essay chosen into the first sentence and explain why you are using the example you have chosen, and what you understand it to mean.  Write a minimum of three sentences in your introduction.  Every paragraph requires three sentences.



Main Body of Text (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay)

Write about people to whom you are close, and give examples of special times you have had together, in connection with any club, pastime, or hobby.

For example, write about getting involved with a sporting club, or any type of club, and how you have grown close to your team mates, the coaching staff, and why.

Outline what happens in training sessions. Do you have special vocabulary for material or exercises?   Show as broad a vocabulary as possible.

Give a description of what you have learned about the sport, and also about coaching. Do you feel a personal development ~ perhaps from taking on responsibilities, describe? Are you fitter as a result of training?   Have you changed your diet and habits to help get fit?  How has this changed your life and possibly drawn in members of your family to change some of their eating habits?   Write about the atmosphere in the group coming up to a big match. Who gets most excited? Are there any funny stories you call tell?

What are the other people who are involved with the Club with you like?  For example, what do they do in their working lives, what are their ages?   Mention if you think it is a good experience for you to be working with such a variety of people, and why.

Clearly, it does not have to be a sports’ club.  Consider drama, photography, or any other interest you may have.  The key thing is to knit your experiences, real or imagined, with the title of the essay, and your previously prepared work.

Draw your reader into the story, even if it is an imaginary world.



Conclusion (only a guideline ~ never to be used in an essay).

Sum up the points you have made in the main Body of Text.   Write about the satisfaction you get from being part of a team or group. Describe how the experience has matured you, and what you have learned about yourself.   Mention if you think you might like to get more involved in an organisational position at a later date.


Try your best to keep your work within the allotted exam time, minus five full minutes, as you will need to check your work slowly and carefully.






NOUN   A word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any type of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun).


(i)       Joe (proper noun) lives in Dublin (proper noun).

(ii)      The table (common noun) is set for dinner (common noun).


PRONOUN    A word used instead of a noun, to indicate someone or something already mentioned or known.


(i)    She (pronoun) volunteers with the local Hospice.

(ii)   The Principal (proper noun) gave a speech to the School Assembly on assisting the St Vincent de Paul Charity.  He (pronoun) will put leaflets on how to help it (pronoun) in the front lobby.


VERB   A word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence,  and forming the main part of the sentence (eg, runbecome, or happen).


(i)   The boy ran fast to escape the chasing dog.

(ii)  The washing on the line got drenched in the rain.


ADJECTIVE    A word giving added description of a noun, such as ‘sweet’, ‘red’, ‘technical’, ‘younger’.


(i)   The players on the St James’s team are much younger  than most players in the League.

(ii)  A Cox’s Orange Pippin is the sweetest apple.


ADVERB     A word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, or of a sentence (eg – gently, very, fortunately).


The colour of the trees in Autumn in Co Wicklow is truly glorious.

To win four World Boxing Gold Medals, as has Ms Katie Taylor, one has to be extremely fit, and utterly committed.








If one uses should it must be accompanied by would and never could: similarly, if one uses would, it is always accompanied by could.



Should you want to go to Town for clothes shopping with me, it would be best to meet inside the doorway of the Stephen’s Green Centre, given how changeable the weather is currently.

If you would like to start preparing the dinner, I could wash and peel the vegetables.




Very many people misuse these two words, often thinking they are interchangeable, or that they mean the same thing.

Currently means something that is happening now, and presently means something shall happen in the near future.



Currently, it is raining so hard, there is no chance of getting out to the garden.

I shall help you with your homework presently; I just have to finish stacking the dishwasher.




Affect and effect are two other words frequently used incorrectly, and in place of each other, as above. To understand the correct situation in which to use the word affect or effect, one must be clear what each word means.

Affect is almost always used as a verb ~ an action word, that means to produce a change in, or influence something.

Effect is usually used as a noun.  It is an event that means a change that occurred. (When an "s" is added, "effects" means personal belongings.)




1.     Affect can be used as a verb; when trying to describe influencing someone or something, rather than causing it.

(a) How does the crime rate affect hiring levels by local police forces? Or,

(b) The weather conditions will affect the numbers which come to the concert.


2.     Affect can also be used as a noun in one situation; to describe facial expression.

(a) The woman took the news of her husband's sudden death with little affect.



1.     Effect can be used as a noun when you are talking about a result.



What effect did the loss have on the team?


2.     Effect can be used if it follows one of these words: "into", "on", "take", "the", "any", "an" as well as "or".



(a)   The prescribed medication had an effect on the patient's symptoms. Or,

(b) In analysing a situation, one takes the concepts of cause and effect into consideration.


3.     Effect can be used as a verb in one situation - if you want to describe something that was caused.



The new manager effected some positive changes in the office. (This means that the new manager caused some positive changes to take place in the office.)




The misuse of these words is now so widespread, that film and television scripts purporting to involve educated people frequently have these characters using either of them incorrectly.


If you are in doubt about whether to use ‘me’ or ‘I’ in a sentence, try out a small test on yourself.   Say you are thinking of writing about you and your friends going to the cinema, and decide to write ‘Darren, Eoghan, Liam, Nicky, Saoirse and me went to see the new “Frankenstein” film’.  Before you put anything on paper, remove the list of all your friends’ names, and then ask yourself the question ‘would I say me went to see the new “Frankenstein” film?’  Immediately, you would know you would never say that, obviously, the correct thing to do would be to replace “me” with “I”.  “I” always gets a capital letter.


If someone asks “Is Joe present?” or “Is there someone named Joe here?” The correct answer would be “That is me”, or "I am Joe", or "I am he".


“Simon came with me to the concert.”  or  “Simon and I went to the concert.”  These are two examples of where it is appropriate to use 'me' or 'I'.  The second example is based on the rule in the first paragraph, which you know already.


The first example shows where 'me' can be appropriate.   'Me' is often used (along with using plural situations) when we are talking about what belongs to me or us.  “That CD belongs to me.”   “The corner table by the window in 'Eddie Rockets' belongs to us.”   Obviously, you do not literally own that table, but if that is the table you always use, and whoever arrives first, "bags it", then using 'us', in that instance, is correct.




Apostrophes cause more grief than almost any other part of grammar. Journalists, and even well-known writers, frequently misuse them.


I give examples of their use below.   The rule is “if in doubt, leave it out”.  THAT IS THE VERY BEST ADVICE.


Try not to get yourself into a situation where you need to use one.   Often, if you rethink your sentence, you shall be able to avoid using an apostrophe altogether.


(i)   Apostrophes are used in words to indicate that there are missing letters.   For example, ‘don’t’ (the apostrophe is indicating that the ‘o’ from ‘not’ is missing).  For your written work, as you know, you will never be using this shorthand form of writing.   You will always write ‘cannot’ instead of ‘can’t’.   However, if you are given a quote from a novel or short story on your course, and asked to discuss it. You may feel you have to quote the shorthand word from the text to make an important point clear.   If so, just put inverted commas around the word (for example “don’t”), and that tells the examiner that you know it is not proper English usage in formal work.


(ii)  An apostrophe is also used to show that something(s) belong(s) to someone or to many people.   Examples follow, showing various versions.


Joe’s work in the boxing gym also involves voluntary training with the younger students. (Joe owns his work, and therefore he gets an apostrophe, (followed by the ‘s’).


Each of my many friends’ families are totally different.  (Your friends’ families belong to them, so an apostrophe is appropriate as with the previous example.)   The difference here is that you are putting the apostrophe after the ‘s’ in ‘friends’.   That is because ‘friends’ is plural.


Have these notes beside you when doing written work, you can refer to them regularly as you go, to get into the practise of correct usage for the formal exam situation.


Anything that helps you prepare NOW for actually sitting an exam, will help you be relaxed and more confident on the actual Exam day.  PLUS, if you get into the habit of writing regularly, daily, always checking for errors, your written work in an examination shall be quicker, with considerably fewer errors.  You need to be relaxed and confident in your writing, and that only comes with practise.





A sea of wild garlic flowers in woodlands near Stroud, Gloucestershire, England.





I hope you find the above Notes useful, and they help you manage your time, stay focused, and prepare in advance, as much as possible, to give yourself the best chance when dealing with examination situations.




If you believe you do not do sufficient homework assignments or essays to stretch YOU as you know YOU should be stretched, PLEASE take your education into your own hands NOW, and work from exam papers of former years. You should be writing meaningfully every single day!  



YOU, alone, shall be sitting the EXAM, and what you put down on the paper is what will earn you your marks.  Only you can get those marks ~ so, take responsibility for your pre-exam work, and later you can enjoy the knowledge you gained your marks through your own commitment and dedicated work.


The only way to write smoothly, coherently and without errors in an exam, is to have practised constantly, writing essays and answers to exam questions, stretching yourself all the time.  


Make it harder now, and it shall be easier in the Examination. 


The message is always Write, Write, Write!

Check, Check, Check!






Get Feedback on Your Written Work

as Often as Possible


YOU NEED to know if what you are writing is conveying the ideas and opinions you hope it is.  Ask someone, or a couple of people, you know who is / are prepared to take the time to read your work slowly and carefully, examining it for errors, and for well written sections, and who is / are not afraid to tell the truth about the quality of your work.  

People who want to be 'nice' are of no use to you!


Perhaps a grandparent, aunt or uncle is a keen reader ~ if so, he or she would make a very good critic for your written work in general.  Many of us have History buffs or Political encyclopaedias in the family.  It's likely they would enjoy showing off their knowledge and helping you.





Very Best of Luck!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O’Brien





If you find any errors or wish to disagree with any of the above, I should be very glad to hear from you.  If you have any comments, positive or negative, I should welcome hearing your views.



See my Linkedin site for further information https://ie.linkedin.com/in/educationbelongs2all


I am an elected Member of The Tutors' Association.


Email iseultccobrien@gmail.com







If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.  


I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!