Copyright: kentoh / 123RF Stock Photo Chinese Symbol for "Success". 




 Summer 2019 Update










To help you manage your time and energy, please see the Section ~




  See the Section ~


How to balance stress and study




Please also see these Sections at the end of this Post ~


 "People who adopt an attitude of kindness towards themselves tend to be better at taking on challenges than those who don’t."
















Those students facing Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exams in Ireland have already faced their first two days of exams.  For those of you who are parents / guardians / carers or friends of these students, please read this Post, especially the Section ON EXAMINATION DAY, and glean the suggestions that you think may help your young person best.


Good Luck to Everyone!



You may be resitting one or more examinations.

Please remember, you know a great deal more than you realise.  Take your time to read your notes, and practise writing swift, information-filled, sentences.  If you are resitting an exam, there can only ever be one first time!






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 practice in Ireland.    However, the ideas on approaching exam preparation apply everywhere.













The way we deal with 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!



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 PLANS, which 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.



Even if you are already in the middle of your exams, taking ten minutes to read the above Post, may help how you manage your remaining time to suit you best.






















WHEN you get home, if you are asked 'HOW DID IT GO?' just say 'FINE THANKS', and go someplace quiet or, preferably, go for a 20-30 minute walk to shrug off the sitting in a seat for long periods, and the stress of stretching your mind to its maximum. 



This walk will also aerate your blood, get your mind and body ready to face your evening's work, before and after a high protein, high vegetable and fruit dinner and supper. 

Studying needs to be well fuelled!



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 head.  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 then 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, or on the day itself. 



Which Hall(s) will host your Exam(s) on any given day?  Make sure you know where as well as when. 



Check and re-check the schedule  - don't rely on word of mouth.



Are you allowed to bring a Smartphone, mobile or cell phone into the Exam Hall?  The answer is usually 'No'!.


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



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.




A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE your first exam, or as a calming ritual during your exams, a exercise 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 bag now



Leave your original pencil case in your bag in the locker with other personal items.  Always 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 REQUEST  ‘Extra Paper’ in any EXAM ~ 




ALWAYS ask for ‘Extra Paper’ at the very beginning of every Exam.  It is VERY IMPORTANT to have it from the start,  while 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 immediately 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 shorthand identifier at the top of a page of your 'Extra Paper', such as, S1, Q1, and use that page only for notes on that single 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 subsequently 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. 



If you have notated the pages of your 'Extra Paper' by Section and Question number, the marks will be applied properly.


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, historical 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



Remember your 'isms'!



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 writing 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 mind-maps with colours showing the family connections.  This would help you keep on top of who is on whose side.


This would be an excellent preparation just before an Exam, if you haven't done it already as part of your study of this play, or any other piece of work.



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 discovered the words you cannot spell and when you found 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, you 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 make sure 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. 


OH 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.



For example, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian; had appalling halitosis; broke wind constantly to the great discomfort of those in proximity to him; and also had serious cocaine, heroin, and meth-amphetamine addictions, along with using other prescription medicationsplus bulls' testosterone to supplement his sexual appetite, all supplied to him by his personal physician, Dr Theodor Morell, in alarmingly high doses, including the frequent use of 'speedballs'.  Hitler experienced near-death convulsions, an inability to sleep with a contrasting habit of sleeping into the late afternoon. 


He must have been psychologically and physically damaged as a result of this excessive drug intake which started in the early 1940s.  His inhibitions would have been suppressed and his self-belief reached hugely grandiose proportions.


All German forces, soldiers, tank operators, the navy including U-Boat crews and the airforce, were fed daily doses of amphetamines which accounted for their suprize, very rapid, capture of France. 

If Hitler had not halted the troops from finishing off the British forces caught at Dunkirk, WWII could have been over a great deal quicker, and those British forces which were saved, became the basis of the British comeback.


Given this 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!





You are More than Your LEAVING CERT: Balance Stress & Study

My photograph of bluebells blossoming through crocosmia leaves.




How to balance stress and study


Take breaks, talk it out and get organised to help manage exam anxiety and burn-out.



The Irish Times, Thu, May 2, 2019, 07:01


Niamh Delmar




‘Take a screen detox to keep your brain operating at full capacity and to aid better sleep. Try some guided meditations and exercise to calm the system.’ 



It is that time of year again with the build up to the Leaving Certificate. In many homes across the Country, every family member is dragged into this race for points and first-preference places.  Others fret and sweat, unsure as to what they want to do when they finish school.



Some former examinees still have that recurring nightmare of sitting the exam unprepared or caught out.   As with every significant event in life, whatever lies within the person erupts in the midst of pressure.



Research conducted by Dublin City University and Trinity College Dublin revealed that students are relying on rote learning and memory recall, which puts significant stress on them, leading to burn-out.  A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that these exams crush creativity and contribute to test-focussed teaching.  



There are also a vast number of students undertaking grinds or revision courses to boost their knowledge of the curriculum.



The system may work well for those who are robust, living in supportive environments and suited to that type of learning, but it does not reflect the potential that others may have.



Students come to the exams with a myriad of factors – some with learning challenges, others grieving or struggling with difficult familial conditions, or serious physical or mental-health conditions.  



After all, approximately 75 per cent of serious mental-health difficulties manifest between 15 and 25 years of age and Ireland has the fourth-highest suicide rate in the European Union among this age group.


Is throwing a load of exams which decide their futures over a couple of weeks a healthy process?




While the system may work well for those who are robust, living in supportive environments and suited to that type of learning, it does not reflect the potential that others may have.



Year after year, I see students who come to me for support as they crumble under the strain.  Anxiety, performance-anxiety, panic attacks, depression, burn-out, anger and severe stress all feature.  For some struggling with addictions or past traumas, this Exam may be the final straw.



With such a build-up and pressure placed on a series of exams in a short period, the stress hormone cortisol can get out of control.  This has physiological effects and can impair brain-cell communication in areas associated with learning and memory.  



Relationships at home become tense as parents struggle to find a healthy boundary with their children between being involved but not too pushy.  Students often report bombardment with “How come you are not studying?”, “You are throwing your future away”, “You have your Leaving Cert in a few months”.



The thirst for knowledge and love of learning is getting lost.



It is a period when the parental control is challenged as you can’t study for them and they won’t study for you.  Everything becomes about the Leaving Cert, and, in a way, it is the whole family taking it.


Adrenalised homes creak as everything gets blown out of proportion and underlying emotional and psychological challenges explode behind closed doors.



The Leaving Cert is one of life’s big examples of how people respond differently to every situation.  Some sail through, while others buckle under the pressure.  Indeed, there can be learning in the process.  


Students have an opportunity to develop coping skills, face underlying conditions, learn about themselves, seek help and build self-reliance.  These are invaluable life skills, but not achievable for all.  This pressure on the big exam is trickling down further and further to younger classes.  The thirst for knowledge and love of learning is getting lost.



‘Focus on what you can do in this moment on this day. If procrastination is blocking you, open a school book and just read’.



Nationally, schools are rated by points achieved and teachers are under pressure to get results.  Fair and healthy competition is part of life, but is this really fair to all competitors?



Another issue of concern is that students are giving up sports and extra-curricular activities to study.  This promotes a negative approach to a work-life balance and blitzing, which leads to burn-out.




So what is the way forward to assessing our young people while protecting their mental health?



Some movement is rolling out, such as school-based access to counselling, and PE as a Leaving Cert subject.  The Government curriculum advisory board, the NCCA, is engaged in reform of the senior cycle.  In surveys conducted for the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, it was found that teachers, students and parents all agreed that the Leaving Cert needs to be radically reformed.  In the best interests of the well-being of our youth, it is time for all relevant groups to propose more all-inclusive options.



Keep it all in perspective. There are options such as PLC courses or back-door ways into your preferred course. You are more than your Leaving Cert.



Please see my Post DO NOT PANIC! for ways of getting where you want to end up, and options other than just academic ones.



In the meantime if you are sitting exams this June, here are some ways to protect your mental health:


(1)   If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk it out with a close family member, friend, teacher or counsellor.  If symptoms are severe, discuss them with your GP.  Access school support.  From my experience with students, schools are supportive, once informed.  Options such as sitting exams in a separate room, regular meet ups with assigned teachers or a quiet place to go in school can be worked out;


(2)  Draft out a study timetable for each subject with estimated time frames;


(3)  Take it in hourly and weekly steps.  Focus on what you can do in this moment on this day.  If procrastination is blocking you, open a school book and just read;


(4)  Choose an optimal place to study whether that is at home, after school or at the library.  Be aware of your optimal time of day and study the toughest work then;


(5)  You know what study method works best for you so stick to it, just enhance it.  Organise all your notes and study resources.  It is about strategy so practise exams with past papers and time yourself.  You know more than you think.  It is in there;


(6)  If you hit a wall, get up, move, go for a walk, do some stretches, have a shower and return to it within the hour;


(7)  Avoid blitzing.  It is not about the length of time studied but productive time.  Take regular breaks and study in chunks for better retention.  Take one or two study-free days per week;


(8)  Eat regularly, drink plenty of water and take a screen detox to keep your brain operating at full capacity and to aid better sleep.  Keep an eye on the adrenaline and cortisol levels.  Try some guided meditations and exercise to calm the system;


(9)  Keep away from hysteria or stressful Leaving Cert talk;


(10)  Keep it all in perspective.  There are options such as PLC courses or back-door ways into your preferred course.  You are more than your Leaving Cert.




Families need to keep the environment as calm as possible during this peak time.  Operating like a study detective just adds to the student’s adrenaline.  Many students will release their stress on their nearest and dearest.  



Family rows are not conducive to optimal study.  Focus on the relationship, non-study related chats, watching a movie together or engaging in relaxing and soothing activities.



 Take steps to calm yourself to be their calming presence.



Let them know your love for them is not conditional on what they get in the Leaving Cert.  While change can be threatening to many, it is time for reform of a system still largely stuck in the 1960s.




 I have made minor changes to the text and added coloured text and headings, ICOB.





My photograph of euphorbia in its acid tones interdotted with blue forget-me-nots, from my garden.




Help with Retaining Information



Our brains are wired to forget, but there are research-backed strategies you can use to make your learning stick.



Teachers have known for a long time that learning by rote can lead to a superficial grasp of material, but it is quickly forgotten.  


Recent research in the field of neuroscience is showing the ways brains are wired to forget — highlighting the importance of strategies to retain knowledge and make learning stick.



In a fairly recent article published in the journal Neuron, neurobiologists Blake Richards and Paul Frankland challenged the predominant view of memory, which holds that forgetting is a process of loss despite our best efforts. 



They claim the goal of memory is not just to store information accurately but to “optimize decision-making” in chaotic, quickly changing environments.   In this model of cognition, forgetting is an evolutionary strategy, a purposeful process that runs in the background of memory, evaluating and discarding information that doesn’t promote the survival of the species.



“From this perspective, forgetting is not necessarily a failure of memory,” explain Richards and Frankland in the study.  “Rather, it may represent an investment in a more optimal mnemonic strategy.”




We often think of memories as pictures, books or discs in a library or album, filed away and accessed when needed.  But they’re actually more like  "spiderswebs", strands of recollection distributed across millions of connected neurons.  When we learn something new — when a teacher / tutor gives a fresh lesson to a class, for example — the material is encoded across these neural networks, converting the experience into a memory.



Forgetting is almost immediately the nemesis of memory, as psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus noted in the 1880s.  In his experiments, he discovered that without any reinforcement or connections to prior knowledge, information is quickly forgotten — roughly 56 per cent in one hour; 66 per cent after a day; and 75 per cent after six days.  



Ebbinghaus pioneered landmark research in the field of retention and learning, observing what he called the forgetting curve, a measure of how much we forget over time.



[This information explains to me one of the main reasons so many students still rely on last minute cramming for Exams.


They are aware they won’t retain the information for long, but gamble on keeping enough of it to get through the next couple of days.  If one is cramming for nine subjects in the Leaving Certificate State Examination, for example, one is expecting too much of one’s memory and one’s mental agility to base exam results on last minute cramming.  ICOB.]



What can be done to preserve the hard work of learning / study?    Learning the times tables doesn’t avail when running from lions, in other words; but in the modern world that knowledge has more than proved its mettle.  Evolutionary imperatives — which prune our memories of extraneous information — don’t always neatly align with the requirements of curriculum or the demands of the Information Age.




The same neural circuitry appears to be involved in forgetting and remembering.  If that is properly understood, students and teachers can adopt strategies to reduce memory leaks and reinforce learning.



MIT neuroscientists, led by Richard Cho, explain the mechanisms for synaptic strengthening in a 2015 article, also published in Neuron.  When neurons are frequently fired, synaptic connections are strengthened. The opposite is true for neurons that are rarely fired.  Known as ‘synaptic plasticity’, this explains why some memories persist while others fade away.  Repeatedly accessing a stored but fading memory — like a rule of geometry or a crucial historical fact — rekindles the neural network that contains the memory and encodes it more deeply.



Five Student / Teacher Strategies

When students learn a new piece of information, they make new synaptic connections.  Two scientifically based ways to help them retain learning is by making as many connections as possible — typically to other concepts, thus widening the “spidersweb” of neural connections — but also by accessing the memory repeatedly over time.



This explains why the following learning strategies, all tied to research conducted within the last five years, are so effective.



1.  Peer-to-Peer Explanations

When students explain what they’ve learned to peers, fading memories are reactivated, strengthened, and consolidated.  This strategy not only increases retention but also encourages active learning (Sekeres, et al, 2016).



2.  The Spacing Effect

Instead of covering a topic and then moving on, we should revisit key ideas throughout the academic year.  Research shows that students perform better academically when given multiple opportunities to review learned material.  For example, teachers can quickly incorporate a brief review of what was covered several weeks earlier into on-going lessons or use homework to re-expose students to previous concepts (Carpenter et al, 2012; Kang, 2016). 



[Students should not to wait for teachers to introduce these revisits to previously covered material.  A personally devised schedule of work to be revisited each month, each term, and generally throughout the academic year, helps all students recognise: (i) the work they need to cover and; (ii) then to devise a suitable timetable for their own use.  ICOB.]



3.  Frequent Practise Tests

Akin to regularly reviewing material, giving frequent practise tests can boost long-term retention and, as a bonus, help protect against stress, which often impairs memory performance.  Practise tests can be low stakes and ungraded, such as a quick a trivia quiz at the start of a lesson.   Breaking down one large high-stakes test into smaller tests over several months is an effective approach (Butler, 2010; Karpicke, 2016).



[Students can get together in groups, at convenient times, and one can present a capsule of information on a topic of study common to all.  The other students work on the spot to find what they remember from their original study of the topic, and any subsequent revisions.  If one is discussing a matter of History, for example, a recently read or seen piece of work produced at the time in Literature or Art, a concert heard of contemporaneous Music, or a recording of a contemporary Play, would add an extra dimension to the topic, and help add to the “spidersweb” of neural connections. This coming together of groups studying one Subject in common at a time, but also with experience of various other Subjects, enriches the learning experience for everyone. 



Depending on one’s Learning Style - theatre, art, dance, music, literature, would all be useful routes to learning and retaining information.  ICOB.]



4.  Interleave Concepts

Instead of grouping similar problems together, mix them up.  Solving problems involves identifying the correct strategy to use and then executing the strategy.  When similar problems are grouped together, students don’t have to think about what strategies to use — they automatically apply the same solution over and over.  Interleaving forces students to think on their feet, and encodes learning more deeply (Rohrer, 2012).



5.  Combine Text with Images

It’s often easier to remember information that’s been presented in different ways, especially if visual aids can help organize information.  For example, pairing a list of countries occupied by German forces during World War II with a map of German military expansion can reinforce that lesson.  It’s easier to remember what’s been read and seen, instead of either one alone (Carney & Levin, 2002; Bui & McDaniel, 2015). 



[Getting back to my frequently repeated three basic Learning Styles, Auditory, Visual and Kinaesthetics, of many more ~ every opportunity should be given and taken to absorb information in as many ways as possible.  One will definitely click, and another couple may follow close behind.  Some of us are very structured in our Learning Styles, and although we should keep using everything in case some part of one works, if one knows one is predominantly a Kinesthetics learner, for example, one has to ask for help and find out for oneself source material to aid absorption of the information required. 



As often as possible, these topics, under 3. above, should be presented in turn by a student of one of the varied Learning Styles.  A student with Kinaesthetics Learning, who requires movement of self and objects to learn, would present a challenging, interesting, and therefore memorable topic, for the rest of the group.  ICOB.]




The above quoted research material is based on an article by Youki Terada, Brain-Based Learning, Research and Standards Editor, @YoukiTerada, September 20, 2017. 




[I added colour, underlining, capitalisation, and rearrangement of text to the above mentioned researcl material, ICOB.]


The material in [ ICOB.] brackets is added by me.




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 Amateur World Boxing Gold Medals and to have repeatedly defended her Professional Standing as World Number One, 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.





 Copyright: stanislauv / 123RF Stock Photo





Attitude can make the big difference to how you feel and to how you approach upcoming challenges such as exams.



Wed, Mar 14, 2018, 18:01, The Irish Times

Padraig O'Morain



"People who adopt an attitude of kindness towards themselves tend to be better at taking on challenges than those who don’t."



For many students, the 'mocks' for the big school exams of the year are in sight.  Even with all the planning, it doesn’t prevent the stomach-clenching sensation that accompanies the realisation that the exams are starting to look like a herd of large and very angry elephants thundering in your direction.


Once they were dots on the horizon: now you can see dust clouds kicking up around them.


This article isn’t about the practicalities of exam preparation – I was moderately good at exams myself, though I never hit the high numbers – but about attitude.   Attitude can make the big difference to how you feel and to how you approach the upcoming challenge.  The key task is to distinguish what is in your control from what isn’t.  Then work with what’s in your control.


Changing the past, when perhaps you did less study than you think you should have, is not in your control.  What you’ll see in the exam paper when you open it is also not in your control.  Neither can you dictate the marks you will get in the exam.


What’s in your control is the studying you do, starting now, and the mental preparation you bring to the task.  A powerful part of that preparation is to bring some self-compassion into the picture.  People who are self-compassionate – adopting an attitude of kindness towards themselves – tend to be better at taking on challenges than those who are not.   This might be because they know they are not going to give themselves an awfully hard time if things don’t work out.


In other words, if you are highly self-critical you can scare yourself off trying.   But the self-compassionate person knows that when they look in the mirror they will see a friend looking back, even if their attempt didn’t work out – so it’s safe to try.  Think of self-compassion as talking to yourself in the same way a good friend might talk to you.


And remind yourself that whatever happens you will still be your own best friend.  It’s also helpful to remember that however prepared or confident you may or may not be, hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of students around the world are in the exact same situation.   This can help to lower stress by reducing your sense of isolation.



Stress, I should add, gets in the way of learning as your nervous system goes into “fight or flight” mode.  It’s as though it withdraws energy from learning and puts it into survival instead.   Reducing stress means more energy for learning.



An important component of self-compassion is Mindfulness.  I referred at the start to that stomach-clenching sensation that can accompany the realisation that the elephants are stampeding towards you.


The dramatic scenarios that run through your mind, including scenarios of failure, make this worse.  They involve stressful thoughts which, as I mentioned above, interfere with your learning.  The Mindful approach is to avoid indulging these scenarios.  



Turn your mind away from them: they are about as helpful as a clown blowing a trumpet into your ear while you are trying to concentrate.



Ways to step out of these scenarios include:


  • Notice your anxiety as a physical sensation.  Physical sensations fade after a while;


  • It’s the disaster scenarios you go through in your head that makes them worse;


  • Move your awareness from your thoughts to the sensations in your feet;


  • Take two or three breaths in which you count to seven as you breathe in and to 11 as you breathe out.


Make these fairly quiet breaths – you don’t have to be dramatic about it.   The out-breath has a calming effect on the nervous system and counting to 11 gives you a nice, long out-breath.


If you’re scaring yourself with imaginings of significant other people in your life being disappointed with your performance, remember this: the scariest critic you have might be yourself.   So self-compassion can help to defuse your biggest critic.



It’s especially important, I think, to remember the first point I made:   focus on what’s actually in your control to do.  That’s the arena in which you can make your best choices.



 The above is an edited version of Mr O'Morain's article, detailed below. 

I have added colour, underlining, capitalisation, and made some rearrangements of text.



Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com, @PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.   His latest book is ‘Mindfulness for Worriers’.   His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.





My photograph of pink sorbus from the garden. The berries start off bright pink and fade to translucent as the year ends.







Keep some perspective, and plan ahead as much as possible.  In ten years time will you remember your exam grades?



Based largely on an article by Finnian Curran, updated by him on Thur, May 31, 2018.



Perhaps you are preparing for an actual State Exams: always bear in mind, once the orals are over, and your final projects have been submitted, at last, you will be in the home stretch for the written papers.  Months of toiling away in your study area has come down to this.

What can you do to best use the rest of the time till the end of the exams?  


Dr Mark Smyth of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) offers a breakdown below on how students can best handle this time.


Exam time can be an anxious, stressful and potentially overwhelming experience.  Remember, test-taking anxiety is normal, and because anxiety is an emotion it will pass if you give it time.  The more you fight it the longer it will last.  As the phrase goes, “if you see a wave coming, grab a surfboard”.



Don’t forget to mind yourself, especially ~


  • Sleep: you should be aiming for 9-10 hours per night.  Try to wind down before going to sleep.  You don’t go from fifth gear straight to first gear when driving a car; your mind works similarly and needs time to slow down before sleep.


  • Eat: Make sure to eat regularly.  Continuing the car analogy, a car won’t run without petrol.  Eat regular meals and eat well: this will help your ability to think, concentrate, and last the distance.


  • Exercise: Regular exercise will help to relieve some of the stress build-up and improve your mood.  Build it into your plan: walk the dog, go for a swim or cycle or anything that gets you active.  A brisk thirty minute walk daily is sufficient to keep you fit and in the right frame of mind. Get into the habit of exercise well before any exams are looming.


  • Downtime: Make time for some fun, it’s not only allowed, it’s recommended.  Schedule things you enjoy doing at weekends or during breaks between exams.


  • Have the practical issues organised in advance, not at the last minute.  What’s my timetable for the exam period - have I a printed copy?  How am I travelling to the exams?  What do I need for each exam?  Pens, rulers, calculators, exam number? 


  • The run up and the exams themselves can be very tiring, both physically and mentally, and there’s a tendency to increase caffeine intake.  Caffeine is a stimulant, and its impact can mimic feelings of anxiety and interfere with our ability to sleep and concentrate.  Minimise your intake of caffeine during exam time.


  • Try to keep some perspective.  Ask yourself the question: “in ten years time are you likely to remember what grades you got in the exams?”  It’s unlikely.


  • Try not to despair.  This increases anxiety which can impact on exam performance.  It’s more helpful to focus on what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do / didn’t do.


  • Remember, no matter how the exams go, you always have options: to repeat, to get experience, to return to school as a mature student, to go to college, and other alternative routes to third level.  Exams don’t define you as a person.  We’re all more interesting and important than a grade on an exam.


  • Post-mortems - dwelling on what has already happened will only mess with your head.  It doesn’t help because you can’t change the past.  With social media and instant messaging there’s a temptation to take the post-mortem online, and this is also unlikely to be helpful.  Try to leave the last exam behind you and focus on what you can do, which is the next exam.


  • If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed make sure to talk to someone rightaway: friends, family, a teacher.  You’re not going through this experience alone, support is available, including on ReachOut.com.


  • Remember, exams are time limited, there is an end in sight!






My photograph of periwinkle running rampant in the garden.






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 



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!