(Compiled by Pascal Smyth, 1997) 

The aim of this booklet on Study Skills is to help you become a more successful student. It contains important advice on how to get the most benefit from study, whether you are doing important exams this year or in years to come. It covers motivation, success in school, time management, dealing with homework, study methods, effective revision and success in exams.

Most students appreciate that study involves hard work. However, a large number, even if they have the motivation, lack the knowledge about how best to approach study. Success in study and exams requires ability, motivation, hard work and ‘know how’. Many students with great ability, unfortunately do not achieve exam results which reflect their true potential. This is because they do not match their ability with the required level of motivation and effort. Even great ability will not compensate for the absence of motivation, method and hard work. Often students of average ability perform better because they make better use of the talents they possess. Moderate ability methodically employed is more productive than greater ability employed in an unmethodical way. Wouldn’t it be really satisfying if you could achieve assessment and exam results that reflect your true potential?

Remember, and be forewarned, that becoming a good student is a long-term process of changing habits of working and ways of thinking about what you are trying to achieve. There are no ‘quick fixes. Do not attempt to change all of your poor study habits overnight. You should build gradually working on one aspect at a time. With dedication and perseverance, you will develop more efficient habits and, in time, become a very successful student.The aim of this booklet on Study Skills is to help you become a more successful student. It contains important advice on how to get the most benefit from study, whether you are doing important exams this year or in years to come. It covers motivation, success in school, time management, dealing with homework, study methods, effective revision and success in exams.

‘You can bring a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink’!

Self-motivation is much better than cajoling and manipulation by your parents or teachers! It is much preferable if you want to do well in your studies for your own sake. This is the crucial difference between intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivation.

Start by accepting that school and education is necessary and, if used correctly, makes learning much easier. Remember that learning is your responsibility so try to take control of your own learning – do not rely on your parents or teachers to control it for you. Work on adopting a positive mental attitude – a ‘growth mindset’, as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’.

Accepting that study is not easy, you can motivate yourself by thinking about what it can help you achieve – good results, the points, self-satisfaction, entry to your chosen career, etc. The sheer volume of work in the various subjects can be off-putting and have a negative motivating effect. But a good method of self-motivation is to set yourself challenging yet attainable short-term goals. These relate to daily, weekly and subject goals which will be dealt with later. If you take care of realistic short-term goals the long-term goals will take care of themselves. In this way you can make school and learning a success and achieve your full potential. 

Central to this process is the idea of ‘delayed gratification’. This is when you sacrifice immediate short-term satisfaction for the feeling of greater satisfaction and contentment that you will experience later on, after you have achieved something that required real effort but which has greater meaning and purpose.

Why not adopt the following two mottoes now:

‘Today I will do the best I can for one more day’.

‘If it is to be, it is all up to me’

‘Time is a precious resource – do not waste it’.

It is in your direct interest to make your learning easier. So make the most of school by approaching each class with an attitude of positive self-discipline. See your teachers as a valuable resource which you can use. Get the most from them by giving them your fullest co-operation – let the teacher teach.

The following are some practical steps which will help you to make the best use of your time in school:


The more you learn during class the less work you have to do at home. Teachers will respond positively to your positive participation. It is your loss if you lose interest in the subject. Work with teachers, not against them.


Be in class on time. Have your journal, books, written homework and other materials immediately to hand. Make sure you have revised and mastered the previous lesson in the subject.


Pay close attention to what the teacher says especially the weight of importance he or she puts on particular aspects of the topic being covered.


If you do not understand something, ask the teacher to run through it again. You, and other students, will benefit from the clarification. Questioning is a very positive sign – it shows that you are interested.


If you are allowed, jot brief notes (key words or phrases) during class. This will help to maintain your concentration. More advice about making notes will be given later. (Listen – Think – Jot)


A ‘messer’ is a cheat who wastes valuable time and reduces your chance of doing well. Never encourage a ‘messer’ in any way eg. being tempted to laugh or getting involved. Messing is destructive.


Great and actually essential – provided you get the balance right.


Just like your time in school, your home study arrangements must be properly planned. You will need to reach agreement with your parents and other family members about where you will work. A good study environment and personal organisation will allow you to work efficiently.

ü  Try to keep a TIDY table or desk.

ü  Ensure GOOD LIGHTING – well positioned and without shadows.

ü  Ensure correct ROOM TEMPERATURE – not too hot, not too cold.

ü  GOOD VENTILATION – diminishing freshness causes drowsiness.

ü  SCREENTIME/TELEVISION etc- a definite non-starter! Leave it for your leisure time.

ü  MUSIC – wean yourself off it. It may not prevent understanding, but it does reduce your ability to recall information.

ü  SMARTPHONE – turn it off, except if you’re using it for study purposes. Don’t cheat on yourself!

ü  INTERRUPTIONS – Make sure the people around you understand your study plans and know when to leave you alone.

ü  GOOD STORAGE – So that you can lay your hands on books, equipment etc, when you need them.

ü  STATIONERY – pens, pencils, rulers, colouring pencils, highlighters, post-its, calculator, protractor, notebooks, refill pads, ring binders etc

ü  WATERBOTTLE – to stay hydrated

ü  LAPTOP/NOTEBOOK/IPAD – with internet access, email etc. This may be a problem depending on service provision. 

A.   How long? 

B.   One-week study & leisure timetable

C.   Study breaks 

D.   Friday nights 

E.   Getting started – don’t’ give in to procrastination

A.    How Long?

‘If you don’t do the time, you don’t get the results’.
Start by deciding on how much time you should spend on home study, ie, written work and study/learning work. The following is the suggested minimum time for the six years of secondary school:

* First Year: 1-2 Hours
* Second Year: 1-2 Hours
* Third Year: 2-3 Hours
* Transition Year: 2-3 Hours (may be less depending on the style of syllabus)
* Fifth Year: 3 Hours
* Sixth Year: 3-4 Hours

B.    One-week study & leisure timetable

The next thing is to plan your time for study. The best approach is to include both your study and leisure activities (eg. sport, watching your favourite television programme, gaming etc) on your ‘one-week study & leisure timetable’. You can fit your leisure activities around your study times or your study times around your leisure activities. Go to Appendix I at the end for an example of a blank ‘one-week timetable’- print off a number of copies.

Each day of the week is divided into hourly time slots. Bearing in mind the recommended daily hours of study for your year, insert your study periods in groups of hourly and half-hourly slots.

Since non-study activities like mealtimes, household chores, part-time jobs, training/matches etc., may have set times, it is better to fill these in first. Perhaps parents or class teachers may be able to help younger students in completing this very important task.

Remember to make plenty of photocopies of the chart before you use it so that you will have spare ones to fill in if your timetable changes. You may also need to experiment with different timetables over a few weeks before you get the balance right.

Once you have  settled on a workable version try your very best to stick with it. Routine makes the work easier. You will also see that there is more to your life than  school and study and, at the same time, feel content in the knowledge that you are getting the work done and making great progress.

C.    Study breaks

Now you have decided when and for how long you are going to work in each session for a period of one week. It is important to take small breaks, particularly if your study session is a long one. About ten minutes per hour’s work is recommended but you should experiment to find out what works best for you. Give yourself a small reward. Resist the temptation to work beyond an hour without a break. Equally, watch the breaks – do your best to get back to work on time. The student who successfully adheres to his one-week study and leisure timetable on an ongoing basis is automatically taking care of his daily and weekly short-term goals mentioned earlier. In turn, the long-term goals will also be realised.

D.   Friday nights

A word about Friday nights. Many students do not do any work on Friday after school ends. It is strongly recommended that on Friday evenings you should at least complete all written homework received. If you do this, you will not have any worries about written work hanging over you all weekend thus leaving your weekend much more relaxed. In addition, your weekend work sessions are now completely free for study and revision work. This piece of advice is especially relevant for senior students.

E.    Getting started – don’t give in to procrastination

Drawing up and sticking to your one-week timetable does require effort. Often the greatest difficulty is simply getting down to work – making the start. Sometimes you may not feel like working after a long day in school. If you immediately give in to this feeling you will not accomplish very much that evening. Instead of giving in, try the 15 minute rule – an idea based on the six-minute rule in athletics. Go to your table and work on your favourite subject for 15 minutes. If you feel fine after this time, continue working. However, if you are still genuinely tired take an easy night. Just complete your written homework. Ask yourself why you are tired – too little sleep, anxiety, overworking, not eating well, – then deal with the problem.

Finally, remember that if you have the personal qualities of self-motivation, commitment and self-discipline you will make your study plans work and end up getting your just rewards.

This section, perhaps the most important of all, deals with the following:

A. What home study is and how to go about it
B. How to make notes
C. Improving your memory and recall
D. Completing written homework
E. Writing good essays
F. Doing effective revision
G. The language of exam questions

A. What is home study and how do you go about it?

Many students wrongly believe that study is only about completing written homework. There is more to it than this.

It involves:

ü revisionof the day’s classes,

ü written homework,

ü revisionof ‘old’ chapters, and,

ü completion of chapter notes or highlighting chapters. 

Start with a subject you find easy. End with a subject you also find easy. In the middle alternate between hard and easy subjects.

For each subject do the following:

ü revise and learn what you covered in today’s class, then

ü  complete the written homework in that subject. 

To revise today’s class work, try the following four-step method abbreviated as PCLR: Preview, Compare, Learn, and Review.

  1. Preview – Find out how much of the class you can remember by giving yourself a 3-minute brainstorming test. Simply jot down, in any order, words, symbols or diagrams. If you have paid good attention in class, you should be able to remember a good deal of the material. The next step is to concentrate on the information you did not recall.
  1. Compare – Compare your preview brainstorm to your textbook or class notes. Now you have sorted the ‘known’ from the ‘don’t know yet’.
  1. Learn – Now learn the ‘don’t know yet’ material. Remember, the more you do in class the less you have to do at home. If your preview brainstorm is not good you will have to look at your classroom performance and do better.
  2. Review – Now complete a review by trying to recall all the information. Compare it with your preview which will show you the progress you have made in a short space of time.

Now complete your written homework, with, or better still, without the use of the textbook. You should never transcribe or copy directly from the textbook or any other written source.

A word of warning – since it is not easy to develop new study habits, you should only use this 4-step method on one subject at a time for a full week.

Gradually apply it to other subjects. In a couple of months, you will have all your subjects under control.

(Note – If you are sitting your Junior Cycle or Leaving Certificate this year you will also need to revise ‘old’ chapters during your study sessions. More about this later.)

B. How to make good notes

Making good notes is a skilled activity and, like any skill, it is important to put time into developing it by following a structured approach. Notes should be brief yet complete reminders of the essential information in a chapter.

Follow the ‘MESSED’ method when making notes:

  • M: USE TWO MARGINS- Draw a narrow margin (1cm) on the left-hand side and use this for numbering headings. Draw a wide margin (6cm) on the right and use this later for making any additions you feel necessary.
  • E: EASY TO READ- Since your notes will be used to revise swiftly and often it is important that they are user friendly. Care now will save you a lot of time later.
  • S: SHORT- Use words or their abbreviations, symbols and diagrams (spider grams, web diagrams, mind maps, graphic organisers). Sentences should only be used for important definitions, quotes, or equations.
  • S: SPACED– Do not cram your notes – they are hard to learn from later. You can also add more information in the open spaces at a later stage.
  • E: EMPHASISE AND ENHANCE– Number and highlight each heading. Then list and itemize the details. Highlight important items during the revision stage.
  • D: DOWN AND DESIGN– Work down the page. After completing each chapter think of how the design of your notes could be improved in the future.

Now that you know how to structure your notes you should read the chapter first before putting pen to paper.

While reading do the following:

ü  read the introduction or the first paragraph. If there is no introduction:

ü  read the summary or last paragraph.

ü  study the illustrations/graphics – diagrams, charts, graphs, tables, pictures.

ü  read the headings.

ü  read any highlighted text.

ü  read the questions at the end of the chapter.

(Make sure your notes contain the answer to these questions).

You are now ready to get to work.

If, however, you feel you do not have time to make notes an alternative is to highlight the chapter in your textbook. Follow the six reading steps above then read the chapter from beginning to end. As you do, think hard at the end of each sentence. Only highlight the key words except where there is a sentence which contains definitions or quotations.

Other active methods of studying and note-taking, which are not dealt with in any detail here, are the use of mind maps, graphic organisers and flash cards. Recent research suggests that these are superior methods, compared to highlighting and linear notetaking. You should explore these and settle on the system that suits you best.

The advantages of using any of these methods are that your concentration is improved because you are forced to be more actively involved in thinking about the material. You are not being passive. You are processing the information and, in a sense, making it your own. Your learning is deeper and thus greatly enhanced.

Frequent revision is necessary if you are to retain mastery of each chapter. Your notes, highlighting, or whatever method you have chosen, will allow you to revise quickly avoiding the time-consuming task of having to go through the full chapter. If you develop these skills and use them consistently, you will be able to bring a huge body of information in the various subjects under your control.

C. Improving your memory and recall

Just because you have learnt something once does not mean that you will always know it. There is a very strong tendency to forget information that is not in current use. Therefore, what has been learnt must be used constantly or it will be lost and have to be re-learnt. Examinations are all about effective recall. Any techniques which improve your recall will enhance your performance in examinations. Examine the following memory curve graph:

From it we can get the following information:

ü  When we learn something, like a list of words, we are actually good at remembering it for a few minutes.

ü  However, we begin to forget after 10 minutes or so.

ü  After a day we have forgotten more than 75% of what we have learnt UNLESS we review it.

ü  We can commit nearly 90% of our learning to ‘long term memory’ if we engage in regular review.

ü  Some things you do not have to think about (e.g., blessing yourself) before you do them – this is because they are committed to long term  memory. 

It should be obvious from the above graph that without regular review or revision we will fail to do ourselves justice when it comes to exams.

Now examine the following: We remember:

10% of what we READ

20% of what we HEAR

30% of what we SEE

50% of what we HEAR and SEE

70% of what we SAY


What do these statistics tell you about how you should approach your study and revision work?

Unfortunately, many students think that they should know something after reading it once. When they cannot remember it, they get the mistaken impression that they are ‘thick’ and are not good at learning. They do not realize that ‘clever’ people also need to revise something again and again until it is well mastered.

The following tips, many of which have been dealt with already, will help you improve the quality of your recall:

ü  Being motivated – wanting to learn.

ü  Being interested and curious about the subject.

ü  Being confident – believing that you can learn.

ü  Reading the chapter before it is covered in class.

ü  Asking Questions.

ü  Good concentration during class.

ü  Making good notes and using them frequently.

ü  Preparing well for class tests and end of term exams

ü  Converting linear notes or chapters into mind maps or graphic organisers.

ü  Reading your notes or listening to them while reading them aloud or transferring them onto an audio device.

ü  Reading ‘old’ homework.

ü  Learning definitions, poems, short quotations by art.

ü  Frequent self-testing by

            *review and review ‘brainstorms’ while revising today’s class work.

            *doing written homework under exam conditions in a limited time without the help of books or notes.

            *quiz and be quizzed with a willing partner.


Mnemonics are simple ‘codes’ to help you to recall something that you find difficult to remember. Some examples:

‘Super man helps every one’ or ‘Homes’ – the five Great Lakes of North America: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario.

‘Fat dad’, – the six counties of Northern Ireland: Fermanagh, Armagh, Tyrone, Down, Antrim, Derry.

‘Mr. Grief’, – the seven characteristics of living organisms: movement, reproduction, growth, respiration, irritability, excretion, feeding.

‘Silly old Harry, caught a herring, trawling off America’, the equations for sine, cosine and tan in trigonometry.

‘How I wish I could remember p1 rapidly’, – the number of letters in the words gives the value of pi: 3.1415827.

‘Every good boy deserves favours’, – these are the names of the notes on the treble clef in music.

Try devising your own mnemonics for vital information in your own subjects. This is where their real usefulness lies.

Try to find out which of the above techniques best suit your needs. Remember a lot of time and energy is spent on study, so vary your methods to avoid boredom and staleness. If you take the time to make the effort you will get the results. ‘Life is like a bank account, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it’. The same is true of study.

D    Completing written homework

 Why written homework? 

As already stated, written homework is only one of four vital activities involved in homework or home study. It is a way of revising what was covered in class today while also providing you with vital practice in developing your answering technique in examinations. It is one thing to know the  information. It is another thing to know how to use what you know. Success in exams is achieved when you have both the information and the ability to use that information as directed in the questions. The correct approach to written homework will help you to develop both of those important aspects.

* Problems

Often students complain that they have no time for study because they get too much written homework.

 Three points need to be made here:

First, you should learn to view written homework as a vital part of study and not separate from it. Completing homework in the way advised below should help you in this regard.

Second, if teachers were convinced that all students would thoroughly revise each day’s classwork in the manner previously
advised they would feel less of a need to give as much written homework. However, experience has taught them that many students do no home study at all unless they get written work. They, therefore set written homework as a way of getting you to revise what was done in class today.

As already shown in Section 6a, the PCLR method is a better way of revising today’s class  work than doing written homework, but, from a teacher’s point of view, completing written homework is better than doing nothing at all. It is also easier for a teacher to check that you have completed your written homework than to check if you have done your learning or revision work. (Again, it must be emphasized, that written homework is not enough on its own. Many students succeed in completing written work to a very satisfactory standard throughout the term but neglect study and learning work. Both they and their teachers may get the mistaken impression that great progress is being made.
Unfortunately, when it comes to class tests or end of term examinations their performance is poor. This is because they have been neglecting to do their learning work all along, and/or copying homework directly from the textbook!).

Third, the reason why written work takes up so much time for many students is because it is attempted before they have completed the revision work for today’s classes. Since they have not mastered the necessary material they end up almost totally depending on the textbook.
Many students, in fact, as already stated, copy directly from the textbook word for word – verbatim. This can be very time consuming. In addition, they may not even understand what they are writing! Further still, older students are failing to take advantage of completing written examination questions under examination conditions – a vital skill in preparation for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations


 So, how should you approach your written work?

Think first about your presentation. Good presentation of written homework will result in good presentation in exams which will help to gain marks. Take pride in your written work and do it to the best of your ability.

Use the following approach:

1.    Draw two narrow straight margins of one centimetre each in red – one on each side of the page.

2.    When starting questions on a new chapter put the chapter number and title in the margin along the top of the page. If answering questions from past papers show the year and question number clearly. You might also include the date.

3.    Use the left-hand margin to number the questions and parts of questions in red. The page number in the textbook from which the questions are taken should also appear here. This will allow you to quickly refer to the question later when you are using your ‘old’ home works for revision.

4.    Do your best to write neatly.

5.    Display the information in a clear way, making correction, by you or your teacher, easy. (Never leave, a wrong answer uncorrected).

6.    Draw accurate diagrams to the correct size and in proportion. They should be fully labelled or annotated in neat print.

7.     Leave sufficient space between each question. Missing information could be included here at a later stage.

8.    Carefully follow any additional instructions from your individual subject teachers.


Now think about the actual content of your answers.

First year students should start by revising the content of today’s class in that subject. Then, with the aid of the textbook but without copying directly, they should answer each question using their own words. Try to strike a balance between overly neat presentation on the one hand and careless, sloppy, rushed work on the other. That is, spending too much time or spending too little. If you spend too much time on written work you will have little time left for study. Also, you will not be developing the skill of answering questions in a set time under examination conditions which will be important especially in later years. However, if you spend too little time, your answers will probably be unsatisfactory. Perhaps you are simply making basic points but failing to develop them enough. In exams, especially on higher level papers, more marks are awarded for developing or expanding on points than are given for making the basic point. Your individual subject teachers will be able to give you more advice on this matter. The advice given here applies to older students as well as first years.

 Older students, especially those in state examination years, should approach written homework differently. Revise today’s class work or the relevant chapters thoroughly, using your textbook or notes. Then attempt your written work under examination conditions without the use of aids. If it is an examination type question, try to complete it within the same time limits for a similar question in the exam. This sounds like a very difficult task but have confidence in your ability – you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. With self-discipline and plenty of practice this skill will improve and your exam performance will be enhanced. Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them. If you follow this approach you will have mastered both the information and the answering skills or examination techniques necessary for success. This is a far better approach than being totally dependent on the textbook during term work and, as a result, either not having enough information, or sufficient time to answer questions in an exam, or both. Again, always take the advice of your subject teachers on completing quality homework. They all have access to previous years examination marking schemes, and many are or have been correctors/markers of the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations in their own subjects. They know exactly what is required to gain high marks.

 E.   Writing good essays

 The following is some important general advice on writing good essays. Many of your subjects have essay type questions in the exam which usually carry a high percentage of the overall marks. Regular practice at writing essays as part of your written homework will help you perfect this important skill. The following guidelines are relevant to all year groups but are particularly directed at Leaving Certificate students.

(i) Think carefully about the title – it is a vital part of producing a good essay. Look carefully at each word or phrase in turn. Otherwise you can
easily waste a lot of time writing about irrelevant things for which you will get little marks.

(ii) Gather together all the material for your essay.

(iii) Brainstorm – using a rough work piece of paper, jot down any words, phrases, or ideas that you can think of, which relate to the question or essay title. Now number the words or phrases in the order in which you will write about them in your essay.

(iv) Plan – this is of crucial importance. Using the results of your brainstorm, neatly write out the plan of your essay in your copy/answerbook. Decide on the number  of paragraphs (5 including introduction and conclusion is the usual) and what points will go into each paragraph. If you tend to write too much, it is at this stage that you need to make tough decisions. You must limit your essay plan to what can be managed in the space (and time) you have. If you tend to write too little, think about giving more attention to how much explaining you must do to get your points across. Include a brief introduction and conclusion in your plan.

(v) Essay – now start the actual essay. In the introduction, briefly, explain what the essay will be about, and the main points you will make.

(vi) Paragraphs – now take each paragraph in turn and, using the words or headings from your plan, construct your sentences to create your content. Paragraphs are clusters of sentences with one main theme.

(vii) Sentences – these can vary a great deal in length. If you need a punchy opening or conclusion, use a short sentence. A lot of items of information also suit short sentences. You will tend to need longer sentences when you are explaining and developing a point or argument.

(viii) Flow – make your essay flow by using link words like, ‘but’, ‘then’, ‘so’, ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, etc.

(ix) Signposting  – now and again, try to make connections between your paragraphs and the title and between each paragraph. Work to the question in the title at all times and show the reader where you are going.

(x) Examples – use plenty of examples to illustrate your point.

(xi) Conclusion – the conclusion should be a short summary of the main points you have made and, where appropriate, your own personal comment on the topic under discussion.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Remember that most of what you read is written by ‘professionals’. If you are a beginner, then
compare yourself to other beginners.

Bear in mind that these are only general guidelines. A History essay is not the same as an English essay. More specific advice will be given by your subject teachers. Plenty of practice in writing essays as part of your written homework will prepare you well for the day of the exam.

 F.    Doing effective revision

 If you examine the graph again in Section 6c- ‘Improving your memory and recall’, you will be reminded of the fact that we all begin to forget what we have learnt almost as soon as we have learnt it. It is only through regular revision that we can commit information to our long-term memories. Remember: Revision work is ongoing

If you think carefully about what has been written so far, you will see that all of it relates closely to the idea of doing effective revision.

The student who:

 (i) uses the PCLR method to revise each day’s class work,

(ii) follows the ‘MESSED’ method when making notes of chapters,

(iii) uses tips like linear notes, mind maps, graphic organisers and mnemonics to aid memory recall,

(iv) revises the necessary material before completing written homework, and,

(v) follows the advice about essay writingwill automatically be taking care of much of the work associated with revision.

If you take on board the time management advice and follow your ‘one-week timetable’, your short-term goals will be achieved, and the long-term goals will look after themselves. This is particularly true if you stay in control of completed chapters by fitting revision of these ‘old’ chapters (see below) into your weekly home study timetable. Study sessions during Saturdays and Sundays could be used particularly for this purpose. Try to accept that revision is not just something that takes place a few weeks before the exams start, but that it is a continuous ongoing process which applies to all students whether sitting exams or not.

Revise ‘old’ chapters

When revising ‘old’ chapters you should make sure to read the questions at the end of the chapter beforehand. Find the answers to these questions. If you are in your exam year, you should also read the questions relating to the chapter on the past exam papersBear in mind that exams don’t just test your ability to remember information, they also test your ability to answer particular types of questions. For this reason, you must practice writing full answers to questions from past papers. In this way you can work on your depth of answering and timing so that you will not lose marks because of poor exam technique on exam day.  Writing full answers can take up a lot of time so you will only be able to do this for some questions. Planning answers to past questions is much faster and almost as effective. Do this by using the ‘brainstorming method’ which will give you a list of ideas and points which you would make if you were writing a full answer. Another useful way of revising for the Junior or Leaving Certificate exams is to study revision books which would allow you to revise far more often and faster than if you were using the textbooks. Remember also that your subject teachers will do vital revision in the last term before the Junior and Leaving Certificate exams. All of the above will help to make your workload much more manageable.

Organising your revision

If you are to approach this revision work in an organised way you must have a plan. The ‘Eight-Week Revision Planner’ (2a and 2b in the appendices) should be used to plan your work and keep a record of your progress. As you can see it covers a period of eight weeks. You should start by making copies of the planner so that it can be used again and again. (pdf 2a covers weeks 1-4 and pdf 2b covers weeks 5-8. Stick them together to create a large A3 size chart). Now fill in your subjects in addition to Irish, English, and Maths. Check a calendar and fill in the relevant dates for each week. The next step is to take each subject and, using the contents page of your textbook, fill in the number of the chapter on the day you intend to revise it. Alternatively fill in the relevant topic which would be more meaningful. Be realistic – if you attempt too much there is a danger that you will fall behind. Remember to maintain balance by paying sufficient attention to all your subjects. Begin to do this planning work, allowing yourself enough time before Week I is due to start. Your completed revision planner could be pinned on the wall beside where you study, alongside your ‘one-week timetable’. The small boxes under each subject heading can be used to tick off each chapter as you complete it. If you stick to your plan you will be able to see at a glance the progress you are making, and this will act as a great morale booster!

       G. The language of exam questions 

As already stated, exams don’t just test your ability to remember information, they also  test your ability to answer particular types of questions. For this reason, you must practice writing full answers to questions from past papers. In this way you can work on your depth of answering and timing so that you will not lose marks because of poor exam technique on exam day. Good exam technique is crucial to performing well. The first, and most critical, step is to read the question carefully and accurately interpret its meaning. Sometimes this is not always straightforward. Misinterpreting questions is one of the biggest errors students make in exams. Unfortunately, answering a question you weren’t asked will gain you little or no marks.

So, how do you go about reading the question?

All exam questions contain two types of words – ‘topic or theme’ words and ‘command or instruction’ words.

Identifying the key ‘topic’ words or phrases in the question will help you to work out what the question is about. You could underline these words or phrases – and use a particular colour, eg. blue.

Identifying the ‘command’ words in the question helps you work out what you are being instructed to do. What does the examiner want? You could box these words – and use a particular, but different, colour, eg. red. Remember there could be more than one command word in a question, eg. List and explain, Mark and label, etc.

The next step is to be clear about what exactly each of the command words mean. Knowing the difference between similar ‘command’ words is especially important.

Familiarise yourself with the following terms or command words and their meanings/definitions commonly used in exam questions:

Analyse: say why things happened (eg. in history) and how they affected events that came later.

Amplify: explain further, give extra details.

Assess: give a judgement about something. Was it a success or a failure?

Brief/briefly: Make a short concise statement – details are not necessary.

Calculate: Determine, show how the answer was obtained.

Classify: Arrange items into particular groups.

Comment on: Make observations on.

Comment on the validity of: Say, giving reasons, whether the statement is true or false.

Compare: Discuss items and at the same time, identify their similarities and differences.

Contrast: Discuss items and at the same time, identify their differences. Compare in such a way as to emphasise differences.

Correlate: Show connections between different items.

Criticise: Examine the evidence and give your views.

Define: State clearly and concisely the meaning  of.

Describe: Trace out and give a general account of.

Discuss/discuss critically the view that: Debate, giving arguments for (Pros) and against (Cons).

Distinguish between: Show what makes things different.

Emphasise: Highlight and lay stress on.

Evaluate: Analyse, judge, assess the amount, number, value, importance of.. or soundness of..  eg. an argument put forward. In Maths – a
numerical expression or equivalent for..an equation, formula or function.

Examine: Inspect something thoroughly in order to determine its nature or condition.

Explain: Make clear and understandable.

Explore: Inquire into or discuss in detail, examine or evaluate.

Give evidence: Give proofs or reasons for.

Give an account of: Give a description or explanation of.

Give an illustrated account: Support your description with labelled/annotated diagrams or back up your explanations with examples.

Give reasons for: Explain or give evidence for.

Identify: Establish or indicate who or what (someone or something) is

Indicate: Show or point out clearly.

Illustrate: Show clearly, using examples or diagrams if necessary.

Label: Identify and name the parts of the diagram, graph, photograph or map.

List: Give an itemised record of. Descriptions or explanations are not required.

Mark: Draw in an item-as on a map/diagram.

Name: Identify someone or something.  

Outline: Give a precise, brief account of the main points, features or ideas without the details, or, briefly state the general plan.

Refer to/with reference to: Make mention of.

Relate/what is the relationship: Connect/ what is the connection between.

Show: Display your workings-as in Maths, Mark/draw in an item-as on a map/diagram.

State: Express in words.

Summarise: Give a concise broad account covering the main points only. (Same as ‘outline’)

Trace: Follow an idea, argument or set of images through an entire piece of writing from start to finish. Or, follow
developments over a period of time. 

Treat of: Same as ‘give an account of’, ‘trace’, ‘outline’.

What is the basis for: What is the principle for or what is the foundation for… .

What is the significance for: Why is it important or what is the meaning of

Write notes on: Give a short summary in words.

A very useful exercise would be to go through your past exam papers and identify the subjects in which these instruction words frequently appear.

‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail’.

A. Is it too late?

The exams are fast approaching. This can be a stressful time for most students. If, however, you have tried your best to put into effect the advice which has been given so far, you have no need to worry. Your weeks and even years of hard work will stand to you. If, on the other hand, you have not used your time well to date, all is not lost. Don’t beat yourself up! View your mistakes, if that’s what they were, as an opportunity for learning. Put it down to experience and decide to start now. There is much you can do between now and the exam if you have the motivation. Do not give up hope. It is going to be tough – you have to pay for falling behind – but it can be done! Remember, most, if not all, of the chapters you have neglected in the various subjects will be dealt with again in class when the teacher completes the syllabus and begins revision. Make out a revision timetable – explained in a previous section. Work hard to bring any remaining chapters being covered in class under control. Be attentive and receptive in class. If you have fallen behind, now is the time to show your growing maturity by reacting with a
positive ‘can do’ attitude and displaying your ‘growth mindset’


B. Coping with stress

Prepared or not, most students experience stress on the run-up to exams.

Try to keep the following points in mind:

(i) The stress created by exams is a positive force (good stress) which you can use to help you pull through. A little stress is necessary.

(ii) Aim to find ways to harness the energy associated with exam stress and put it to good use.

(iii) Failing an exam is not the end of the world so keep your anxieties in proper proportion and maintain some perspective. Too
much stress is bad for us.

(iv) There is lots of goodwill coming your way. Everyone wants you to achieve, especially the examiners.

(v) No one understands everything. There are bound to be areas where you feel under-prepared and confused. This is absolutely normal.

(vi) When you feel stress or anxiety the following breathing exercise can help you relax – even in the exam hall:

                * sit in a comfortable position.

                * make sure your body is at ease – two feet on the floor, hands in your lap, back straight, shoulders down.

                *Close your eyes.

                * Allow yourself to notice the sounds all around you, for a moment.

                * Notice your breathing. Do not change it in any way. Just observe it. Are you breathing quickly, slowly, deeply?

                * Breathe in slowly counting to 7, hold as you count to 10, exhale as you continue counting to 15. Deep ‘belly breathing’, not shallow chest breathing. Repeat                    5 times.

                * Open your eyes.

                * Sit quietly for a moment or two.

                * Repeat if necessary.

(vii) Focus on controlling the things that are within your control and forget about the rest. ‘Control the controllables’.

(Viii) Stay present and in the moment. Don’t be thinking ahead. ‘Be here now’.


C. Myths about exams

(i) Failure would ruin your life!

(ii) The exam could expose you as a fool and a fraud!

(iii) You should have learned everything in the subject before attempting the exam!

(iv) Exam papers are unreadable!

(v) Exams are for people with good memory!

(vi) Exams are just for ‘speed merchants’!

(vii) You have to revise till you drop before an exam!


D. Things examiners don‟t like

(i)  Mis-interpreting the question.

(ii) Failing to answer the question.

(iii) Failing to draw on material from the course.

(iv) Poor time-management.

(iv) Poor presentation.


E. Strategies for preparing for exams

(i) Revision Timetable – follow the advice given previously.

(ii) Exam Timetable – place it beside your revision timetable.

(iii) Exam Subjects – for each, make sure you know:

                * the structure and layout of the paper – sections etc.

                * the time for the entire exam.

                * the number and type of questions set.

                * are there any compulsory questions?

                * preferred sequence in which questions should be answered.

                * the recommended time to be spent on each question/section.

                * when, if at all, you should attempt extra questions e.g. short questions.

 Examine past papers and take the advice of your teachers.


F. Last minute revision

In the last few days, you should:

(i) only revise material you know and understand fairly well. This keeps Information fresh and gives you confidence.

(ii) revise using your notes. If you feel you must look at the textbook, then only revise the introduction (a broad
overview of the topic) and the
conclusion (often contains a summary of the information) to each chapter.

(iii) practise jotting down outlines or plans for answers to questions.

(iv) practise writing out one or two answers in full against the clock. (Be sensible here). 


G. The night before

(i) Get organized:

     * check exactly the time the exam begins.

     * arrange to be early – take into account all the things that could go wrong and prevent you from reaching the exam on time.

     * have a good supply of pens, pencils, rulers, erasers, and any other special exam materials needed.

(ii) Relax and get plenty of sleep

     * if you want to do revision, do it early in the evening for a couple of hours.

     * take a little exercise to help you relax and sleep later on.

        Pulling an ‘all-nighter’ is a complete no-no!

(iii) Be sure you will get up on time in the morning. Use an alarm and get someone to call you. 


H. The morning of the exam

(i) Get up on time.

(ii) Eat a good breakfast.

(iii) Go to the toilet before you leave home, and if necessary, before you enter the exam hall.

(iv) Don’t forget your water bottle.

(v) Keep away from the crowd. Stay with one or two friends, or quietly look over some notes you know well.



I. The exam hall – practical tips for the exam

(i) When you get your paper, read it or scan it, to get an idea of what it is like. Turn over every page.

(ii) Pay special attention to the instructions at the beginning of the paper and for each separate section and question.

(iii) Decide on the questions you are going to answer. Don’t jump at a question because it looks easy, and don’t ignore a question
because it looks difficult at 
first glance. Make sure you are doing all the compulsory questions.

(iv) Box the ’command’ or instruction word(s) and underline the key ‘topic’  words. (See section 6G again).

(v) Start writing soon if it helps to ‘unfreeze’ you.

(vi) Plan out the order in which you will do the questions. In general, you should plan to do your best question first. Remember
your teachers’ advice.

(vii) Keep rigidly to the recommended time for each question/section. If you are not finished when the time is up, leave a blank space and go on to the next question. Remember. you generally get more marks for starting a new question than for finishing an old one.

(viii) Follow all the rules, given previously, for written work, and especially the guidelines for long essay-type answers
-i.e. sketch an outline plan, etc.

(ix) Do your best to write legibly.

(x) At the end of the exam, when you are finished writing, check over answers carefully. Make sure you have numbered each
answer clearly and correctly.

(xi) Make sure you are properly identified (exam number) on every separate page/answer books/’write on’ sections
which you have to hand up.

(xii) If, at any stage during the exam, you get a little panicky, try the relaxation breathing exercise outlined above.


J. After the exam

 (i) No ‘post-mortems’
– they usually damage your confidence.

(ii) Talk to
someone who did not do the exam
– a parent, teacher, friend.

(iii) Relax
and unwind.

(iv) Rest well
before preparing for the next exam.

A. General
B. Organisation
C. Parents of Junior Cycle students
D. Parents/Guardians of Senior students

A. General

Being a parent of a second level student in today’s world is not easy. Pressures emanating from many different sources inevitably give rise to stress which in turn can result in conflict. Success today demands much greater commitment from the student than in the past. ‘Qualification Inflation’ has resulted in the need for higher and higher educational attainment in order to secure a preferred job choice or third level place. Parents need to see things as they are today, not as they were in the past. Most students require the positive and active encouragement and support of their parents – even though at times it may not seem this way! Parents must try to juggle all the demands of modem living, keep the lines of communication open (even during difficult times), work at resolving conflict when it arises, and reach agreed compromise when appropriate. 

B. Organisation 

Perhaps the key to success is good organization.

(i) Parents could start by reading through this study guide in order to familiarise themselves with the advice which it gives to students.

(ii) Where possible, students should be provided with a suitable quiet place to study.

(iii) Try to provide them with the necessary time for home study. Check their study and leisure timetable and ensure that it is followed. Strike a suitable balance between study time, household chores and sporting, leisure and entertainment activities.

(iv) Try to establish regular mealtimes so that study and other activities can be slotted in appropriately.

(v) Tackle the thorny issue of part-time jobs. These are not recommended, particularly in Junior or Leaving Certificate years. Students with part- time jobs have three major commitments: study, leisure and the job. They too often give in to the temptation of reducing their study time to maintain their other two commitments. Students should continue with a part-time job only if the quantity and quality of study is not interfered with or if students are prepared to sacrifice some of their leisure time to keep the job. Which is preferable – short term financial gain or long-term educational achievement? It is a question of priorities. 

C. Parents of Junior Cycle students 

Parents of Junior students, particularly First years, have a major responsibility in the establishment of good study habits at an early stage. While it is important to encourage a developing sense of personal responsibility and self-motivation on the one hand, close direction and monitoring is necessary on the other. Maturity does not necessarily come with age. If you are unhappy with the level of progress, direct intervention is vital. Don’t be slow to act. 

(i) Help your son or daughter to make out a workable home study and leisure timetable. Insist that it is followed. Some compromise may be necessary.

(ii) Ensure that she/he uses the homework journal correctly.

(iii) Check that written work, learning work and regular revision is completed to a high standard.

(iv) Ensure that the journal is signed every weekend.

(v) Sign any notes written by the class teacher or subject teachers.

(vi) Use the journal to keep in regular communication with the school.

(vii) Ensure the Code of Behaviour is observed in all respects.

 In general, maintain a watching (if unobtrusive) brief on your child’s educational progress throughout the first three years at second level.

D. Parent/Guardians of Senior students 

Ideally, at this stage, teens and young adults will have developed an appropriate level of self-motivation and self-discipline. Learning should be self-directed. This is indeed the case with many students. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. Some students at this age insist on their rights to be treated as young adults by their parents and teachers, but unfortunately, do not adhere to the responsibilities or duties attached to these rights. Encourage them, in a non-confrontational way, to see the link between rights and duties and to behave in a manner appropriate to their expected level of maturity. If this is not forthcoming, you have the right, (and the responsibility) as a parent to intervene. You may feel it necessary to act on some of the advice given in relation to Junior Cycle students. Try to communicate openly and honestly. Bear in mind the pressures of adolescence and be sensitive to their needs. Avoid alienation. Some compromises may be necessary. Seek a ‘win-win’. Your intervention may not be immediately appreciated but your insistence on high standards in terms of study habits may someday be rewarded with gratitude! 

Think of your brain as the most complex computer in the world. Research has shown that in any given situation we use less than l0% of our brain’s capacity. If we could increase this, even by a small percentage, it would have a significant positive effect, not just in terms of study and exams, but throughout our lives. If you apply the advice given here and, like any good athlete, aim to perfect your skills with continuous practice, you will begin to see the results. You will never gain perfection but by striving towards it, you will acquire excellence. Remember, the skills of studying are not something you can read about once and instantly understand and apply for all time. You learn them gradually through trial and error, through repeated practice, and through stopping to think about your experience. Learning to study effectively is one of the most challenging and satisfying undertakings open to us. Many students say that studying not only gives them a greater knowledge and understanding of the subjects they study but also more confidence, broader interests, and more purpose in life. If you develop a wide range of study techniques and strategies, you will not only help yourself succeed as a student, but you will strengthen your capacities all round.

‘Carpe Diem’ – seize the day!

Dineen, M. and McLeavey, B. (1992), ‘The Student – A Guide to Success in Second and Third Level Education’.

Kirwan, 5. (1994), ‘Learning for Life’.

Mace, C.A. (1975), ‘The Psychology of Study’.

North Eastern Health Board (1989), ‘Healthy Times’.

Northedge, A. (1993), ‘The Good Study Guide’.

Reville, J. (1997), ‘Yes You Can’ – A Students Guide to Study, Revision and Exam Success’.

 Note: This guide was compiled by Mr. Pascal Smyth. Much of it has been influenced by the last listed reference. Students may wish to consult this work for more information on a broad range of study methods.

The guide was compiled in 1997. Readers should be aware that new research on how we think and learn is continually adding to our level of understanding in this fascinating area.  

Appendix 1: One-Week Study and Leisure Timetable (downloadable & printable)

1. one week study timetable

Appendix 2a: Eight-Week Subject Revision Planner: weeks 1-4. (downloadable & printable) 

2a Revision Planner WKS 1-4

2b Revision Planner WKS 5-8 

Appendix 3: SMART Goal-setting Worksheet (downloadable & printable)

Goal-setting worksheet