The Higher Level Leaving Cert. course is by its very nature broad in content and depth and can be a daunting exam for students to face. At 2 hours and 50 minutes the exam is a real test of not only students’ knowledge but of writing stamina so interpreting the question quickly and clearly is vital for success. Also getting to the point of the question as quickly as possible means you will not waste time in long and unnecessary introductions.
The written exam is worth 400 marks with the Geographical investigation worth 100 marks (20% of the final grade).The paper is split in different parts with plenty of choice for students. The long questions are split between core, electives and options.
Part 1: Short questions worth 80 marks
Here you are given a selection of 12 questions. Students should attempt all questions and will be marked on their best 10. Spend 30 minutes maximum here BUT you should aim to get this done in 20 minutes. Extra time spent here will be lost from other questions. Practice of the past paper short questions is without doubt the best way to prepare as questions over the years tend to be similar in nature. Pay special attention to map and aerial photograph skills questions such as grid references, land use and line distances as in recent years questions have become much more skills based and therefore more time consuming.
Part 2: Structured essays are worth 320 marks
This section is split between core, electives and option questions. The core unit is made up of Physical geography. This gives students a choice between questions 1, 2 and 3. Each question is split into three parts; a, b, and c. Part a is worth 20 marks while parts b and c are worth 30 marks each. Read and select your question carefully. If you start a question you MUST complete all parts; a, b and c. Spent 35 minutes here. 5 minutes on part a, 15 on part b and 15 on part c.
Regional Geography makes up the second part of the core unit. These are questions 4, 5 and 6. They are in the same format as above and the same timing applies.
The elective is a choice between Economic Geography and Human Geography. Economic geography questions range from numbers 7, 8 and 9 Human geography students should select questions from numbers 10, 11 & 12. The same marks breakdown and timing as the core unit applies.
The most popular option topic is geo-ecology. This is a large body of writing worth 80 marks. These are questions 16, 17 and 18. Spend 35 minutes on this question.
On the whole I advise my students to spend 35 minutes per long question. 5 minutes on part a, 15 on part b and 15 on part c. However this can vary from question to question depending on the students’ knowledge of a topic. The more you know the faster you get the information down. At the same time you must avoid the temptation to go beyond the 15 minute time limit. Be strict and disciplined. Once time is up move on, as otherwise you will fall short of time to complete the paper. Bring a watch with you into the exam. Don’t rely on there being a clock in the classroom or exam centre.
Significant relevant points or SRP’s for short can be best described as a statement and development, a key term and definition or a relevant statistical point. Each 30 mark essay will on average need 15 SRP’s to get full marks. Students can write it in paragraph form or in bullet points. If you are using bullet points be remember, not every bullet point is necessarily an SRP.
Practise short questions from past papers – time yourself while doing so; 20 to 30 mins maximum.
Familiarise yourself with marking schemes – this can give you an indication as to what you may pick marks up for. While schemes change from year to year they can be a useful guide.
Each 30 mark question will on average need 15 SRPs. Try to aim for more.
12-15mins per 30 mark question. Be strict on this.
Read questions carefully and fully. Take the first 10 mins to read the paper fully and to mark the questions you want to do. Even jot in a key word or two to get yourself started.
Practise 30 mark questions in a time pressured environment – revise a topic, pick a question, put 15 minutes on a stop watch and write as much as you can.
Always start your essay with a brief introduction. Take the question and turn it into a statement. Perhaps name or list what you will write about here. So if the question asks: “Describe the formation of igneous rocks” the introduction should read something like this; “In this essay I will describe the formation of igneous rocks such as Granite and Basalt”. This introduction may gather marks for simply naming two examples of igneous rocks, if the marking scheme allows.
More often than not a labelled diagram will pick you up marks as long as it is labelled and relevant to the question.
Flash cards, keywords & mind maps are all useful methods for helping to remember key points or pieces of information.