I slowly dropped in to conversation with other teachers how I was planning to sit the Economics and Business papers in the Leaving Certificate – it garnered mixed reactions, some unsure as to the benefits, some in disbelief you’d spend two days of your summer holidays sitting an exam, and others developed a glazed over look in their eyes, with what looked like some type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you’d expect from a soldier that’s been to war, as they appeared to replay nightmare Leaving Cert scenarios behind their eyes! Reactions ranged from “Sure of course you’d get a H1” to “this will be very embarrassing if you don’t”, the grade wasn’t the main reason to sit the paper, so what was?
The option of sitting through weeks of corrections during the summer isn’t something to be considered lightly. The benefits to a teacher of correcting are big – getting a much better insight as to what the examiners expect in your subject, continuous correcting and refining of what is worth marks and what isn’t as you work through an endless bundle of scripts, attendance at the examiners seminar where the marking scheme is discussed and revised – all very valuable. But the size of the work, limitations on your life, number of scripts, low levels of pay can outweigh those benefits for many.
So I figured, if I sit the paper and then view the scripts I’ll be able to see where marks are lost and gained and see what errors show up. The added benefits this year was that you can scan your paper after changes to the Data Protection behind the viewing of scripts. I also felt there was a lot to be gained from going through the process again, and it didn’t disappoint in uncovering easy exam management mistakes that I’d be annoyed with a student if they did them in one of my exams!
So what did I learn?:
Time pressures are real
I was writing all the way to the end of the paper despite planning on a minimalist approach to answering questions. Its very hard not to try to pad answers or add extra information to points. You need to have a rigid time plan in place and have practised it before hand in class tests, homework and study.
Take Your Time With Question Choice
To follow on from the time pressure, you have to make choices under that time pressure as well. When choosing questions, make sure you’re calculating based on parts A, B and C, and not just that you know one part really well. As I wasn’t really in exam mode at all for the papers, I turned up with no calculator as I didn’t have one at home – this didn’t stop me picking the wages question and only after I had finished part A of the question and moved on to the wages question did I twig that I didn’t have a calculator to help! I probably couldn’t have made a more basic exam error, and after some cursing under my breath, and lots of long multiplication and division I got through the question, but with added stress and a wasted time penalty.
Exam Management is Important
Have a plan. In both exams, I started on the short section and was motoring along nicely, in loads of time. But on both papers I answered more than I needed to – in Economics you can answer 6 out of 9, but I answered all 9 as I got caught up in the positive feedback of knowing the answers to questions asked – and foolishly then I slipped behind the time needed and spent the rest of the exams chasing my tail. Be disciplined, answer 6, mark which ones to come back to, then if you have time at the end, come back to them.
So did I get two H1s?
I can’t say I wasn’t a little nervous opening the envelope with my results again. The grades, I had told myself, didn’t really matter, it was the learning I got from the process that did. And I did learn valuable insights that had probably faded since I last sat the Leaving Cert in 2000 as a student. I think there’s so much to gain from using my script to show mistakes, real life H1 answers and how they are marked, and what it takes to get a H1 at LC Business and LC Economics. I’d recommend it to all teachers to sit the exam again at some stage just to relive the experience and learn from it.
Buy the ‘What It Takes’ e-book here to find out what it takes to get a H1, including traps to avoid and the real life use of keywords, verbs and examples in your Leaving Cert Business exam!