Institute of Education Study Notes

Sunday, 15th July, 2018

Academic Zone

Applied Maths (H): A tough, long and testing exam paper

Leaving Cert Applied Maths

Reaction to Leaving Cert 2017 Applied Maths (Higher Level) by Hilary Dorgan, Applied Maths teacher at The Institute of Education.

Tough, long and testing would be how I would sum up the 2017 Leaving Cert Higher Level Applied Maths paper.

If you think you have not done very well on this paper after all your very hard work, don’t despair. My colleagues in the Irish Applied Maths Teachers’ Association assure me that everybody found it tough right around the country. The good news is that the results will as usual fit the normal bell curve and therefore the paper will have to be marked in a way that will force the results to fit that curve.

I sometimes think that the person who sets the recent Leaving Cert Applied Maths paper thinks that everybody does Applied Maths is in the H1 category and thus should be confident and cool in the exam and be well able to cope with all the twists and extra complications the papers throw at them. The truth is far from that.

In Leaving Cert Higher Level Maths a weak student will have many opportunities to pick up “banker” marks on the more straightforward parts of the paper. But, in Applied Maths, you just may not be able to even start a question or interpret what is being asked for if these twists come too early or too often in the questions.

A fair paper should have enough questions or parts of questions on the exam paper for the weaker student to get over the line. The 2017 paper had few parts you could call “straightforward”. I would best describe this exam as a paper I would use as a Mock paper in the future for a very bright class who were getting a bit too cocky and needed pulling down a bit.

To be fair, you could not argue that any of the questions go beyond the bounds of the syllabus, it is just that it would be very difficult to pick out six questions from this paper that you would be confident of doing well in after reading the paper. If you had not studied at least eight topics, your choices would have been severely limited.

It is a constant gripe of mine, but once again I feel the time element in Applied Maths is very unfair. Some of the questions this year were very long, particularly the questions that most students attempt (especially this year: Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, Q10).

If a student takes a wrong turn in one or two of the questions, which can easily happen, there is genuinely a huge pressure to get six questions done in the available time. A half hour per question seems much more reasonable to me. We want to entice more students to attempt this wonderful subject and we are not just trying to attract the students who will score H1. It is not right that students who have worked very hard over two long years come out of the exam feeling frustrated and thinking they have performed badly. But, please, as I said above, wait for the results in August and hopefully the news will be far brighter than expected.

Question by question

  • Q1(a) A very general question, students far prefer numbers to letters. The question was worded in a difficult way, students would find it easier if it simply asked to prove that k=2 (but, with the question more in English).
  • Q1(b) Some may have been put off by the word “circle”, thinking circular motion methods would need to be used (and many leave this section out). But, to have to cope with energy conservation and friction might have proved too much for many students in Q1.
  • Q2(a) Straightforward.
  • Q2(b) A bit longer than usual, could have done without very last part.
  • Q3(a) Surely, the letter P cannot be right in the question at the very end. Hopefully, this was corrected on the day. But, even then, it was testing enough.
  • Q3(b) Ok but very long.
  • Q4(a) A very long part(a)
  • Q4(b) An acceleration as complicated as kpcosβ will have looked very daunting for many students. Another very long question.
  • Q5(a) The transfer of energy bit was tricky and confusing.
  • Q5(b) Reasonable.
  • Q6(a) On first glance, this one looked very confusing and off-putting.
  • Q6(b) A very difficult and unusual question.
  • Q7(a) Trickier than it looked.
  • Q7(b) Similar to 7(a).
  • Q8(a) Straightforward
  • Q8(b) Tricky but not too bad.
  • Q9(a) Fairly typical.
  • Q9(b) Fairly typical.
  • Q10(a) Reasonable
  • Q10(b) Not too bad.

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