This page got deleted somehow. Here’s the link to the Ep 6 Listen Along Guide in the interim before I get the page back up again…
This page got deleted somehow. Here’s the link to the Ep 6 Listen Along Guide in the interim before I get the page back up again…
The question I have been asked most frequently by my own students is simply this:
“How do I improve the mark in my exam essays?”
This is a fair question, with which students perennially struggle, but one whose asking seems to have increased in frequency in recent years in both my Pol-Soc and History classes. As someone who taught English at JC and LC for many years, I can’t help wondering how much this is linked to the fact that the new Junior Cycle doesn’t require English students to write any kind of extended essay, discursive or narrative? A question for another day, perhaps…
Well anecdotally at least, in the absence of that key skill, students seem to be arriving in to fifth year Pol-Soc class with lower levels of writing skills that we must nonetheless address. So over the holidays I tried to put together a one-page guide (God, I love trying to fit it onto one page!) to an incremental process designed to help students make gradual improvement in their discursive essay writing. Of course, there’s no substitute for content knowledge (which this takes as a pre-requisite), but I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen good students under-perform in exams because of poor time-management, rather than because of a lack of knowledge (and reciprocally, average students who have gotten to grips with this process, out-performing their seemingly abler classmates).
Similarly, students often fail to take the basics of ‘exam conditions’ into account. They fail to practice writing essays without the crutch of their notes for support, or fail to realize that they should find a neat, light pen (blue or black) that doesn’t require them to put too much pressure on their writing hand, that they use exclusively from Christmas in Sixth Year until the end of the exams (buying 20-30 of them so as to never worry about running out!). They wouldn’t use a brand new type of football boot at the start of a county final, so why should they do it during the most consequential minutes of writing they’ll do in the early part of their adult lives?????
Anyway, take a look at the one-page guide here: Study Skills for Pol Soc Essays, and if you have any suggested ways to improve upon it, I’m all ears (which is, unfortunately, both literally and metaphorically the case…). How I’ve explained this process to my own students is to remind them how they learned to ride their bikes. First they started off with all the necessary supports – a parent to hand, all the elbow and knee pads that money can buy, 2 stabilizers, smooth flat ground… Gradually, each support is removed so that the process no longer feels so daunting and insurmountable. Essay writing is actually just like that. (P.S. If you missed my post on suggested exam timing and exam strategy, you can find it here.)
The process requires students to make a brutally honest self-evaluation at the start so that they can identify what areas in the process they need to address most urgently in order to make maximum progress. We can’t help with the honesty bit, unfortunately!
Best of luck in the run up to the mocks (and if anyone is using the DEB paper, I’d be similarly interested in any constructive feedback that people might have about the exam).
And remember, as Ernest Hemingway said, writing is easy, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Hard things are hard, but if you chip away at it, it gets ever so slightly less difficult in an exam setting…
Initially, I found this area of the course to be potentially impossibly broad, never knowing ‘how much was enough’. So I decided to take a specific tack which I’ve developed over the last 3 year groups. Here it is:
While this is one of the areas of the course that is relatively mechanical in terms of gathering relevant data (from sources like www.citizensinformation.ie) it is a really good example of trying to translate information into opinion. Two or three different students can legitimately find themselves forming opposing, but equally valid, opinions about how the systems of elections or governmental structures can work. Having covered a lot of introductory material on key thinkers at the start of fifth year, I find this topic an excellent way to introduce/develop group work where students are supporting each other (and where I get to take a back seat!). It’s a shift in gear that the students respond well to (touch wood).
I’m not saying that this is the only way to approach the topic, but here’s how I go about doing it. I waited until the recent by-election in Dublin Mid-West – our constituency – to do it, so that students could follow election events in relative real time. That won’t be possible every time, obviously, but there’s nearly always some kind of election happening somewhere in the world that you can piggy back on!
Having undergone this process, you then ask students to write their response in the form of a ‘Critical Essay’ as they might be asked to do in the exam. Alternatively, you could give it as an actual exam question – it’s really up to you to decide what you think is the most useful way…
The last little grenade that I throw into the mix is to ask them “Is there actually such a thing as ‘the will of the people’?” How can such a diverse group of people be described as having a ‘singular’ view of the world or society? Are there times when there will be a broad consensus (what are they), and time when there’s be a massive divergence of opinion (what might those look like)? Is a discussion of the terms/terminology of the question, where you challenge the very premise of the question something that is appropriate to the introduction and/or conclusion of the essay? Should they avoid that argument altogether?
This tends to mess with their heads a little bit, but it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of outcome I’d want with a topic like this… then again, maybe I’m just a sadist!
Best of luck, and hopefully you’ll get a class full of essays that deal with different issues, but in an equally rigorous and critical manner.
I’ve been totally swamped with work in the last few weeks, so I haven’t been able to get the next podcast edited. I’m doing my best, but I’m only one guy…
In the meantime, you can have a look at this breakdown of how a student could go about approaching the second part of the project with this resource: Citizenship Project Section B Handout. I’ve broken it down section by section and tried to ‘reverse engineer’ how I think the marking scheme must have been applied. Obviously, I’m open to correction on this, but it might help bring at least some sense of what’s expected of the students. Maybe this helps the teachers more than the students, but lots of people contacted me to ask for a follow up to the Section A Annotated handout that I posted a few weeks ago, so here you go…
The big difference between how I approached this task, compared with the Section A example that I gave previously, is that I’ve deliberately chosen work that was deemed to be of a H2 standard, and have tried to indicate how I think it could be improved upon in a number of different areas to hit the H1 overall. At least that way, the students might be able to use the handout to see how to improve their own work from a lower to a higher grade… you know… learning and stuff….
As always, it’s just my best guess, and I’d be only too happy if the SEC wanted to give us ANY sense of how they had marked it, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!
Anyway, hope it’ll be of use to at least some of you.
After a busy summer of marking and setting school and ‘Mock’ exams, preparing notes and handouts, chasing small children about (my own, I should add), and desperately trying to get up to speed on a few subject related issues, we’re back! It seems that tons of people are engaging with the podcast and website, which is really encouraging!!! There have now been 3,000 listens across the 8 episodes and this post will probably push the website over 10,000 page views! (The ‘Key Thinker Quizzes’ seem particularly popular!?!). I’m facing into that time of the year when I have to shell out for renewal of the website and Soundcloud storage, so if you were inclined to help me mitigate those costs and keep the site free for all students, you can help here. It’s hard to keep a project like this alive when you’re trying to self-fund, so please consider donating if you’re in a position to do so.
Currently in the pipeline is the editing of the “John Locke” episode that I recorded with the amazing Graham Finlay of UCD on the day before term restarted. Suffice it to say, it’ll take me a while to get it edited (especially because virtually everything Graham says is gold dust!), but I hope to have it up by the end of the midterm break. I’m also looking for suggestions for an episode to make in the run up to Christmas, so if you have any special requests, please send them on!
In the meantime, lots of sixth year students around the country are at various stages of preparation/completion of their Citizenship Projects. Part of the problem (dare I say anxiety?) that many students feel around the project is that they don’t know exactly what is required of them. I’m sure that there might be a few teachers out there that feel this too! So what I’ve done is looked back through some of the exams that my students sent me at the end of the summer and found one that had a mark of 35 out of 35 for its ‘Section A’. Fully anonymized (and with the student’s permission) you can find a downloadable pdf of that the file here: Section A Annotated.
A few caveats (warnings) apply here… Firstly, and most obviously, the titles for this year are different so what you do won’t be exactly the same, but what I’d want you to see is that the student’s project clearly engages with a personal perspective, deals with national organizations, but also is linked to both key thinkers and global Human Rights organizations and declarations. The work that touches on all three of these levels (personal, national, global) always seems to read as most fully engaged with the course criteria. Secondly, showing you an excellent Section A is not designed to say that you MUST mimic the exact format, but it COULD be a useful guide for students to see if what they are doing is in the right ‘ball park’. Thirdly, all the annotations and comments are MINE and not from any other examiner. They’re simply a few relevant pointers that I would want my own students to see, rather than just be faced with a typed document that they might find hard to interpret. Finally, it’s useful to see that the student makes it very clear exactly how the research that she undertook helped to ‘INFORM’ her subsequent action. Although I’m not an SEC examiner, I can say with a high degree of confidence that this seems to be exactly what they are looking for in the reports.
If you don’t believe me (and you should never take anyone’s word for it!), check out the “Chief Examiner’s Report” from May 2019. You can find it here: https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-EN-16366956.pdf. There’s a section near the end that specifically deals with the Citizenship Project Reports.
The final caveat is that we still don’t know if there will be any changes to the requirements in the project booklet for 2020 (which I’m a bit grumpy about and about which I recently wrote to the SEC). Be aware that if you are downloading the 2019 booklet DO IT VIA THE S.E.C. WEBSITE. Don’t google it, as the 2018 version is the first result that you are likely to come across and this might send you down a few unnecessary rabbit holes.
Best of luck with the projects and the rest of the year ahead.
I’m delighted that the next episode of the podcast is up, but I take little credit for it. Stephen Farley and his team at Trócaire did a great job of producing a really useful podcast on one of our Key Thinkers, Fr Sean McDonagh, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention as I felt it deserved, so with Stephen’s approval (obviously!) I’m hosting it here, with just my own brief intro and conclusion to bookend their episode. Fr McDonagh has been very challenging for students, but has presented the teachers with an even bigger challenge – finding suitable resources. Hopefully this will help with that!
Listen here and let us know what you think. It’s also up on all the usual platforms like Apple iTunes and Stitcher.
I know that Trócaire had plans to produce more content, but those plans are on hold at the moment as they focus on their new podcast “The World Etc.”. From what I’ve heard of the new podcast, it’ll be really relevant to Pol Soc students too. Maybe if this episode gets a bit of traction, we can persuade the team at Trócaire to get a few more episodes up and running specifically for Pol-Soc students. (of course I’ll do what I can to help them!) There are lots of areas of potential overlap, so let’s see how it goes!
There are lots of additional resources available that accompany this episode. Trócaire produced a full resource booklet, with lots of extra case studies and classroom activities, and I have my usual listen-along guide, key thinker quizzes and revision notes. You can find them all on the Episode Notes page.
Meanwhile in the background, I’m chipping away at another few episodes that I hope to have up and available in the Autumn. Hopefully, we’ll have Locke, Marx, and Huntington in the pipeline… (if only there were more hours in the day!)
I’m also hoping to add a new section to the website in the next academic year called “Further Study” where we can showcase some of the university courses that would be a logical next step for any student who has been bitten by the Politics and Society ‘bug’. Keep a look out!
As ever, if you are in a position to help support the podcast, you can do that here.
Enjoy the last few weeks of your holidays and I hope everyone returns to school re-energized! (myself included!!!)
My absolute final piece of advice…
Just after the Citizenship Projects were submitted in May, the State Exams Commission (SEC) issued the “Chief Examiner’s Report” on the inaugural Politics and Society exam. It made for very interesting (and reasonably encouraging) reading. It was full of observations on how students dealt with the project and exam. The report itself ran to about 19 pages, but because I have such an exciting life, I decided to try and do a 2-page summary that includes key tips and take always.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should read the full report, but I doubt most students will, so here’s the next best thing… (If nothing else, you should see that I’m basing my opinion on specific quotations with the report!)
The biggest relief is that they really are looking for quality over quantity!!!
Also, bear in mind that this is just my take on the examiner’s report, based on what I’ve seen my own students do well and poorly at throughout the year.
My suggestion would be to scan through it on the morning of the exam, just to refresh you memory and get your essay-writing priorities in order…
Best of luck on Tuesday!!!!
Dr J (as Brendan O’Sullivan in Gorey CS insists on calling me!!!)
Just one final bit of advice for students about the somewhat tricky ‘DBQ’. One of the main problems experienced by the students last year was uncertainty about how long their answers should be for each section. This was made particularly problematic due to the fact that there was no indication beside each question as to how many marks each individual question was worth.
You ‘General Rule’ here should be to be guided by the number of lines available. I should also say that the latest advice is NOT to write in the spaces outside the lines, for fear that they won’t be read by the S.E.C.’s scanners (and write in either Blue or Black pen). If you need to add additional material (and if you’re time management allows you to do so), you can do so in the additional pages at the back of the booklet (*making sure that you properly label your answers).
If you want to download my best attempt to outline a useful approach to the final questions (DBQ section F), which is worth 40 marks (15 minutes of writing time), click the link to access a one-page PDF with a sample answer and some other general guidelines and suggestions. (****Update: Autumn 2019 – In the 2019 exam, the Marking Scheme changed, making this section worth 50 marks, not 40. It also stipulated that the marks would be divided along the lines of 30-20 as seen here:
***The big ‘Caveat‘ (warning) here, is that ‘This is how they did it last year – the Examiners might assign the marks differently this summer.’ That said, all we can do is deal with the evidence we have! If I was answering a DBQ question on this particular problem, I’d be quick to note that we have a ‘Sample Size’ of just one data point, which makes it next to impossible to make any sweeping statements.***
Best of luck on Tuesday!
One very short blog post that might help students as they face into the final week before the exam. As with every Leaving Cert exam, it’s important to maximize your grade. The quickest way to shed marks unnecessarily is to get your timing wrong.
So why not download this quick one-page guide to help with Exam Strategy and Timing, which even includes the exact time it will read on the clock that you should move on to the next question! (This isn’t the only way to do it, but it is one reliable way to do it!)
Remember, it’s not “How much should I write?” for that answer, it’s “How long should I spend on that question?”. The answer is ALWAYS determined by the number of marks allocated to the question. (There’s an outside possibility that they won’t include mark breakdowns in the Data-Based Question again this year). If they go with last year’s allocation, the final questions (2F) will be worth 40 marks.
And finally, more so than in any other exam, the Politics and Society examiners are looking for ‘Quality’ more than ‘Quantity’…
Best of luck next week.
In this episode we’re joined by Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland for a wide-ranging discussion of activism, human rights, the role of NGOs, and the media in modern society. Colm’s insights are not only fascinating, but incredibly relevant to the goals of the Pol Soc course. I even get him to give his two cents on a few of our specific debate topics.
We’re also joined by Beth Doherty, a Transition Year student from Alexandra College, Dublin to discuss her involvement with the “Friday’s for Future” climate strikes. Find the ‘Episode Notes’ for this podcast on the website https://polsocpodcast.com/episode-notes/
You can listen to the episode here:
Episode Notes and further resources, including how to get involved with the organizations mentioned, will be posted shortly (It’s a busy time of year, after all!)
Oh, and BEST OF LUCK ON TUESDAY 25TH!!!!!!