Should I Do Higher Level Maths?

A very common question that students ask our Maths teachers is whether they should do Higher Level Maths or not.


As part of our new Academy Bites podcast series, we sat down with Rob Browne to get his advice for students on the matter.


Hi, guys, I’m Rob, just here to chat a little bit about maths, so I guess one of the things that people often ask first is why would you take higher level Maths?


Well, most people take Higher Level Maths because the 25 bonus points that if you get over 40% on your Maths exam, you automatically get 25 bonus points. The points are not progressive, so you don’t get more bonus points the higher the grade you get. If you get over 40% you get 25 bonus points. If you don’t, you don’t get any bonus points at all.


And with large numbers of students, almost 18,000 students take the higher level maths papers these days. A lot of students if I’m not taking higher level maths, I’m starting off 25 points behind everybody else who’s competing for the same college courses I’m competing for.


So a lot of people feel almost pressured sometimes into taking the higher level maths paper.


The key thing to remember is that Higher Level Maths, it’s not as difficult as people make it out to be, but it’s still a difficult course. It is possible to fail. If you get below 40 percent, you don’t get your bonus points.


As long as you get over 30 percent, that’s considered a pass for nearly all college courses. And you do get your 37 points for a H7 in Maths but unless you get over 40, you don’t get the bonus points.


And a lot of students put themselves under huge pressure to take Higher Level Maths to get those 25 bonus points. And very often what you find is they’ve spent so much time on Maths trying to make sure they get over 40% and get those 25 bonus points that their other subjects suffer. Subjects they might be an awful lot better at. I’ve seen students year after year, you see students who end up losing those 25 points and more in their other subjects.


So deciding whether to take Higher Level Maths is something that should take very seriously. Don’t just automatically do it because I want those 25 bonus points. If you feel that maths would end up taking up so much of your time trying to get over 40% to get those bonus points that your other subjects may suffer, it may not be worth it.


It may be worth considering, look, I’ll probably get those 25 points and more in my other subjects because I perform much better in those. So it’s something that’s well worth considering that if you kind of feel that Maths is something that you really struggle with, I don’t think there’s anybody that can’t do Higher Level Maths, its just a matter of time. How much time you have to give it. If you feel the amount of time you have to give Higher Level Maths to guarantee yourself those bonus points and make the whole thing worthwhile is going to impact your other subjects. It might be worth considering maybe taking the path of least resistance, taking Ordinary Level Maths and really focusing on the other subjects that you feel you may be an awful lot stronger at.


I suppose the other thing that people often ask about is the kind of format of the paper, because one of the things that tends to put people under a lot of pressure in Higher Level Maths is the fact that under normal circumstances, the paper has no choice. You don’t have any choice, you have to attempt all of the questions on both papers.


Now, that doesn’t seem to be the case this year, that although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, there seems to be that for the current 6th Years, 6th Years who would be taking their Leaving Cert papers in June 2022. That there will be an element of choice there. But you won’t have the same level of choice of the students who did their Leaving Cert in 2021 had. But the Department of Education have indicated there will be choice on the paper this year.


It’ll probably be something like the choice that was offered to the Leaving Cert students of last year before the second alteration was made. So it could probably be something like five out of six short questions on each paper and three out of four long questions, rather than the four to six short questions and two out of four long questions that last years 6th Years were offered instead. So there may be an element of choice in this year’s paper it is yet to be confirmed.


But, under normal circumstances, there’s no choice on the paper or not. That’s quite difficult because it puts you under pressure to make sure you’ve got the entire course covered. Because if a question comes up, you don’t have the option of skipping it.


The Leaving Cert Maths course was originally described as 5 strands, and that’s not particularly useful anymore. You’re much better off thinking in maths you are preparing yourself for two papers, Maths Paper 1 and Maths Paper 2. 


Maths Paper 1 happens on the afternoon of the first Friday of the Leaving Cert and Paper 2 happens on the Monday morning, the first paper on Monday morning. Maths Paper 1 is the more abstract stuff. So Maths Paper 1 is your algebra. It’s your complex numbers, it’s sequence and series. It’s financial maths, proof by induction, it’s functions, calculus and integration. It’s all kind of the more abstract, the ‘mathsy’ Maths, if you like, on Paper 1. 


Paper 2 then a lot of people would find to be the more visual one, the more shape based paper. It’s your geometry, including coordinate geometry, dividing the circle, trigonometry. The statistics and probability are that paper.

And remember that your scores on both paper are simply added together to give you an overall score.

Students often ask, do I have to pass both papers? No, you don’t. They just combine your scores across the two papers and the whole thing is marked out of 600.

So under normal circumstances the format of the paper, you’ve got six short answer

questions which are normally 25 marks each at the moment it’s 30 under the new increased choices available to students and those questions test basic skills. Can you solve this type of equation? Can you simplify this. This is an inequality here. 

And then you’ve got your long answer questions that follow that, then which are, which are the practical application questions which are worth more marks.

So both papers, they share the same kind of format, your big hitters on each paper, it’s really Algebra and Calculus on Paper 1 that’s certainly in 2021 calculus accounts for an awful lot of Paper 1, there was a huge component in last year’s exam. 

Paper 2 then, its statistical trigonometry, trigonometry in particular paper 2 again last summer trigonometry accounted for an awful lot of paper 2.

So when you’re in terms of prioritizing topics for your study, I’d be focusing on calculus and algebra on Paper 1 and statistics and trigonometry in particular on paper 2. If you’ve got those four topics under control you’ve kind of got the back of each paper broken.

Then the smaller topics and kind of the more obscure topics, your sequence series and financial maths, your induction and your complex numbers on paper 1, your coordinate geometry of the line and the circle with your probability on paper Two, they can be kind of filled in afterwards.