Tag Archives: science

Answering the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert Questions

I wish I’d known as much about the way examiners think when I was doing my school exams as I do now. It’s actually ridiculously easy and it’s not so much about how much you know as how much you understand what you know. Here’s the white board just to explain what I mean.

In a Junior Cert or Leaving Cert question the most important thing is that you know why something is happening. How it happens is slight less important, and then when it happens or occurs. You will usually already know what has happened.
In a Junior Cert or Leaving Cert question the most important thing is that you know why something is happening. How it happens is slightly less important, and then when it happens/happened or occurs/occurred. You will usually already know what has happened.

This method is pretty much the same across all subjects, but especially the sciences. Normally, in real life you will do things the opposite way around: what is happening (the phenomenon), when it happens, how it happens and then finally why it happens. The aim of all investigations is to figure out the last thing, and it’s also the hardest to be certain about.

Anyhow, when you are confronted with a question, just remember the examiner usually wants to know if you know why something you have been asked about is happening (big marks), how it happens (more big marks), and then when it occurs, or occurred.

Sometimes the question might be “what happens when?” but these questions usually carry the least marks. I say “usually” because it does depend on the context. Anyhow, go into your exams thinking “why, how, when, what” over and over and then your answers will usually be good and solid. But do pay careful attention to the question. If the question is (for example, in geography) “what is the difference between the way a u-shaped valley and v-shaped valley is formed?” then you don’t need to explain the formation of glaciers, but you can just explain how a glacier moves and cuts the u-shaped valley, and then how a river does the same with the v-shaped valley, without describing in detail how rivers are formed, although you can allude to this.

Don’t forget, a picture paints a thousand words.

And most of all, use common sense. Scientific reasoning began life as common sense.

What’s moths got to do with it?

Believe it or not, quite a lot.
Moths are major bio-indicators and moth biodiversity and habitat biodiversity, or lack of it, are linked. My friend Veronica French recently contributed to a large-scale study of moths for a paper about the relationship between tree biodiversity in forests and arthropod biodiversity (like insects, spiders, etc.), just published in the scientific journal Forest Ecology and Management under the title “Can Mixed Species Stands Enhance Arthropod Diversity in Plantation Forests?”:


Congratulations Veronica!

Now we are in October there are very few moths and butterflies around, but nevertheless you will see this smallish moth at your windows, the Hebrew Character – Orthosia gothica. It is important to remember that although they might not be on the wing so much, if at all, these species are still going about their lives in the countryside, albeit as caterpillars, or in suspended animation as pupae, which will later hatch out into adult moths.

The Hebrew Character, a very common moth species still seen at night-time windows in October.

World Wetlands Day

February 2 was World Wetlands Day, honouring the creation of the World Wetland’s Commission at Ramsar in Iran in 1971, and I was kindly invited to the unveiling of a new website dedicated to Irish wetlands to celebrate, designed by Áine O’ Leary: www.irishwetlands.ie/ .

The event was held in Wicklow County Buildings and was hosted by Deirdre Burns (Wicklow’s Heritage Officer) and Councillor Sylvester Burke. The County Manager, Eddie Sheehy was presiding and also in attendance were three very special guests: ecologist Karin Dubsky the chair of Ireland’s Ramsar Committee, BirdWatch Ireland ornithologist Dick Coombes, and renowned wildlife film-maker and naturalist Éamonn De Buitléar.

After the indoor event Dick Coombes led us on a wetlands walk, assisted by botanist Faith Wilson, one of Wicklow’s greatest living naturalists.

Below are just a just a small selection of photos from the day.

From left to right: Karin Dubsky, Éamonn De Buitléar, Cllr. Sylvester Burke, County Manager Eddie Sheehy and Deirdre Burns opening the event.


Áine O'Leary introduces the new website of Ireland's Ramsar Committee.
Karin Dubsky and Éamonn De Buitléar enjoying some humour at the festivities.
Dick Coombes, one of Ireland's best known ornithologists, leading us on a wetland walk in the Murrough area of Wicklow Town. Deirdre Burns is on the right taking the photo that can be seen on page 6 of this week's Wicklow People newspaper. Faith Wilson is unfortunately hidden by her position behind the second field scope.