Forget the students for a moment – what about the parents?

Brian Mooney on how to help and support your son or daughter through the exams

For parents who are both working, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam by ensuring they are up and dressed before you leave the house.  Photograph: David Jones/PA Wire.

For parents who are both working, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam by ensuring they are up and dressed before you leave the house. Photograph: David Jones/PA Wire.


Whether your son or daughter fulfils their potential in their Junior or Leaving Cert depends on how they manage themselves through the exams and how they tap into their personal support network of family, friends and teachers.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC), which manages the exams until the results in three months’ time, does all it can to ensure every student’s needs are addressed as much as possible, including those who end up taking their papers from a hospital bed.

School principals and deputy principals will also be close by every day to sort out any problems that arise for students over the period.

Junior Cert students face the biggest challenge this week with two papers daily in English (today), Irish (Thursday) and geography/maths (Friday). Leaving Cert students on the other hand have an easier week ahead of them, with almost all students sitting English paper 1 this morning, English paper 2 tomorrow afternoon, with maths paper 1 on Friday afternoon. Smaller numbers of Leaving Cert students will sit papers in home economics (scientific & social) this afternoon, engineering tomorrow morning and geography on Friday morning.

Here are 10 tips to help armour your son or daughter during the exams.

1 Know the exam schedule. Pin the exam timetable up prominently at home, with each exam to be taken highlighted. Diary the date and time of each paper, so in the stress of the whole exam period you are always aware when your student has to be in the exam centre.

2 Ensure that your son or daughter is present for each exam. For parents who are both working, and leaving home early, avoid the ultimate disaster of your child missing an exam by ensuring they are up and dressed before you leave the house. Believe me, it does happen.

3 Draw up a list of daily requirements, based on the day’s exams. Check each morning before you leave home that your student is fully prepared for the day’s exams: pens and pencils, along with the other needs such as rulers, erasers, calculators, reading glasses, water and non-intrusive nourishment such as glucose sweets or fruit.

4 Listen to the story of the day and move on. After each day’s exams allow your son or daughter to recount their daily story. Don’t be tempted to review in detail any errors or omissions in answering the paper. This achieves absolutely nothing, other than to increase the student’s stress levels. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their story and move on to the next challenge, of the next paper.

5 Help them to focus on the next challenge. It can be helpful to your student to review the paper or papers immediately ahead. Simple questions such as: “What is up next?”, “Are there any compulsory sections?” and “Are there any predictable questions?” can be very useful in helping them devise their last-minute study schedule.

6 Help them maintain a well balanced daily routine. You should ensure your son/daughter has a proper balance between study and rest. After an exam they need time to rest and recharge before any beneficial study for the next paper. Remember that this is on average a two-week process, and they need to be as sharp on the morning of their final paper as they are on the first. Late-night study is not advised.

7 A good night’s sleep improves exam performance. Study should end at least an hour before bed, to unwind.

To help relaxation at this time, a hot bath or simple breathing exercises to slow down the body and mind can help a refreshing night’s sleep. It’s not a good idea to fall straight into bed from the study desk as their mind will be buzzing for hours as they attempt to fall asleep.

8 You are what you eat. What you eat and drink affects performance in any area, especially one involving mental sharpness. Parents should try to ensure their student eats and drinks nutritious food in these weeks, starting with breakfast, the lunch they bring if they face two exams, their evening meal, as well as daytime snacks. Grazing on junk food is very tempting in stress but avoid it at all costs.

9 Success is always a team effort. Drawing on every potential support in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. These supports include an awareness from all the family in their interactions with the exam student, appropriate contact with friends, participation in sporting or social activity that doesn’t hinder ongoing success in the exams. All these factors help maintain a student’s spirits during the extended exam period.

10 Do not over-hype the importance of any exam. It’s very easy in the middle of a stressful experience such as a major exam to get the whole thing totally out of perspective.

Parents need to be aware that their sons or daughters can sometimes mistakenly believe their standing in their parents’ eyes is dependent on their success in the exam.

Parents should ensure their student facing State exams over the coming weeks is absolutely sure your unconditional love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in the Junior or Leaving Cert.

This affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them at the start of their exam.