Take a structured approach to a testing situation

Exam tips: nothing can be added to the grade you will achieve once you leave the exam hall

From left: Ciara Kirwan from Glenagerary, Orlaith Styles from Dalkey, Laura O’Carroll from Killiney and Ellen Boyd from Glenageary enjoy the sunshine and some last-minute study for the Leaving Certificate exams, at Dalkey, Co Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

From left: Ciara Kirwan from Glenagerary, Orlaith Styles from Dalkey, Laura O’Carroll from Killiney and Ellen Boyd from Glenageary enjoy the sunshine and some last-minute study for the Leaving Certificate exams, at Dalkey, Co Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke


The extent to which you fulfil your potential in the Leaving or the Junior Certificate is heavily influenced by the degree to which you tap into your support network: family, friends, teachers and the State Examination Commission. Your teachers, particularly the principal and deputy principal, are available throughout the examination period to deal with any problems.

Junior Cert students have two papers daily until Friday, while home economics, engineering, English papers 1 and 2 and Maths paper 1 are scheduled for Leaving Cert students.

How should I manage the first 15 minutes of my first exam?
When you sit into your seat, arrange your pens and other instruments on your desk. The invigilator will offer you your paper. Always opt for the paper that you have prepared for – never attempt to change levels at the last moment, even if exam nerves tell you to do so.

Read the paper carefully and fully before you do anything else. Then at the back of your answer book start to sketch out the answers to every question you plan to answer. You will not be able to finish this in the first 15 minutes, as your memory needs to work on many questions over the entire examination. Then start working on the question you feel most comfortable with.

How will I get the most out of any examination paper I sit over the next few weeks?
Write down the time you are due to move on to the next section or question on your answer book. When you have used that time, move on to the next section, leaving a gap on your answer book to return to sections you have not completed, once you have finished all the required questions.

Never leave the examination centre until the exam is over, as you can always achieve higher grades by reading through your work, adding additional material that comes to mind.

Should I go over my answers after each examination with my classmates or parents?
Nothing can be added to the grade you will achieve once you leave the exam hall. In sport, winners and losers are often distinguished, not by their respective physical strength, but by their ability to remain focused on the ultimate goal and their refusal to be distracted by disappointments along the way.

It is entirely natural to discuss your paper with friends and family after each exam, but do not attempt to micro-analyse your performance, as it will only frustrate you, and draw your mind and energy away from the only thing that matters, the remaining papers. After each day’s papers, recharge your batteries for a few hours. Put all papers that are completed out of your mind, and move on to the next set of revision notes. You can only improve your performance on what lies ahead. Good luck to the students of 2013.

Tips for parents in supporting an examination student.

(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 son or daughter has to be in the examination 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) Are there any specific requirements for today’s papers? Make a final check each morning before leaving home, that your son or daughter is fully prepared. Writing instruments, rulers, erasers, calculators, should be checked, along with 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 to you their daily story. Do not be tempted to review in detail any errors or omissions. Such a process achieves nothing other than increasing stress levels.

Allow them the time and space to tell their story and move on to the next challenge, the next paper.

(5) Help them to focus on the next challenge. It can be helpful to review the next paper. Asking, What is up next? Are there any compulsory sections? Are there any predictable questions? These can be useful in helping your son or daughter devise their study schedule .

(6) Help them to maintain a balanced daily routine between study and rest. After an exam they need time to rest and recharge before the beneficial study for the next paper. 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 today. Late-night study sessions are not advised.

(7) A good night’s sleep improves examination performance. All study should end at least an hour before bedtime to allow the student to unwind before bed. A hot bath, taking time to do simple breathing exercises to slow down the body and mind can result in a refreshing night’s sleep. It is not advisable to fall straight into bed from the study desk as your mind will be buzzing for hours.

(8) You are what you eat. What you eat and drink affects your performance, especially one involving mental sharpness. Try to ensure your son or daughter eats and drinks nutritious food during the coming weeks, starting with breakfast each morning, the lunch they bring with them if they are facing two exams, their evening meal, as well as snacks they take during the day. Grazing on junk food is very tempting at times of increased stress. Avoid this at all costs.

(9) Success is always a team effort. Drawing on the support of everything that is potentially positive in a student’s life helps to maximise exam performance. Such supports include a heightened awareness from the whole family in interactions with the person taking the exam, appropriate interactions with their friends, and sporting or social activity that is not injurious to exam success.

(10) Do not overhype the importance of any examination. It is easy in the middle of a stress-inducing experience to get things totally out of perspective. Parents need to be aware that those taking terminal examinations can sometimes mistakenly believe that their standing in their parents’ eyes is dependent on their success in the examination.

Ensure your son or daughter is absolutely clear that your love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in examinations. This affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them on the eve of the examinations.

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