A wake-up call forced me to concentrate and start cramming


I thought I was a steady worker but really I was daydreaming, writes Pauline McLynn

I loved school, absolutely loved it. I was quite a good student although I ended up doing too many honours subjects for the Leaving Cert way back in 1979. I remember my biology teacher at the Mercy College in Galway asking me if I'd consider doing pass and I was horrified at the thought. The arrogance of youth.

That year, the first class each morning would be pass maths. I didn't like getting up early so I'd give that class a miss and come in at half nine. I don't know how I was let away with it. I used to get the honours maths instruction later.

Honours maths was a mistake. I really thought I understood everything but I didn't at all. Maths just wouldn't stay in my head and I ended up failing it in the Leaving Cert. Luckily I did well in Latin and got into college on the basis of that.

Languages would have been among my better subjects and in fact my Irish oral was very unusual. The date of my oral exam clashed with the TCD matriculation exams so I had to try and change it.

I explained the situation to the examiner in Irish and asked if maybe I could be squeezed in on another day or swap with someone.

The examiner listened to me and asked me to come into the room to read a bit of Peig and answer questions on it. I did that, thinking it was a bit strange. Then when I finished I was told I had done my oral and not to come back because I may not do as well again. It was great.

I thought I was a steady enough worker but when I did the matric exam for TCD I didn't do very well. Then I did badly in my mocks. That was a shock.

I think I really thought I had been studying when I was actually daydreaming. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. After that I really concentrated and did a good bit of cramming. I knew where the gaps were at least.

The good weather made me happy though. I think rain would have been depressing although it's bad for revision when the weather is good. No matter what you tell yourself, studying in the garden is never going to be productive.

Days when we had two exams were tough but you just had to keep going. It was nothing like it is now stress-wise.

Pauline McLynn's new novel is Bright Lights and Promises.