Brian Mooney: What you need to know before the exams begin

An exam survival guide for Junior and Leaving Cert students (and parents)

Once you receive your paper, read it carefully and fully before you do anything else. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Once you receive your paper, read it carefully and fully before you do anything else. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


Wednesday sees the beginning of the written papers in this year’s Junior and Leaving Cert exams.

In both cases, students will sit English exams in the morning. In the case of Leaving Cert students, their paper one will be followed by paper two on Thursday afternoon.

For Junior Cert students, the sole English paper of two hours’ duration is the second-ever written paper under the reformed junior cycle. In previous years, students would have sat two English papers.

Whereas junior cycle students will have written papers morning and afternoon over the first three days of the exams, Leaving Cert students will get some breaks over the next three days, as home economics, engineering and geography papers are scheduled on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, alongside English papers one and two, and maths paper one.

What is the most important thing to do to prepare?

Organise all your revision notes for all the examination papers. Try organising them backwards, starting from your last exam, identifying the periods of time you have available before each paper to finally review your notes and sample answers.

When you have completed this process, you will have a clear picture of how you are going to use every hour available to you; it will help you make sure all sections of every paper have identified time slots for final revision. Undertaking this simple process will give you back a sense of control over the exam and reduce excess stress.

What should I do each morning before leaving for school?

Review each day’s subject requirements before leaving home.

Remember, different papers require you to have different instruments and materials.

Check your other daily requirements such as fluids, other forms of nourishment, bus fares where appropriate, and so on. You may also wish to take a set of revision cards with you for each day’s papers. Just make sure to leave them outside the exam hall.

How should I manage the first 15 minutes of English on Wednesday morning?

When you sit into your seat, arrange your pens and other implements on your desk.

When the invigilator arrives at your desk, he or she will offer you your paper. Always opt for the paper you have prepared for. Never attempt to change levels at the last minute as this is always a negative side effect of exam nerves.

Once you receive your paper, read it carefully and fully before you do anything else.

Start to sketch out, at the back of your answer book, the answers to every question you are planning to answer.

You will not be able to fully complete this task in the first 15 minutes, as your memory will need to work on many questions over the period of the entire examination.

When you have completed this process to the best of your ability, start working on the question you feel most comfortable with.

How do I get the maximum out of the paper before I hand it up?

If at the end of your last question you still have a few minutes left until you must hand up your paper, you can try to increase your mark by at least 5 per cent.

Simply go back over every question and re-read what you have written. Your first attempt at writing a piece is always improved by re-reading what you have written.

Also, try to leave at least ½ page free at the end of each question so you can add extra material – if you want to – at the end of the exam. New ideas will occur to you as you read back your answer. Don’t bother trying to erase any written content. Just draw a line through any incorrect material, and add the new content at the end of that page. If you don’t have space, just put it at the end of the answer book and clearly mark it.

How can parents help their children get through the next few weeks?

Know the exam schedule. Pin the timetable up prominently at home, with each exam to be taken highlighted.

If you don’t have a copy of the schedule you can download it and print it from the State Exams Commission website on In the stress of the whole exam period, you need to be always aware when your children must be at the examination centre.