Examwatch: Six things you need to know about the Leaving Cert

Last-minute tips, break out the bikinis and how to keep your head when others lose theirs

English paper one lands - and it’s time to break out the bikini. Photograph: Francisco Ubilla/AP Photo

English paper one lands - and it’s time to break out the bikini. Photograph: Francisco Ubilla/AP Photo


1. Break out the bikinis

Cruel, isn’t it? You shiver your way through endless months of mist and rain and withering cold, not helped by the wide open windows in the classroom for “ventilation” purposes.

Then English paper one arrives -- and it’s time to break out the bikinis.

Yep, with wearisome predictability, Met Éireann is forecasting Mediterranean-style conditions thanks to an Azores high which is due to settle over the country just minutes after the Leaving Cert begins.

No need to ask Donegal postmen or climatologists about what the weather holds: just distribute a few State exam scripts and the clouds are sure to part within seconds.

2. Last-minute exams tips

This year’s exam papers have more choice than ever. If it all feels a bit baffling, Eimear Dinneen, head of Studyclix’s student support, has provided some helpful tips on to navigate your way through them:

English Paper 1

- Before you go into the exam, make sure you have your timing organised: you should aim to finish each section by a certain time. E.g. if you know you want your composition to be done by 10:30 am, try to stick to that and move on to the next section to avoid neglecting other sections.

- The first thing you should do is read through the paper once and make a plan before you start writing. Know which questions you want to attempt and write out a quick plan for how you will structure each answer so you don’t get lost or distracted in the middle of writing them.

- Play to your strengths: if you’ve consistently received high marks from your teacher in a particular essay type, e.g. speeches, then try to do the speech!

- For last minute study, make sure you know the key things the examiner is looking for in each section/essay; for example, a short story requires plot, dialogue, characters, vivid descriptions, etc.

Home Ecomomics

- Know the different question terms to make sure you answer the question correctly. “List” and “Discuss”, for example, require very different levels of elaboration, so you should know what each of these terms mean before you answer a question.

- Include as much relevant information as you can think of for your answers (without writing incorrect statements!). You’ll have a higher chance of getting full marks if you write down everything you know relating to the question.

- Make sure to read the question fully before choosing to answer any question. You don’t want to be half-way through a question and realise that you have no idea how to answer part (c).

- Check out the adjustments made to this year’s written exams online. You have much more choice this year, and less to answer, which will help alleviate some of the study load!

3. Number of the day: 30

Don’t forget to set your alarm clock: this year students are required to arrive 30 minutes in advance of the first exam which is due to begin at 9.30am For all other exams, it’s 15 minutes in advance.

4. Tweet of the day:

“I wanna thank all the kids doing their leaving this year for providing leaving cert weather”. @beretgal

5. Stock up on your beta-carotene

Parents, it turns out, sometimes do have a clue about a thing or two.

Remember being told repeatedly to eat your greens? Well, experts say carrots, leafy greens and fruits rich in Vitamin C are best for exam performance.

This may come as news to the thousands of exam students who are gorging on glucose tablets and chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Again, experts say these can cause a sugar crash and impair your performance.

Opticians have issued eyecare tips for students with tired eyes or vision problems.

Its key advice is to reduce eye strain with the 20-20-20 rule. Take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away and repeat this every 20 minutes.

Another good exercise, it says, is to simply rest your eyes in the palm of your hands for a few minutes, making sure that no light leaks through.

Of course, you may already have your head in your hands if those questions you banked on coming up in English paper two are conspicuously absent.

6. Less stress: Five steps for a calmer mind at exam time

It’s perfectly normal for anxiety levels to run high during important examinations at any stage of life.

Brian Mooney, guidance counsellor and Irish Times columnist, has produced the following short guide to help calm your mind.

Instead of trying to eliminate stress, try to set about managing it and accept that certain levels of anxiety are useful when it comes to high pressure situations such as the Leaving Cert.

1. Trust in what you have done to date: Anxiety comes from fear of the unknown, and so any situations where you are assessed under pressure, such as a job interview or an exam, amplify this uncertainty. You can get consumed by the unknowns - so try to focus on the “knowns” and reassure yourself that you have prepared to the best of your ability for the exams. You’re also in a far stronger position to answer the questions which will be asked this year, given the far wider range of choices.

The fact that you have an accredited grade behind you as a safety net should alkso help.

2. Focus on your own preparations: Do not compare your preparation to others as you will always adjudge yourself to be not doing enough or as much as you feel you should.

3. Try to take control of your anxiety: Use it to motivate you to consolidate what you know already, rather than allowing it to distract you with worst-case scenario unknowns.

4. Put it into perspective: Where the anxious voice in your head is dominating the discussions, remember to invite two other influences to join the conversation, namely “context” and “perspective”. These will help you to counter-argue your anxious thoughts and manage the unwelcome guest of anxiety in your life.

5. This is the final challenge of a crazy two years: Always remember that anxiety is only here for a short period of time and soon it will be gone. After this final fence is jumped you will have the summer to relax and look forward to a post pandemic life of further in-person study in college or employment/apprenticeship in the autumn.