Last-minute exam survival guide for pupils (and parents)

It’s normal for Junior and Leaving students to feel overwhelmed by stress. Some simple tips can help you feel better prepared

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

Take a deep breath: after months of seemingly endless preparation June 5th sees the beginning of the written papers in this year’s Junior and Leaving Cert.

In both cases, students will sit English in the morning. In the afternoon, Leaving Cert students will face home economics, while Junior Certs have civics, social and political education (CSPE).

For seasoned exam-watchers there are some big changes this year: the written exam timetable will take place over 15 days – an extension of two days – beyond the traditional timeframe.

This is due to an increase in the number of subjects being tested; it is hoped the extra days will alleviate pressure on candidates by eliminating subject clashes as much as possible. As a result, the traditional dates for some exams have shifted around.


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 nourishments, bus fares where appropriate and so on. You may also wish to take a set of revision cards with you. Just make sure to leave them outside the exam hall.

How should I manage the first 15 minutes of the first English paper?

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.

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. In the stress of the whole exam period, you need to be always aware when they must be in the examination centre.

Try drawing up a checklist of daily requirements based on the day’s exams. Writing instruments and other requirements, such as rulers, erasers and calculators, should be checked.

When they get home 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. Do not be tempted to review in detail with them the errors or omissions they may have made. Simply allow them the time and space to tell their story and move on to the next challenge and the next paper.

Help them focus on the next challenge. It can be helpful to your son or daughter to review the paper or papers immediately ahead. Simple questions around the nature of the exams can be very useful in helping your son or daughter focus on what’s next.

Finally, try not to overhype the importance of any exam. Parents need to be aware that sons or daughters taking terminal exams can sometimes mistakenly believe that their standing in their parent’s eyes is dependent on their success in the examination.

Ensure your son or daughter is clear that 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 exams.


Dr Colman Noctor, a child and adolescent psychotherapist at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services , says it is normal for anxiety levels to run high.

Instead of trying to eliminate it, he says students should try to set about managing it, and accepting that certain levels of anxiety are useful when it comes to high pressure situations such as the State exams.

1. Trust your process. Anxiety comes from fear of the unknown, and so situations like a driving test, a job interview or an exam amplify this uncertainty. The process and outcome of all of these situations are unknown and therefore they create fear. We can become consumed by the unknowns and therefore immobilised by the lack of control we have over the outcome and this can result in panic. However, if we concentrate on the "knowns" and attempt to reassure ourselves that we have done some preparation for this event and as a result we will be as ready as we can be for what comes up this can help to manage those panicky feelings.

2. Play your own game. Do not compare your preparation to others as you will always adjudge yourself to be not doing enough or as much.

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 the worst-case scenario unknowns. Older adults can often describe having an anxiety dream where they are doing a State exam and they turn over the paper and it all appears to be gibberish. This is a classic example of a "worst case scenario" dream and this will not be the reality in 100per cent of exam experiences this week.

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 into your life.

5. This too will pass. Always remember that anxiety is only here for a flying visit and soon it will be gone.