Leaving and Junior Cert exams begin amid spike in student anxiety levels

Minister for Education says changes to this year’s exams aim to reduce stress levels

Jack Lynch Blennerville and Alex O’Shea  of Brookfield College in Tralee prepare for their exams. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

Jack Lynch Blennerville and Alex O’Shea of Brookfield College in Tralee prepare for their exams. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus

 

The State examinations begin today for some 124,000 pupils with a range of new measures aimed at reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Youth mental health services such as Jigsaw have recorded a spike in the number of young people seeking support in the lead-up to the exams for issues such as anxiety and other difficulties.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said authorities had been working to try to “ease the levels of stress some students experience” through a range of new measures. 

They include extending the Leaving Cert timetable by two days to minimise subject clashes, and a more compassionate approach for students who suffer a close family bereavement at the Leaving Cert exams.

He also said Junior Cert students sitting English, business studies and science exams have already completed work accounting for 10 per cent of their marks through project work.

“It is the first time this initiative has been in place, and it’s just one of many small steps to improve the system,” Mr McHugh said.

In a message to students, he said the exams were a milestone in their education and that there were many paths to a rewarding life.

“There are now more options and opportunities for you than ever before, whether your focus is on a skill, a trade, a college or university course or all the new and older apprenticeships and traineeships,” he said.

The exams get under way at 9.30am on Wednesday, when Junior and Leaving Cert students will sit English exams.

In the afternoon, Leaving Cert students will face home economics while Junior Cert students are due to sit civics, social and political education (CSPE).

Mr McHugh also paid tribute to parents and teachers, who put in hard work every year to help young people prepare for exams and ensure they have much-needed support.

“You also feel the stress. You all try to ensure that everything that can be done, is done. And I want to thank you all for your efforts, and again the best of luck to all students sitting the State exams,” he said.

Advice for parents

The National Parents Council Post-primary also offered words of advice for parents wondering how to support their children over the coming days.

Geoffrey Browne, the council’s president, said while parents may have been quietly supportive in the background, “now is the time to shower them with smiles, treats and a listening ear, rather than the advice that is often on the tip of your tongue”.

“Remind them that these exams are just one point in their lives and that while important this is not the defining moment,” he added. “This is one opportunity of many, and you believe that they can get through the next few weeks.”

Mr Browne added: “Remember, that while at times they have been grumpy, intolerant and somewhat assumptive of what you do for them, know in your hearts that they love you and always will. Be confident that at some point in the years ahead they, likewise, will affirm that you are indeed marvellous and not quite as ‘dumb’ as they once inferred.”

Teachers’ unions have also urged students to maintain perspective over the coming weeks.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland president Breda Lynch advised pupils that after each exam they should “look ahead to the next one” and “avoid postmortems and the inevitable social media hype”.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Seamus Lahart said while the State exams are important, students should remember that they “are not defined as a person by any set of exam results”.

“Even if they do not get the results that they want, there is a wide range of alternative routes they can take to reach their career of choice,” he said.