Leaving Cert survival guide for stressed students (and their parents)

Take a deep breath: anxiety is only here for a short time and soon it will be gone

It is normal for Leaving Cert students to feel stressed coming up to the written papers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

It is normal for Leaving Cert students to feel stressed coming up to the written papers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

It’s normal for Leaving Cert students to feel stressed coming up to the written papers. Here are some simple tips that can help you to dial down the anxiety levels.

Take a deep breath: after two years of stop-start schooling, June 9th sees the beginning of the written papers in this year’s Leaving Cert.

What’s the most important thing to do to prepare for the exams?
Organise all your revision notes for all the examination papers in each subject. 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 my exam centre?
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 water, other forms of nourishments, transport costs where appropriate and so on.

Get there on time. This year students will be required to be in their assigned seat in the exam centre at least 30 minutes before the start time of exams on day one, and at least 15 minutes in advance of their exams on subsequent days.

How should I manage the first 15 minutes of each paper?
When you sit into your seat each day, 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 few minutes, but your brain will continue to reflect on all the questions you select over the period of the entire examination, as you begin to write. So, when you have completed this initial brainstorming process to the best of your ability, start working on the first question, selecting the one 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 always add a few extra marks by re-reading your script. As any successful writer knows, a first attempt at writing any piece is always improved by re-reading.

Leave at least half a 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 always to be 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.

After each day’s exams, parents should allow their 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 to 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 the Leaving Cert 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 love and regard for them is in no way dependent on how they perform in any exam. This affirmation is the greatest gift you can give them at the start of their Leaving Cert.

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.

Instead of trying to eliminate it, students should 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. Students can become consumed by the unknowns and therefore immobilised by the lack of control they have over the outcome, and this can result in panic. However, students should concentrate on the “knowns” and attempt to reassure themselves that they have prepared to the best of their ability for the exams. They are in a far stronger position to answer the questions that will be asked this year, given the far wider range of choices. Furthermore, they already have the assessed-grade process behind them now as a safety net. All these realisations should help them to manage the higher-than-normal levels of stress associated with examinations.

2. Focus on your own preparations. Do not compare your preparation with 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.