Take the mock exams seriously
Sitting the 'mocks' may seem like a pointless task, but they can prepare you for the real exams ahead.
In more than 100,000 homes, from Co Donegal to Co Kerry, parents anxiously watch their children preparing for, sitting or awaiting the results of mock examinations, which are currently taking place in second level schools all over the country.
For students sitting the Junior Certificate, this was their first experience of taking a series of papers in this format. The most common experience is exhaustion and a feeling that one could have done so much better, if only they had known what it was really going to be like. This is ultimately the real benefit to students from having taken the mocks, as they are commonly known.
How many teams have roared through the championship, stormed ahead in the first half of a final, only to choke in the last 15 minutes, as the enormity of what they are about to achieve hits them.
After their defeat, the commentator consoles them with the comment that, now that they know what it takes to win, they will be able to complete the task next time.
The purpose of mock examinations is to ensure that students experience what it is really like to sit terminal examinations day after day for two weeks in June, and thus avoid having to come back the next year to repeat the exams.
Sitting the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate is like running a marathon - preparation is everything and success depends on the quality of that preparation.
The first lesson for parents to learn is that you have no idea what your sons and daughters are going through as the exams approach.
Because you took exams yourself in the past, you may think you know how they feel, but let me assure you that you do not. Taking any examination is deeply stressful, but the emotional experience dissipates in the months after the exam is taken.
For parents, the message is simply that you need to support your child through the coming months, as the pressure of taking the real exam grows. They have had a taste of what it is going to be like by taking the mocks; now it is time to reflect on the results of that experience and plan accordingly.
The actual results of the mocks are almost meaningless, in the sense that students can make a thousand mistakes during them, learn from the experience and perform much better in the summer exams. The subject teacher who has taught your son or daughter is the real expert in interpreting the meaning of a mock result.
If your child has attempted a subject at Higher Level in the mocks, and found themselves out of their depth, for instance, the teacher may advise them to switch to the Ordinary Level paper in June.
On the other hand, the teacher may interpret the result to mean that the student has the ability to take the higher-level paper in a particular subject, but needs to learn from the mistakes they made in the mocks.
If a student is still unsure which level they should take a paper at in June, the best advice is to discuss the matter with the subject teacher after the result of the mock exam is received. If a Junior Cert student does plan to change the level at which they take a particular exam subject, it is very important that the school informs the State Examination Commission of such changes.
This is because once students indicate which level paper they wish to receive in the Junior Cert, they must, other than in very rare circumstances, stick by that choice on the day of the exam. In the case of the Leaving Cert, students will be given whichever level paper they request on the day.
They may, however, need to take into consideration parts of the examination taken prior to the written paper when deciding on the level they require. In many subjects, the oral, practical, project or practical coursework component of the examination is common to all levels.
With the exception of Leaving Certificate Foundation Level Irish, all of the oral exams in the Leaving Certificate language subjects (French, German, Spanish, Italian and Irish) are common to both Higher and Ordinary level.
This is also true of the coursework component of Leaving Cert home economics, agricultural science and the projects in Leaving Cert construction studies and agricultural Economics. This means that, having completed the oral, practical, project or coursework component of these examinations, the candidate will still have a choice of subject level on the day of the written examination.
Having said that, in general, candidates in the certificate examinations are expected to take subsequent components of an examination at the same level as the first component. In particular, in the following subjects, the level of the written exam is determined by the choice of level in the prior component: art (practical), music (practical), engineering (project), and Gaeilge Foundation level (oral).
My advice to all students is never to change levels as a panic reaction at the last minute. A student who does so will spend the entire exam agonising over whether they should have stuck with the original plan, which is likely to lead to a poor performance.
Following the analysis of the mocks, a student, in consultation with their teacher and parents, should decide on a plan of action over the coming months and stick with it, unless advised to change it by the teacher concerned.