The Leaving Cert is really tough going (for parents anyway)

Spoofing it during exam postmortems is not always a wise move

Elizabeth Bennet: so why exactly did she not marry Jay Gatsby?

Elizabeth Bennet: so why exactly did she not marry Jay Gatsby?


Phew! I’ve done three exams, and even though there are still loads to go, it has finally started and some of the pressure is off. I can finally relax a little.

Okay, technically speaking, my daughter sat the exams, but we big people have been suffering all week too. Won’t someone please think of the parents?

To be honest – and it would be great if you didn’t mention this to her – there are moments when I am secretly delighted she is suffering through these exams. It reminds me I will never have to sit another test again – apart from ones for high cholesterol, blood pressure and early onset dementia of course.

Yes, my Leaving Cert days are over, so I can actually enjoy doing the postmortems with her.

They say you shouldn’t do them, but telling Leaving Cert students not to do postmortems on exam papers is a bit like telling Prof Plum not to do a postmortem on Mrs Peacock, who has been found mysteriously dead in the conservatory but with no obvious weapon. (They said I couldn’t get a Cluedo reference into this Parent’s Diary; they were wrong.)

Desperate to be the archetypal “cool dad who gets it”, I figured my best chance was with Wednesday’s English Paper 1. How hard could it be for me? English is my first language, whereas it’s only her third (after American and WhatsApp). Plus, it’s usually questions about how cute your pet is or what you did last summer. I’m on to a winner here.


Unfortunately, I get stuck on the comprehension bit, as I couldn’t actually comprehend which questions you’re supposed to answer.

“Candidates must answer Question A on one text, but not Question B on some other text. And if you answer Question C on a third text, you must not answer Questions G-R, though give Question V a go if your name ends in a K. And if you’re a parent reading this, just look serious and say: ‘Challenging.’ That will probably save you some face.”

At this point, my daughter has disappeared, no doubt getting stuck into Othello. Note the italics there, denoting it is the play we’re talking about, not the man. Apparently some students were confused about that in English Paper 2 on Thursday when it mentioned “the values evident in Othello”. The values in the play, not in the man.

Now, I should be good at this postmortem as I vaguely recall studying Othello for my Leaving Cert too.

“Okay, Othello, jealous, Venice, merchant, dating Ophelia, witches. You get all that stuff in?”

Not a clue

My daughter looks at me. “You haven’t a clue, have you?”

Some more helpful parental advice: unless you have an honours degree in comparative English literature from Oxford, do not go over your daughter’s exam papers with her.

You’re better off just asking: “How did it go?” And when she replies, “It was okay,” you say, “Good for you, kid. The questions look much harder than they did in my day. So proud of you! Here’s some cash.”

It’s a bit cringey, but it’s better than trying to remember in front of your child why exactly Elizabeth Bennet refused to marry Jay Gatsby.

Okay, maybe I’ll have better luck with ordinary maths, which was her last exam on Friday afternoon. I pick up the paper, peruse it thoughtfully and even stroke my chin. There are a lot of funny symbols. But I can fake this. I know I can.

“Tough, but fair,” I say, picking up on a useful phrase I’ve been hearing all week.

“Dad, you’re holding the paper upside-down,” she says.

“Right. Well, I think I’ll order pizza as a treat,” I say and am proud that I can be a good father when I put what’s left of my mind to it.

Actually, I might get her to order the pizza just to be on the safe side.