For most Leaving Cert students, school days are now over, and the stark reality of sitting English Paper 1 at 9.30am in 15 days’ time is staring you in the face. You should do at least eight or nine hours of structured study every day, from early morning onwards in blocks of no more than three hours. If managed properly, you can improve greatly on your potential grade performance.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do
School days are history, you have to make your own luck from now on.
The next two weeks before the exams, and the study periods in between them, is more than enough time to pull all that you have learned over the past two years together, to practise presenting your knowledge in the most exam-friendly manner, and to strengthen your weak spots.
Even if you think you are sunk and have not applied yourself through the year, it need not be a disaster if you approach these five weeks calmly and strategically.
It’s also possible to do this while living a balanced lifestyle, exercising and eating well and giving yourself the occasional treat to keep yourself going. This plan is a good place to start.
Do use stress effectively to redouble your motivation
The best way to rid yourself of the stress you are feeling right now is to get stuck into a solid study routine. Sitting around worrying about how you are going to get through the exams gets you nowhere. Use the stress you are feeling to help you maintain your focus over the coming weeks.
Social media will still be there after the exams are long over, so stay away from the computer and turn off that phone. But if exam stress becomes a real problem for you, consult your family doctor, who will be able to help you deal effectively with it.
Do plan your last couple of weeks of study
Allowing for gaps between exams after the first week’s papers are completed, you can clock up over many hours of high-quality revision before you sit the last paper a month from today.
Firstly, print out your exam timetable from the examination.ie website. Working backwards from your last paper, map out exactly when you are going to tackle every single question on your study plan.
If you don’t have one, and are using past papers as a guide, draft one right now. You may be surprised to realise you can still cover the majority of your course curriculum if you punch in a solid day’s work.
Study is most effective if you write short summaries of key points on each question on to mind maps, which you can review the evening before the paper.
Practise writing out the answer to a past question within the time you will have on the day of the exam. Do no more than three hours across four questions before taking a break for at least an hour. Keep yourself hydrated with water, no sugar highs, it plays havoc with your capacity to concentrate.
Don’t focus all your effort into your weak areas while letting others slide
If you feel unsure of your capacity to answer a particular question, contact your teacher and ask them for an hour of their time. Most will be more than happy to help out as they are still in school working with non-State exam students.
Do plan a balanced approach to nutrition, exercise, sleep and relaxation over the coming weeks
You will be in the best shape possible when the day of each aspect of the exam arrives.
Don’t abandon the support available from your teachers
They have huge experience of preparing students for exams as well as having taken a few in their own time. Don’t be tempted to seek last-minute grinds if you run into trouble with a topic or subject. Go into school and ask your teacher to explain it to you. If your teachers are still offering either formal or informal classes, tap into their expertise. There are also very good sources of online help.
Do revise what you think you already know– it’s the key to high grades
Doing well in examinations is 50 per cent technique and 50 per cent knowledge of your subject. You have absorbed many times more information over the past two years than you could ever present in your Leaving or Junior Certificate.
The next few weeks should be about fine-tuning your answers in line with the marking schemes, published by the State Examinations Commission (examinations.ie).
These marking schemes are a vital resource for you, as they will show you exactly what the teacher correcting your paper will be looking for when they open it on their diningroom table on a hot afternoon in July.
Two students with the same amount of information on a topic may get radically different grades, depending on how each present the information to the correcting teacher.
Don’t go into more detail than needed
Four or five key points are more than enough for most topics – and are better than more detailed answers with just one or two points.
When you sit down to read your paper on the day of the exam and select those questions you will attempt, four or five key words are all you will need to answer any question comprehensively.
Once you get started, you will find that the information starts to fall into place in your mind. Therefore, you should reduce your recall triggers to no more than a handful of points or key words on any topic.
Do seek support from your parents and other family members Your family is there for you. The best advice I give to parents at this stage is to listen. There's no point pretending to be an expert, doling out advice and attempting to console your son or daughter with words of comfort and lists of dos and don'ts. What they need is someone to listen to them without criticism.
If you show your child trust and unconditional acceptance, they may tell you what they are really feeling. Having given them your listening ear, you can ask them whether there is anything you can do to help them improve their performance in their examinations.
It may be as simple as being at home more to ensure a calm, quiet atmosphere in which they can study.
Don’t take part in any activities which will knock you off course on the final lap
Remember, performance on the day of the examination is determined by physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing, as well as preparedness in the subject material.
Those facing into the stressful conditions of examinations need regular physical exercise through sport, walking, jogging or swimming.
As always, you need to avoid alcohol and drugs; not an easy task given the peer pressure on your age group.
You also need to maintain a healthy balanced diet, avoiding excessive sugar and junk food.