Your leaving cert: 57 days to go
RORY CREANis a first-year medical student who got six As in his Leaving Cert last year. He shares his timetable for the last two months of study.
AS OF today you have just less than two months (or more accurately 57 days) before you kick off your Leaving Certificate. Yes, it feels like it crept up out of nowhere and now it’s too close and you haven’t done enough work. Everyone feels this way and, thankfully, most of them are wrong.
Fifty-seven days is plenty of time. Provided you use it correctly.
You’ve put in the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of work into your subjects, so have a little faith in yourself that you’re not going to muck things up at the final hurdle. In case you needed some reassurance and structure, here’s a week-by-week outline for the coming months in order to briefly demonstrate what you should be doing, how you should be doing it and, perhaps most importantly, when.
Monday, April 9th
You’re into your second week of the Easter holiday, so hopefully you got to catch up on some downtime in the first week. It was a well-earned break, and you’ll need the rest for the last stage of the year. That means that, regardless of how much time you took for yourself in the first week, the second week has to see you focused again. Unfortunately, the way Easter fell this year means that when classes do recommence, you’ll be thrown into the thick of oral and music practical exams. This means that, above all the other preparatory work you have in line, you need to be working on your language script and, if you study music, practising your pieces.
For languages, everyone should have an outline of what they’ll say when questioned about the broad topics the syllabus asks for. During this week when you’re reading that script, avoid the urge to rote learn your dialogue. It may seem like you’re outsmarting the examiner, but once a student starts rattling off their opinions verbatim out of the text book, the examiner will realise and shift the subject to something unrelated, with the possibility of leaving you at a loss for words. All of your preparation for the languages should be done by now, so this week is about becoming comfortable with your content and being able to riff on it, rather than parrot.
While your languages are very important, don’t overlook your written submissions (for religion, history, geography, home economics or construction studies). You need to be writing out drafts for each of these, preferably in the exam booklets to give you a sense of how the layout will look and how much space you have to play around with. If you feel these drafts and your study/revision are competing for your time, you should put the books aside and focus on your submission.
You can wrap up a quarter of your marks (depending on the subject) for this booklet, so it’s worth the effort.
WEEK 2 & 3
Monday, April 16th
This will be, for many people, their first exposure to the real exam experience and it can be unnerving. There’s a lot of procedure, timetables and examination numbers floating about, and you might be convinced that you’re going to run into some organisational mess-up. The good news is that all the protocol is there to prevent just that. Turn up where and when you’re told to, do as the examiner says and you won’t have any difficulties. Anxieties aside, there are two very important things to remember for the coming fortnight:
First, prioritise whichever language comes first. The majority of students have two languages, which, if you’re lucky, will be on separate weeks. The worst thing you can do is try and keep two (or more) languages rattling around in your head. That means that three-four days before your first oral exam, drop whatever other language(s) you have, and focus solely on the most immediate exam. You need to be speaking, listening and reading constantly to give your language that conversational tone, rather than the stilted “I’m in an exam” voice the examiners are used to hearing.
Second, ditch the language as soon as you’re done with it. Once you’ve finished your first oral exam, you may not have a lot of time until your next, so you need to switch all of your focus onto whatever comes next. This is easier said than done and I don’t have any tips for purging a language from your brain, but one way to make focusing on the next subject a little easier is; avoid the post-mortem of the first exam. I had my French exam in the first week, and my Irish exam in the second. Since I wasn’t all that happy about how my French exam went, I was constantly thinking about how I answered questions, reliving the whole thing. As a result, I ended up dropping French words and sentences into my Irish exam, which was, for obvious reasons, less than ideal. Write down how you thought the exam went directly after your interview, put the page away and move on. If there’s anything you want to revisit, you can come back to it after the orals are finished.
On top of all of this, you’ll need to hand in your written submission.
If you’ve written some drafts, you should have a final draft to hand that will be identical to the submitted document. This means that you’re not killing yourself trying to work out what goes where and you can just mindlessly copy from your draft to your booklet.
TAKE A BREAK!
You’ve just had an intense two weeks so take the weekend off, or at least drastically scale back your work so you’re ready to get back into it for weeks four, five and six.
Monday, April 30th
If you like the security and structure of a routine, then the next few weeks should see a return to some kind of normality. The panic of the last fortnight can be overwhelming, but you need to put it behind you.
A lot of people start trying to work out how well they can do overall based on how they did in their oral/written submission. This can really affect your outlook towards the exam so leave the last two weeks behind and just focus on the end of year exams.
You’ll likely find that teachers, toward the end of the year will start including revision classes. These are particularly helpful if you’ve revised the content briefly beforehand. During your study time, start making your way through the backlogs from 5th year, and the previous terms of 6th year. This means that when your chemistry teacher covers atomic theory again, you know what you understand and what you don’t and can ask questions accordingly.
Moving through the backlogs of the syllabus is a great way of laying the foundations for the coming weeks, but you should divide your time so that you can start attempting past papers. In the last few weeks, I printed off plenty of full exam papers from the SEC website ( examinations.ie) and just started making my way through them. You don’t have to treat them as exams, but as a repository for questions you’ll likely see in the real exam. The best hints and tips are hidden in the exams themselves, and not rumours you hear from friends of friends.
The benefits of compiling these collections of past papers is that not only are you getting used to answering with the wording and language that will be expected of you, but also the repetition of the more common topics will mean that if they do crop up again, you’ll know the subject inside out. Match your questions with what you happen to be revising at the time. If you’re studying physical geography, do questions from section two, if you’re revising mechanics in physics, go to question six. The best way to learn anything is through repetition, and making your way through the past papers is pure repetition.
WEEK 7 & 8
End of school! Now that school is finished, it’s all down to you. I found these weeks particularly difficult simply because there were no teachers to tell me to go to study hall, I was responsible for myself. To keep myself working, I moved into another room from where I usually study and all I brought in with me was pencils, books and paper. If you’re like me, stress usually manifests itself in procrastination which only begets more stress. If you can just get yourself to start working, you’ll have very few problems getting through a lot of work, especially in a distraction free environment.
While I’m usually a strong advocate for structured study and timetables, in the weeks leading up to the exam I would say that you should abandon a timetable. Your days at home will be interrupted by things you can’t predict, so constantly trying to rework a timetable to accommodate all these disruptions will end up causing more hassle than it’s worth. It’s not about time spent, it’s about goals set and achieved.
You shouldn’t have defined hour blocks of study, but you should still set yourself goals of what topics you want to have covered. As well as that, start focusing more on the earlier exams. Know your exam timetable inside out; how long you have between exams, what exams are on the same day etc. As the exam gets closer you should start strategising. Since Maths Paper 2 isn’t until after the weekend, you know you have more time to give to that than to Maths Paper 1.
By the end of week eight, you should start scaling back your work. The exam will only be three days away, so you want to avoid sources of stress. You need to be rested, relaxed and mentally prepared for your first week, so you can’t push yourself too hard. I would leave Tuesday completely free, but if you feel compelled to do something, the extent of it should be reading over your notes.
I’ve said it previously, but it warrants repeating; you have been putting hundreds of hours into each subject. These exams aren’t in place to trip you up, they are there to test if you understand what it is you’ve been learning, and the majority of people do. Prove your knowledge in a way that is relevant to the subject and on topic for the question and these exams shouldn’t be as big a deal as people like to make out.
Beyond that advice, all I can do is wish you good luck over the next 57 days.
Get the basics right: English, Irish and Maths
Between Hamlet quotes, three comparative texts and eight poets, it seems like English is a mountain to climb. In these last months, you do not want to start gambling as the English papers are notorious for throwing curve balls. Remember that half your marks for the exam are based on your language alone (Paper 1) so while knowing your quotes is important, the number one thing you should be working on in the coming weeks is your expression.
Pick some essay titles from the last few years, write out full essays and get them corrected. In each essay, you’re bound to think of a few gems that might include in the exam. As for Paper 2, pick the five poets that you think are most likely to come up and refine your study time to just them.
After the orals, you’ll probably be keen to put Irish on the backburner for a while, but as with all your other languages, you will be at your peak fluency after your orals. To maintain that fluency and capitalise on both the aural and written exam down the line, you should keep your ear out for the news, subtitled films etc. After putting so much preparatory work in for the oral, maintaining that level of competence shouldn’t require too much effort on your part.
Now is the time where you need to identify where your strengths lie and where you need to avoid. Complete two or three past papers, mark it using the marking scheme and identify your best questions in each paper. Make sure you can answer at least the minimum amount of questions in each paper and have one for backup, in case there’s a hiccup on the day of the exam. Once you’ve identified those questions that you can do, you need to sit down and start making your way through question after question.
If you get any wrong, take out your red pen and identify what mistake you made and understand why you made it. The more of these practise questions you do, the less likely you are to be thrown by a (c) part question on the day.