How to get through the leaving cert: your survival guide

Just a few weeks to go! Áine Kenny reveals her top tips for reducing stress and getting through the big L.C.

By the time May rolls around, it is safe to assume that every sixth year is in full panic mode. The orals and projects are complete so now all that is left is the written and listening exams. I did my Leaving two years ago this year and it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Hopefully I can impart some wisdom onto you to help you cope throughout your exams.

1. Research your other CAO choices thoroughly: In an ideal situation, everyone would get their first choice on the CAO form. However, if your results aren’t what you expected, it is even worse when you don’t have a clue what your other choices were. Research them all- know the college, course design, and how to get accommodation. This will make your life a lot easier when the CAO comes out.

2. Try not to panic: While a little bit of stress is beneficial and can help motivate us, it is no good if you are so stressed you cannot sleep or eat, let alone study. It is quite common for students to suffer from severe anxiety during the Leaving Cert. One of my friends couldn’t sit her Pres because she was having too many panic attacks. However, with the right support, she managed to overcome this and went on to sit her exams, do really well and is now doing a course she loves in college. So, if you are really struggling, please talk to a teacher, friend or parent to help you get through the exams.

3. Do not put yourself under unnecessary pressure: when I was doing the Leaving, I decided to do all Higher Level subjects “just in case”. I cannot tell you how pointless this was (please excuse the LC pun). If you think it will make you look clever or that you’ll have a better chance of getting enough points, it won’t. In fact, you may fall down in your better subjects just because you have to work extra hard to pass the Higher Level paper. Choose the level most appropriate to your ability and play to your strengths. And unless you’re planning on doing a STEM course in University, don’t do Higher Maths- trust me on this one.

4. Think about the entry requirements: While most courses lay out the entry requirements pretty clearly, there are some hidden pitfalls. If you decide to do General Science, for example, most colleges will let you in with one science and Maths. However, in your first year, you are expected to do Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. While it may be too late to pick other subjects now, please be prepared. Also, don’t fall into a trap of not having the most basic entry requirements. Certain courses require certain subjects with particular grades so please ensure you fit the bill.

5. You don’t have to go to college: There is a mounting pressure on young people nowadays to go to college and get a degree. However, if you’re not academic, college can be very challenging, especially in theory-intensive courses. If you’d rather a more practical option, there are plenty of apprenticeships out there, some run in Institutes of Technology. If you don’t want that either, there is no reason why you can’t get a job straight out of secondary school. You’ll be earning money (unlike most students) and be gaining an insight into the working world.

6. It is never too late to start studying: you may think that you’re a basket case when it comes to studying but all is not lost. You can be surprised at how much you can get done in the space of a few weeks. Set out a quick plan, highlight key points in the chapters of the book, write out your notes, condense them into flash cards to help jog your memory. You won’t be able to cover absolutely everything, no matter how early you start. Cover the basics at least.

7. The exams don’t really change: Picture this: you’re sitting in the exam centre, sweating bullets, going over your prepared answers in your head as the exam papers are being handed out by a tight-lipped invigilator. Suddenly you think: “what if this year they ask something different?” Yet they never do. The courses rarely change, and if they have your teacher will alert you of any new topics to cover. Follow the structure of past exams, familiarise yourself with the paper. Nothing unexpected will come up, and even if it does, you will cope.

8. Once you’ve done the Leaving, it doesn’t matter: The thing about the Leaving is once you have sat it and received your points it becomes completely irrelevant, which is frustrating considering how much energy and effort most people put into it. Once you are in your course, apprenticeship or job, no one will ask you how many points you got. These set of exams do not reflect your personality, your skills or your intellect. So, don’t place too much stock into the results. The results will get you on the next path in your life, even if it wasn’t the path you wanted. These things happen for a reason though. Some people I know got their third or even sixth choice and they still ended up making great friends and loving their course. So just get through them and then forget about them.

Good luck everyone!

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