Friday 30 September 2016

Exam Diary: My fellow students: now is a time for level heads

Dearbháil Clarke

Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30

Dearbháil Clarke
Dearbháil Clarke

I should probably clarify something before we begin. I am not going to help you with these exams. I could rattle off top tips and exam protocol like a deranged tutor but I won't, because it won't help.

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We all know we should stick to our timing. We all know we should drink lots of water, get enough sleep, and eat enough fish to deplete our coastlines. But these things feel like limp platitudes when you're in the thick of exams. They bounce off your skin.

Forgive me for saying this, fellow students, but you've done all that you can. However much that is, you've done it, and trying to cram whole chapters into your head in the wee hours isn't going to help anyone.

All that you should do is stay level-headed. The only way I've managed to do that in high-stress situations is through solidarity; and keeping things in perspective. I'm going to try to offer you both of those over the next few weeks.

Firstly, solidarity: I don't know about you, but I am terrified. Terrified that I've made the wrong career choice. Terrified that I'm not pushing myself hard enough.

Terrified because my brain feels like a lump of wet cake. Above all else, I'm terrified about today's English exam.

Whenever I wrote stories as a child, I would hide them in secret copybooks, or scrunch them up and throw them away - where they would inevitably be 'found' by my nosy family. Ever since I settled on pursuing a degree in literature, I've tried countless times to scrub away these insecurities with hard work and positive feedback.

I set myself the goal of an A in English to prove that I wasn't making a mistake. My issues with timing improved, and I thought I was finally getting there. Imagine my reaction when I barely scraped a pass in my English mocks. Mocks are supposed to be an incentive to work harder, but that one sits in my chest like a betrayal.

I regret taking these things so close to heart. After all, examiners can't possibly see your struggles, your weaknesses or how hard you've worked to achieve your goals. Two years, condensed into a few pages of work. Nothing that defines who you are, or what you should be. All the same, I'm going to attack English Paper One with ferocity today, with the vindictive desire to prove that examiner wrong.

Secondly, perspective: I had my first massage yesterday. As he worked, the therapist told me about his niece, who got three points less than the 575 she needed for medicine. She took this blow incredibly hard, but after some recuperation she decided not to repeat. Instead, she spent a year working in a coffee shop, developing her social life and learning to enjoy the minutiae of life. She didn't regret a single moment of it.

He told me to think about that. Maybe you should too.

Dearbháil Clarke is a pupil at Meán Scoil Mhuire, Convent Road, Longford.

Irish Independent

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