Wednesday 26 October 2016

Discuss pre-exam concerns with teachers

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Aoife Walsh

Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

I often receive questions around this time from students preparing to the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams, wondering if they should change from higher level to ordinary level in particular subjects.

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It is not possible for Junior Cert students to change levels now, as they submitted their intended levels to the State Examination Commission (SEC) in the spring.

Leaving Cert students are also required to advise the SEC the level at they would like to take each subject. However, this is used for planning purposes and, for the most part, students are free to change levels if they so wish.

It is important to consider any changes in levels extremely carefully. Some students may be genuinely coming to the conclusion that the level for which they have been preparing is slightly out of their reach, or perhaps they are just nervous.

Reflection on what has been achieved in a particular subject so far, and how much work this has required, is important. So too is reflection on what grades are likely to be achieved. This may be difficult, especially if a student is feeling overwhelmed by the exams in general.

While most Leaving Cert students are now at home preparing for exams, schools are still open. A conversation with a subject teacher and guidance counsellor this week is likely to be extremely beneficial for any student who finds themselves in the quandary. This may help students clarify whether they are making this decision for the right reasons, or as a result of nerves.

In general, it is a good idea to take the higher level paper where possible, because of the potential to earn more points. The most important exception to this is if there is any possibility that a student may fail a subject. For most students applying to the CAO, a below D grade in a subject will result in no points for this subject and possibly missing out on matriculation requirements.

All Leaving Cert subjects are available at higher and ordinary level, with the exception of maths and Irish, which are also available at foundation level. There are some restrictions on students dropping levels: for example, it is not possible for a student to move from ordinary level Irish and foundation level Irish after the orals as the exams are different at the different levels. To be clear on any restrictions that may be in place on subjects with a practical or project work component, students should speak to their subject teacher.

Regardless of a student's final choice, it is important to make a decision before the day of the exam and stay with it. No matter what, candidates should not let nerves on the morning of the exam influence a decision that may be regretted later.

Aoife Walsh is a ­guidance ­counsellor at Malahide ­Community School, Co Dublin

Question: What advice do you have to ensure that the first day of exams goes as smoothly as possible?

Answer: The most important thing a candidate can do to ensure they have a successful first day is to arrive at the exam centre in plenty of time. Many students feel they would prefer not to arrive too early as they believe being around other students will increase their anxiety. However, there are a number of housekeeping items students must complete before sitting their first exam.

On the morning of the exam, students should be sure of their centre, number and location. There are 13 centres in my school this year, so it is extremely important that students do not presume to know the location of their exam. The exam number was issued to them by the exam co-ordinator of their school a number of months ago.

On the morning of June 8, candidates should arrive at the exam centre at least 30 minutes early. The journey should be well planned to minimise unwanted stress.

Candidates will be asked to sign on the first morning, about 20 minutes before the exam begins. They should take this opportunity to find their seat and perhaps leave any materials they will need at their desk. Once this is done, candidates can find a quiet space to go over their notes before returning to take their seat about five minutes before the start of the exam.

Remember that the centre may change as the exams proceed, especially as subjects that take place later in the week tend to have a smaller number of students sitting them. Candidates should ensure they are aware of which centre their next exam will be in before they leave the school each day.

Allowing as much time as possible in the morning will allow candidates to get themselves in the correct frame of mind and give each student the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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