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Thursday 18 September 2014

It pays to cheat? How Leaving Cert exam is failing our students

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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My friend need not have cheated if he had got up off of his arse and studied like the rest of us

A FRIEND who cheated in his Leaving Cert once told me that the desperate usually succeed because they have nothing to lose.

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Forty students had their results withheld by the Department of Education on Wednesday after they were caught cheating this summer, but this figure would be much higher if examiners were really aware of what goes on in schools every June.

My friend need not have cheated if he had got up off of his arse and studied like the rest of us.

He made Dougal from Father Ted seem like a whizz-kid and was as prepared as the group of Kerry men who once claimed that they were going to fly to the sun at night because it would be cooler.

But he was haunted by the fear of failing the exams and, on the eve of his English papers, he panicked.

A group of his friends pooled together some notes and gave the lazy so-and-so some essays to learn.

Instead, armed with €10 that he had liberated from his worried mother's purse, our protagonist set off and marched to the local newsagent to buy 20 black pens with ridged sides and a fine-tipped permanent marker.

He came home and labelled each pen in a numeric sequence and proceeded to scrawl part of an essay about Irish poet Michael Longley on the flat sides of each one "because the Irish lads always come up."

I remember standing outside the exam hall and seeing a line from Wounds on one biro. We were told that the quote about "preparing an Ulster fry" was "torture" because he had slept-in after a late night of "study" and missed breakfast. The pain of Longley's poetic commentary on the Troubles was obviously lost on him.

Sure enough, as we opened our exam papers, a question on Longley had come up and the desperate friend escaped with copying down the essay as he went through his sequence from one to 20..

A dangerous trend had been set.

The maths exam followed with theories and formulas in tow and one glasses-wearing student had noticed that the case he kept his specs in had not been searched in any of his previous exams.

He had Pythagoras' Theorem and all sorts of formulas scribbled on the inside of the case, even ones that were supplied in the exam paper, "just in case".

"Looking back now, I would have been killed had I been caught and it was very obvious what I was doing," he told me just last week.

"I remember that I definitely made the examiners suspicious because I was opening the case and cleaning my glasses every 15 minutes. They kept looking at me and I could feel my face getting redder and redder but I had to do it. I was hopeless at maths and I was not coming back repeating it."

Another friend told the examiner that morning that he had diarrhoea and would need to make frequent trips to the bathroom.

Despite being accompanied on his trips as far as the door, once in a cubical, he would drop his trousers, read formulas from his bare thighs and memorise them before going back in.

The girls in the school next door would write on the lining of their skirts, lift them up when the examiner was not looking and copy their notes.

These were all successful methods. The Leaving Cert may not have taught the students what the curriculum intended but they certainly knew how to get results.

The desperate usually succeed because they have nothing to lose, but even the not so desperate ones can employ exam tactics.

Last week, my master-mind cousin got 525 points in her Leaving Cert. Nervous on the day of her maths exam and despite spending five years studying at higher level, she did the honourable thing.

Instead of using the glasses case, skirt or devious pens, she picked up a lower- level paper on the morning of her exam. "I was afraid that I would fail," she told me.

Haunted by the fear of having to resit an exam, she chose a more assured option.

Scraping a pass in an honours paper would have secured her 45 points. Her A1 at ordinary level earned her an extra 15 points, which could prove to be the difference in getting a preferred course in tomorrow's CAO offers.

The Leaving Cert is not equipping students with the skills, knowledge and nous to go on and succeed in life -that comes from a resource children acquire themselves.

Sunday Independent

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