Ann Fitzgerald: Our children need to take their exams seriously but not too seriously
Let the games, sorry, exams, begin! I breathed a sigh of relief when I dropped our daughter Sarah to school this week, as she joins 60,000 or so others in doing the Junior Cert and a similar number doing the Leaving. The wait is over.
I am surprised at how anxious I have been feeling. I want her to do well, for her own sake, not ours.
I am also struck by the pressure on exam students, and how hard they work.
One Monday morning in my Junior Cert year, our commerce teacher Miss Goodwin asked our class how long they had spent studying over the weekend. When nobody ventured an answer, she asked me directly.
I was silent for a moment, as if adding up the time, trying to come up with a figure that sounded respectable yet still plausible. "Three hours," I said, a mere 180 minutes longer than the truth.
I can still remember her answer: "Three hours? I spent longer than that reading the newspapers."
One event that stands out from the Leaving Cert cycle is my meeting with a career guidance teacher. I told her that I was interested in doing the rural science course in nearby Moylish College, Limerick.
She said the course would be a waste of my points, that I could get into a 'better' one.
I then set my mind on veterinary. I came up a few points short in the Leaving. So I repeated. I got more points, but still not enough. I ended up taking the course that I had been offered the previous year, Natural Sciences in Trinity.
I liked the sound of 'Natural' but had no real understanding of what it entailed. I specialised in geography, but had no clear picture of where I was going.
I now see my ending up as an agricultural journalist as proof that my first instinct, to do rural science, was the right one.
This is one of the stories I told Sarah last week when I gave her a pep talk.
I also pointed out that, no matter how well prepared you are, it is normal to feel nervous on a big occasion.
The challenge now is to stay fresh. Go to bed early and try to get eight hours' sleep; a healthy diet boosts memory, concentration and mood; exercise is a stress reliever. Pray, if you're so inclined.
I also tried to be honest about the importance of the exams, to not exaggerate it but not to devalue it either.
Despite my opening line, this is different to The Hunger Games: you are not in competition with others for points, only against yourself.
You have done the work, you deserve to do well. For a short time, you will be defined by the points that you get.
But exam results are not a measure of your worth as a human being.
When you are told to turn over the paper, close your eyes and take one deep breath, then read it through before you start. Allocate the time as you have been taught. If something throws you, don't panic. Remain calm, focused, strong.
A few days later, my husband Robin gave his pep talk.
When I asked Sarah whose was better, she replied "Timmy's" (that's the dog!)
Once you know where you want to go, you can always find a way to get there, if you want it enough.
Some jobs make more money than others. More money does not mean greater happiness.
As actor Jim Carrey once said: "I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they can see it is not the answer."
Finally, enjoy the experience.
And may the odds be ever in your favour.
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