High stress levels among Leaving Certificate students have a lot to do with fears that their "whole life depends on it", according to a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
tudents, particularly girls, view it as an "all or nothing" opportunity and worry that if they don't reach their targets, such as CAO points, they will damage their chances of having a good life.
"The role of the results in deciding entry to higher education means that students see it as a critical influence on subsequent life chances, with some believing their 'whole life depends on it'," state the 'Student Stress and the Leaving Certificate' report authors, Dr Emer Smyth and Dr Joanne Banks.
They say their findings point to a need to rethink the nature of Leaving Cert assessment - currently dominated by written exams over a single 13-day period in June - in the interests of student well-being.
The report builds on previous ESRI research on the experience of Leaving Cert students, but now with a more in-depth focus on the factors that contribute to their stress levels.
The earlier research found that almost 40pc of sixth-year female students reported "losing sleep with worry", while over 50pc felt "constantly under strain or pressure".
Among the latest findings is the role played by teachers and school life in adding to pressures.
While a certain amount of stress is common among sixth-year students, it states schools can help to reduce it, including by praising and giving more positive feedback to students.
Teachers were frequently seen as a source of pressure as they constantly emphasised the importance of the exams, with a strong emphasis on practising previous exam papers.
While the report is not specific about what changes are needed in the Leaving Cert, it points to the sort of reforms that have been sought at Junior Cert level and a switch away from a single set of terminal exams.
There are moves afoot to reduce the pressures on students, including changes to the exam grading and CAO points systems, but there are no proposals at present to change the nature of the exam.