Sunday 22 September 2019

Going to College: Three simple steps to getting sixth year off to a good start

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

Beginning sixth year can be very intimidating for young people. The sheer volume of work that lies ahead can seem overwhelming. This is matched by the finality of terminal exams and the pressure that this one event will define the rest of one's life. Of course, it will not, but that is most certainly how it will feel for the class of 2020.

Engaging with these kinds of thoughts is unhelpful and can even cause students to freeze and do nothing. It is not the event itself that causes problems, but how we think about it. Therefore, if students can try and take this challenge one day at a time and focus on what they need to do today rather than the whole curriculum, it can be very helpful in terms of managing stress and being productive.

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There are three things I remind all my students - every year group - about when they return to school. They are simple and they work.

They will also work for Leaving Cert candidates and the advice is the same irrespective of how much work a student has put in to this point.

Fully participate in class

It can be hard to remain engaged and listening in class. Every day we come to school, we bring with us everything else that is going on in our lives. Learning for six hours a day is extremely tiring and it can be tempting to allow ourselves to be distracted by the social aspect of school.

Fully participating in class will allow students to learn the work properly at the first opportunity. Following the teacher's advice and instructions allows students to benefit from their experience. It all sounds obvious, I know, but students do not always do this.

It may seem easy to take the soft route and think, 'I will not bother with this or that, it will save me time'. This is a false economy. Staying with your teacher, learning the topic properly the first time and asking questions when you don't understand something will mean that you will need to spend less time on study and homework later.

Do the best homework you possibly can

After working for six hours a day on our learning, we can be exhausted, especially if we are doing it properly. But homework is assigned by teachers to revisit that learning so as to allow it to be embedded and reinforced in your brain and to allow you and the teachers to check your understanding.

Leaving Cert students often report that they are spending so much time doing homework that they have no time to study. They are worried about this and try and rush through homework to get to revision. This is worse for those who feel they have not made good use of fifth year. As a result, they do just enough so the teacher cannot complain, skip parts of the assignment or do not do their learning work.

By spending time on homework and doing it to the best of your ability, you are not wasting time that could be spent revising. You are learning parts of the curriculum, which are as likely as anything else to feature in an exam question and you are learning it properly. As a result, when you revisit these parts during revision, you will be refreshing your memory of the topic rather than learning it from the beginning.

Revise regularly

Whether it is studying for class tests, preparing for Christmas exams or mock exams, regular revision is key. As the year goes on, there will be more time for this. The first term of sixth year is extremely busy: there are projects to finish, courses to be completed and research to be done. Later in the year, more time will be available for revising, as well for exam technique.

But do start revising as soon as possible and try not to be stressed out if you are not getting as much as you like done right now. This will change.

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

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