Knowing what to say when someone did not receive the results they wanted is tricky. We look back at this article from 2019 and hear from students who repeated their Leaving Cert, and psychologists on how best to broach a sensitive subject.
Leaving Cert results day is a day of high stress and high drama. There are elevated stakes, towering expectations, moments of pure elation, but also disappointment and devastation.
If your child/ niece/ friend has not got the results they were hoping for, it’s extremely important to tread carefully.
Often our inconsiderate reactions can compound feelings of inadequacy, and upset.
So here are the things you definitely should not say or do.
Rein in your ego; no body cares that you failed Honours level French 15 years ago but are now working in a successful recruitment agency. There is absolutely no need to relate everything back to your own personal experience. Sometimes, it’s just not about you. All this proves is that you are not listening and you are not being respectful to someone in an emotionally fraught situation.
Dr Anne Kehoe, Clinical Psychologist and member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, says the most important thing is to listen and acknowledge the individual's experience. "It is very hard to sit with someone else's disappointment," she said. "But when someone is in the middle of a bad situation they don't want to hear someone else's life view. They want to feel listened to."
Of course it’s just the Leaving Cert and in the grand scheme of things may not be all that important. But for the past two, maybe three years, students have been told these exams are pretty much the be-all and end-all.
“The sentiment is contradictory to everything you were led to believe for the previous five years. It takes a lot and lot of time for people to realise ‘it’s only the leaving cert’,” Lynsday Martin, who works in media and had to resit her Leaving Cert several years ago, said. “I think you have residual PTSD if you don’t get the points you wanted. It takes time to process.” Also by dismissing the magnitude of the event, you are dismissing the validity of the student’s feelings. This can leave individuals feeling emotionally unsupported.
Let people process disappointment at their own pace. "We often try and make things better," Dr Anne Kehoe said. We can do this by offering a plethora of solutions and trying to cheer people up. "But you just need to listen and empathise with the person. Empathy means acknowledging their emotions, saying things like 'That sounds hard', 'It is difficult'. Let them dictate the conversation - when they are ready to move on process what they are going through, they will let you know."
You are starting a conversation that will only end in disaster.
Time is relative; a year may seem like a short period of time if you’re 50 (or Johnny Logan), but when you’re 18 it can feel like a lifetime. And it’s not just the thought of another academic year filled with textbooks and study aids that is depressing – it’s the prospect of watching your friends and peers progress to adulthood while you stay put.
If someone hasn’t called to share results with you, there’s probably a reason why. One for students who aced the exams. Don’t ring/ text/ DM/ or voice note your pal when you’re out celebrating, telling them to ‘forget about it and let their hair down’. Give them time and space.
Even if they skipped out of every exam early, and got a grade point average of 2pc. They need to hear it. And don’t take it to heart when they have a breakdown and blame you for everything that has gone wrong in their life. Those feelings are better out then in.
Going to College
Some students may feel they have performed badly in a particular subject, or lacked confidence in their ability and now, surprised by their results, are considering what they might have achieved had they settled down to early revision.
In August 1996, the day I received my Leaving Cert results, a feisty new girl group called the Spice Girls were number one in Ireland and the UK (when people still paid attention to the charts) with their earworm debut single, Wannabe. Given the gravity of the occasion (it seems like a bigger milestone at the time than it actually is, of course) that song is branded on my brain as a song of celebration (thankfully, I was happy with my results, apart from Physics, the result of which prompted my teacher to enquire with a mix off horror and sympathy, 'But what HAPPENED?').