| 5.2°C Dublin

Exam Diary: The notes are read and the prayers have been said

BY now, the notes have been read, and the prayers have been said. It's time to kick off.

More than 55,000 Leaving Cert students begin exams today. About 50 different subjects will be tested over the next two and a half weeks. And there will be 350,000 grades in all, handed down by about 2,800 examiners.

However, to each Leaving Cert student today those numbers mean little. They are focussed on their own paper, their own emotions, as they begin with English Paper 1 and home economics.

All of the radio stations yesterday were giving advice to students and parents. They told us not to stress out too much, to try and keep calm.

They are of course right, but keeping calm is easier said than done.

I have just one exam today -- English Paper 1. It is a paper that is very difficult to prepare for.

It consists of three comprehensions, where students answer a question A followed by a question B, which demands a more creative style of writing. Students must then do an essay.

The frightening thought that nothing I have prepared will be suitable for the essay question saw me burning the midnight oil, reading through all manner of sample essays.

These last minute jitters had me worshipping at the altar of sheer desperation, praying that at least a part B would be charged with: "Write an article relaying your thoughts and emotions on the morning of an important exam."

However, by aiming to follow Mark Twain's advice to "never use a big word when a diminutive one will do", English should be fine.

Other important advice is to read the whole paper before beginning to write, and to jot down ideas before starting an answer to help gain the coherence marks on offer.

There is also the paper's golden rule, which students will be reciting in the back of their minds when they sit down to do the paper: "Candidates must answer a question A on one text and a question B on a different text."

I have no advice for home economics, as this correspondent's experience of the subject is limited to a couple of cooking disasters in transition year.

The stress and tension levels are undoubtedly building, as we prepare to sit down in a nerve-fraught environment and look at impersonal exam papers where we are coldly referred to as "candidates" and, to all intents and purposes, we are just a number.

But, once the first day is over, I expect everything to get easier.

I am consoling myself with the fact that at 12.30 today, I can begin the ceremonial "crossing off" and consign one half of English to history.

Gavin Cooney is a student at Mercy Secondary School, Ballymahon, Co Longford

Irish Independent