Wednesday 20 November 2019

Exam survival: A student's advice to parents on getting through Leaving and Junior Certs

Ellie Walsh, Class of 2014 advises parents of Junior and Leaving Cert students

Ellie Walsh, from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Photo: John Power.
Ellie Walsh, from Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Photo: John Power.

As a parent, you've put up with a lot over the years. Whinging, whining, exasperated sighing, door slamming, foot stamping, I'm sure you can finish off the list yourself.

But all of these side effects of growing up seem to accumulate into one psycho ball of adolescence in the lead up to exams. Whether it's the stress of studying too much, the stress of studying the wrong things, or the stress of not having studied at all, every student is about to feel it.

Now this lead up can test even the most tolerant of parents. So if you find yourself lingering over the cutlery drawer holding back the urge to grab the wooden spoon and put an end to the incessant moaning of your teenager, read on and close that drawer.

Now I'm no expert on adolescent psychology. But I have made it through both state exams and my parents didn't hate me by the end of them, or vice versa. And from my experience, there are a lot of things parents can do during this time to maintain a somewhat easy life.

Number one is simple: Hold your tongue. I know it's easier said than done. Especially when your brat comes home from school in a sulk, flings their books across the table and complains about the dinner you've been sweating over all day, but believe me when I say that it's not worth the row. The last thing a stressed out student wants is a bad atmosphere at home to add to the cauldron of pressure at school. So for the sake of the next few weeks, count to 10 and remember you have a whole summer to make them pay for their bratty ways.

My golden rule number two is to keep exam reminders at a minimal. If you're reading this, you obviously care enough about your son or daughter that you want them to do well, but any reminders of how important study and exams are, even the small ones, are zero help. Trust me, we already know.

This leads me nicely onto rule number three: No comparisons please. A common example of this would be the casual dinner-time interjections of, "Did ya know who I ran into today love? Ann! And she was telling me that her young lad Paul is doing five hours of study a night! Can ya imagine that?! Five hours! He's got is head screwed on all right". Even if Paul can recite the entire Irish syllabus backwards, we don't want to hear about it. It's just added stress.

Home shouldn't be an extension of school where every second word is exam related, so change the subject to the weather if you must, because comparing yourself to other students is about as futile as Paul's ability to recite the Irish language backwards.

This leads me onto my favourite, rule number four: Food, food and more food. Yes, every nutritional expert will refute me on this but I think it's one of those exceptions, so hear me out. During the exams, we poor students can't control much. The infuriatingly difficulty of project maths, the stacks of exams piled one after another on the exam timetable or the imminent arrival of 'exam weather'. But we can control the fact that we can gain just a little bit of satisfaction from eating three Kinder Buenos in one night to combat exam pressure. So please parents, just for a few weeks, enable the irrational eating habits with Nutella available on demand and freezers full of pizzas. Just throw in an apple here and there to counteract the damage.

The only other piece of advice I can give is just be there. Naturally this doesn't mean awaiting your child every evening after an exam to envelop them in a parent sandwich and draw up trend graphs of possible results. It means that, even if they never come to you, they know that there's someone there to provide a listening ear and maybe a cup of tea if it all gets too much.

In any case, you've made it this far, haven't you? The hard work has already been done and now all that's left to do is count down the days and the hours until you can start being mean to your teenager again.

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