Thursday 23 November 2017

Life does not begin and end with the Leaving Cert

Exams are certainly important, but they are not everything and whatever the outcome, students should be reassured that choices remain open to them

"Terrific" Applied Business Question on exam, said Mr Hannigan

Patricia Casey

I WRITE as somebody who sat the State examinations several decades ago. Apart from a name change, little has altered, at least in the minds of the teenagers taking them.

My sons also did these exams and, for the most part, they seemed relatively calm and even nonchalant about them, unlike their mother, who suffered insomnia, weight loss and a sense of foreboding about a grim future of failure.

Now, several decades on, I have had the opportunity to meet students around the country at prize giving days and, most recently, in a very well-known school in the Midlands. There, the many students that I spoke to struck me as poised, confident and realistic about what they were facing.

On the other hand, I have professionally seen those who were in a state of terror, despite their very high intelligence and inordinate preparation for the examination.

One of the errors in thinking that besets some students, perhaps emanating from their parents, is that this is the most important examination you will ever take! It is not.

This view is antiquated and comes from a time when you made your career choice before the Leaving Certificate, for which the Intermediate Cert (now the Junior Cert) was a practice run. If you did not achieve adequate results, your future would have to be totally reconsidered since there would be few options for those aspiring to further studies, apart from the Leaving Cert. points system. This has utterly changed.

Firstly, you can repeat your Leaving Certificate if you feel you might achieve higher points next time. This assumes that the reason for your falling short was laziness, not ability.

If you worked hard but, yet, didn't achieve, then required points, considering a repeat may be inadvisable and other paths forward should be explored.

And, for those who opt for specific careers, either for prestige or because of parental pressure, rather than fulfilment, a deficit in points may be a blessing in disguise as they reconsider the choice of career.

Secondly, if you don't achieve your choices then there are other entry systems through the mature student system, the graduate entry (applies to Medicine) and the FETAC systems. So those who are struggling, panicking or who just have bad luck on the day, there are other opportunities if 2014 doesn't work out as you hoped or wished. Even the disinterested or lazy student often benefits from a few years out of study while they mature.

For those who are focussed and organised and have a self-driven career in mind, they will want some advice on how they should deal with their feelings of anxiety and stress as Day 1 of the examination approaches.

The most important thing is to realise that anxiety is perfectly normal and, in this instance, healthy. Stress increases adrenaline secretion and this will contribute to the "psyched up" effect that everybody needs to perform optimally.

In the short term it's unpleasant but it stimulates mental activity and hence performance. The person who is too calm will underperform.

For the very few who are overwhelmed, some basic relaxation or distraction strategies may help, such as a walk or some other exercise, listening to music and simply talking to a a friend. Sometimes a once off dose of medication will aid in dampening the feelings of panic and so a visit to your general practitioner is necessary.

In the rare situation that your anxiety is so intrusive, even with all of these strategies in place, and you still feel unable to deal with the examination, then a deferral may be the best option.

I have dealt with more than one such situation, which to the student seemed catastrophic at the time, but resulted in very positive outcome with a more realistic appraisal of the alternatives during the repeat year.

Details about exercise, diet, revision systems, pacing and time management are available in every school and on the internet.

Each student has to use his/her own system of revision. However, in the last days, there is little point in trying to learn new material – it is best to consolidate what has already been learned.

The material may seem remote and even have been partially forgotten, but reading through it again will quickly bring it into conscious awareness.

I wish you all the very best and be reassured that no matter what the results of the Leaving Certificate, you will be able to find fulfilment and contentment in you chosen career with the right attitude rather than with hundreds points in the Leaving Certificate.

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