Pressure can start as early as first year
As a person who managed to come out the other side of the Junior Cert alive (barely) recently, I know first-hand all about the stresses of exams.
All of a sudden you find that everyone is competing ("I did two hours study." "Oh really? Well done. I did four.") and the results of every little test get more and more important. For a whole year, you hear nothing but 'exam strategies' and 'study skills'.
Teachers give daily lectures about how you're not doing enough when you were up half the night revising.
I've seen first-hand what happens when the pressure becomes too much. Tears and tantrums are part of the package for exam years nowadays. I don't know anyone who did not change as a person in third year -- some for the better and others for the worst.
The whole system really begins in first year. You arrive into a big, new, scary school a happy-go-lucky 12 year old. Then the realisation that you're going to be streamed hits you. If you don't do well in your early exams, then you can't do honours subjects for the Junior Cert.
The same applies with the Leaving Cert. All of a sudden, your first-year Christmas exams become the first leg in the points race.
Some believe that it's good for us. It prepares us for the future, apparently. But I cannot see how a 14- year-old bursting into tears in the middle of a French test because they don't know the answer is good preparation for our future.
So how did I deal with pressure? The best way to cope with exam stress is to remember that there may be 30 in your class who are going through the exact same thing. Lean on your friends and classmates and let them lean on you.
Reassurance is often best coming from someone who is going through the same experience with you.
And make sure you have some 'down time' with your friends to help you relax. Ban talking about the exams, even though a good moan is exactly what is needed sometimes.
Transition-year student at Presentation Secondary School, Tralee