Friday 19 January 2018

Irish psychiatrist Patricia Casey: How to cope with disappointing Leaving Cert results

Avoid hasty decisions during this time of self scrutiny
Avoid hasty decisions during this time of self scrutiny

Patricia Casey

The Leaving Certificate results are out and students and their parents are by now processing the outcome and weighing up their options. Not doing as well as you wanted to can be deeply upsetting and will certainly make a short-term dent in one's self-confidence and self-worth.

It is all the more difficult when the young person is ambitious, a high achiever and their parents have matching expectations. It is particularly difficult when friends do well but you don't, and it can make the post-result weeks tough and even embarrassing.

And emotions may be a mixture of relief that the results are available, gloom stemming from disappointment, anxiety about the future and even jealousy of friends who have achieved their goal while you seem to have been left behind.

These emotions may be tinged with an abiding sense of unfairness that despite diligence and hard work you have fallen short of your goal.

Many will have achieved their required points, although there may still be uncertainty if the demands for certain courses exceeds the number of available places, notwithstanding a good result. The most disappointed group are obviously those who have scored well below what is required for their course or those who have failed the exam.

One of the errors in thinking that besets students at this time of year, perhaps emanating from their parents, is that this is the most important examination they will ever sit and that their future depends on it.

But this is not the most important examination ever and the students future most definitely does not depend on it, except for those whose parents still cling to this notion.

This opinion dates from a time when that most certainly did pertain. The approach to education and to career selection was much more entrenched and rigid in the past than now.

Career paths were selected well before the Leaving Certificate, indeed just after the Junior Certificate when subjects were chosen with a specific career trajectory in mind. And for those not obtaining the requisite points, future plans were totally revised, often leading to misery and ultimately job dissatisfaction.

Thankfully this has utterly changed. Firstly, it is possible to repeat the Leaving Certificate again 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 did not secure the required points, then considering a repeat may be inadvisable and other paths forward should be explored.

Perhaps 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 the particular career is reconsidered.

For those not achieving their stated choices, then there are other entry systems including the mature student system, the graduate entry system (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 2017 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 maturing socially, emotionally and intellectually.

When confronted with this situation you first have to talk to your teachers and establish if you, your parents or your teachers expected too much.

Perhaps you were trying to overachieve and they bought into this. They will advise if repeating the year is likely to lead to any improvement next time round.

You also need to step back, if possible, and ask if the subject you have chosen is really for you or are you trying to meet a family expectation.

Time away from the hothouse of post-result analysis might also allow you the space to review your situation more realistically. You may still decide to repeat the year but you will have had the opportunity to re-examine your expectations and considered alternative careers.

Above all, avoid hasty decisions during this time of anxiety and self-scrutiny.

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