Preparing for the Leaving Cert

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Two weeks to the Exams.

For Leaving Cert students, school days are now over, and the stark reality of sitting English Paper 1 at 9.30am in two weeks’ time is staring you in the face.

Now that you are in the final run into the exams, you should do at least eight or nine hours of structured study every day, from early morning onwards in blocks of no more than three hours. If managed properly, you can improve greatly on your potential grade performance over the coming two to three weeks of written papers.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do

School days and all the support your teachers have given you over the past fourteen years are now history.

You have to make your own luck from now on. That is the crucial difference between a world in which teachers support and guide you through every step of the process, and real life in college or the workplace.

The next two weeks before the exams, and the study periods in between them, is a good block of time if used wisely to pull all that you have learned over the past two years together, to practise presenting your knowledge in the most exam-friendly manner, and to strengthen your weak spots.

Even if you think you are sunk and have not applied yourself through the year, it need not be a disaster if you approach these next few weeks calmly and strategically.

It’s also possible to do this while living a balanced lifestyle, exercising, and eating well and giving yourself the occasional treat to recharge the batteries and keep up your energy levels. This plan is a good place to start.

Do use stress effectively to redouble your motivation

The best way to rid yourself of the stress you are probably feeling right now is to get stuck into a solid study routine. Sitting around worrying about how you are going to get through the exams gets you nowhere. Use the stress you are feeling to help to maintain your focus over the coming weeks.

Social media will still be there after the exams are long over, so stay away from the computer and turn off that phone. But if exam stress becomes a real problem for you, consult your family doctor, who will be able to help you deal effectively with it.

Do plan your last few weeks of study

Allowing for gaps between exams after the first week’s papers are completed, you can clock up over many hours of high-quality revision before you sit the last paper in about a month from now.

Firstly, print out your exam timetable from the website. Working backwards from your last paper, map out exactly when you are going to tackle every single question on your study plan.

If you don’t have one, and are using past papers as a guide, draft one right now. You may be surprised to realise you can still cover the majority of your course curriculum if you punch in a solid day’s work.

Study is most effective if you write short summaries of key points on each question on to mind maps, which you can review the evening before each exam.

Practise writing out the answer to a past question within the time you will have on the day of that specific subject. Do no more than three hours study across four questions before taking a break for at least an hour. Keep yourself hydrated with water, no sugar highs, it plays havoc with your capacity to concentrate.

Don’t focus all your effort into your weak areas while letting others slide

If you feel unsure of your capacity to answer a particular question, contact the relevant teacher, and ask them for an hour of their time. Most will be more than happy to help out as they are still in school working with non-State exam students or correcting in-house summer exam papers.

Do plan a balanced approach to nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relaxation over the coming weeks

You must aim to be in the best shape possible when the day of each element of the exam arrives.

Don’t abandon the support available from your teachers

They have huge experience of preparing students for exams as well as having taken a few in their own time. Don’t be tempted to seek last-minute grinds if you run into trouble with a topic or subject. Go into school and ask your teacher to explain it to you. If your teachers are still offering either formal or informal classes, tap into their expertise. There are also very good sources of online help.

Do revise what you think you already know– it’s the key to high grades

Doing well in examinations is 50 per cent technique and 50 per cent knowledge of your subject. You have absorbed many times more information over the past two years than you could ever present in your Leaving or Junior Certificate.

The next few weeks should be about fine-tuning your answers in line with the marking schemes, published by the State Examinations Commission ( ).

These marking schemes are a vital resource for you, as they will show you exactly what the teacher correcting your paper will be looking for when they bring up your exam script online on their PC on a hot afternoon in July.

Two students with the same amount of information on a topic may get radically different grades, depending on how each presents the information to the correcting teacher.

Don’t go into more detail than needed

Four or five key points are more than enough for most topics – and will get you more marks than more detailed answers with just one or two points. The detail of your answer to any particular portion of a question should be in proportion to the numbers of marks available for that section.

When you sit down to read your paper on the day of the exam and select those questions you will attempt, four or five key words as rough work at the back of the answer book are all you will need to structure your answer to any question comprehensively.

Once you get started, you will find that the information starts to fall into place in your mind. Therefore, you should reduce your recall triggers to no more than a handful of points or key words on any topic.

Do seek support from your parents and other family members. Your family will always be there for you.

The best advice I give to parents at this stage is to listen. There's no point pretending to be an expert, doling out advice and attempting to console your son or daughter with words of comfort and lists of dos and don'ts. What they need at this highly stressed time is someone to listen to them without criticism.

If you show your child trust and unconditional acceptance, they may tell you what they are really feeling. Having given them your listening ear, you can ask them whether there is anything you can do to help them improve their performance in their examinations. It may be as simple as being at home more to ensure a calm, quiet atmosphere in which they can study more effectively.

Don’t take part in any activities which will knock you off course on the final lap

Remember, performance on the day of the examination is determined by physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing, as well as preparedness in the subject material.

Those facing the stressful conditions of examinations need regular physical exercise through sport, walking, jogging, or swimming.

As always, you need to avoid alcohol and drugs; not an easy task given the peer pressure on your age group.

Given the levels of energy required to perform to your potential across seven subjects over three weeks you also need to maintain a nutritious, healthy, balanced, diet, avoiding excessive sugar intake and junk food.


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