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Leaving Cert 2023 Don't worry if you feel overwhelmed ahead of the exams, you're not alone

Fiona O’Malley of Turn2Me mental health charity has lots of good advice for students and parents ahead of the exams tomorrow.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Jun 2023

TOMORROW, THE LEAVING Cert and the Junior Cert exams start. It can be a tricky time for students and their parents.

At Turn2Me, we have seen an increase in parents whose teenagers are sitting the Leaving Certificate seeking our services.

Everyone remembers the stress and anxieties that come with both the Leaving and Junior Cert. One of the reasons the Leaving Cert is so stressful is because it’s the first set of exams a young person will sit that has a real and direct impact on their future.

‘Not the be-all and end-all’

The Leaving Cert is the gatekeeper – it’s the ticket you need to get into college or further education, and it determines what course options students have.

Having said that, it’s not the be-all and end-all anymore. There are lot of pivot and conversion courses and alternative routes to career paths that weren’t possible in the past.

If you’re a student sitting the Leaving or Junior certificate, here’s our advice:

  • Create a study timetable and stick to it. You’ll feel less nervous when you have a plan in place.
  • Use the time you have left wisely. Revision notes and flashcards are your friends. Now is not the time to read huge books cover to cover.
  • If you’re feeling anxious, anchor yourself. Remember, this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve been doing exams all your life and you’ve prepared for this moment.
  • Practice deep breathing to calm your nerves. Take a deep inhale and slowly exhale. Do this until your anxiety lessens.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a parent, guardian, sibling, or friend to quiz you on your flashcards. When you know the material well, this confidence will help steady your nerves.
  • Remember, the mind retains more information with regular breaks, so try to take five minute breaks every hour.
  • After the exams, walk away from ‘exam post-mortem’ conversations – conversations about what you put in the exam paper are futile, pointless and can cause unnecessary stress.

If you’re a parent of a young person sitting the Leaving or Junior certificate, here’s Turn2Me’s advice:

  • Don’t be hard on your teenager or yourself. It’s a stressful time for the whole family unit.
  • You don’t need to give your teenager a Morgan Freeman motivational speech or a Ted Talk every time you see them but giving them words of encouragement can be powerful.
  • Popping into their room every time they have a study break with cups of tea, glasses of water and healthy snacks and being quietly kind can make a hugely positive difference.
  • Physical touch can be calming. If your teenager seems anxious, squeezing their shoulder when you walk by or hugging them when they come in the door can help.
  • If your teenager seems stressed, ask them how you can help them. Going for a walk in the morning or evening with them might help. Sitting down for dinner as a family can help during stressful periods.
  • If you want to help, offer to quiz them on their flashcards. Put them into two piles – a pile they know and a pile they don’t know. Quiz them more frequently on the pile they don’t know until that information sinks in.
  • Now is not the time for any unnecessary criticism or nagging. For example, if their room is messy, give them a pass on that until the Leaving Cert is over.

Life is long, this is one step

If you don’t do well in the Junior Cert, remember it’s a practice run for the Leaving Cert. It’s not the end of the world. Take your learnings and improve on them. For example, if your time management, answer structures, or misreading the questions were a problem, take this into account and work to improve on these weaknesses.

If you don’t do well in the Leaving Cert, remember that in the future, nobody will ask you what you got in the Leaving Cert. An employer won’t ask, friends won’t ask you and a romantic partner won’t ask you. Why? Because it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture.

Employers care about qualifications, degrees, and most of all experience. I know a CEO who failed their Leaving Cert. She repeated it and then took an alternative route into a course she loved and a career that fulfils her.

I’ve been working in senior management positions for over seven years. I’ve been on job hiring panels for over ten years. I’ve never once asked a person what they got in their Leaving Cert. I don’t care. I care about someone’s experience, qualifications, upskilling courses, attitude and work ethic.

If you feel overwhelmed, I promise you, you’re not alone. If you need a little bit of help, please reach out and get it. Those who ask for help are smart and brave. They’re not weak.

Fiona O’Malley is CEO of Turn2Me, a national mental health charity. Turn2Me is running support groups for both students and parents until the end of the Leaving Cert, for anyone who needs free professional mental health support. The Turn2Me Leaving Cert Students support group will run on Wednesdays at 6pm, and the Turn2Me Leaving Cert Parents support group will run on Thursdays at 6pm. To sign up, go to Turn2Me.ie.

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