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Exam stress can make you lose perspective – remember, you're more than your grade

You are the sum of far more than one set of exams – there are plenty of ways to succeed in this world.

Clive Byrne

AT TIMES, THE never-ending ocean of prep work, mock exams, notebooks and after-school study can seem overwhelming and demoralising. And that’s just the first part.
The real end-goal—further education—becomes lost in the swell. Picking courses and colleges can seem an inconvenient or baffling distraction. Pressure from parents and teachers, “points predictions” and an overall lack of guidance, can lead you to make poor choices.

In reality, the process is a lot simpler. In fact, it can be boiled down to one thing – pick the courses that you, and you alone, want to do, and list them in the order you prefer. Aim for an area that genuinely excites you and places you firmly on the road to achieving what you want in life.

Listing subjects in order of last year’s points, or points you think you’ll achieve, can be disastrous. If you relegate your personal favourite to fourth or fifth, but get all the points necessary for your first choice, only that place will be offered to you. Listing by order of preference means that even if you don’t get your first choice, you might get your second or third.

While it’s important to be realistic about what you can achieve (ie, don’t apply for medicine if you’re failing biology), trying to game the system or predict points is deeply risky, and can often lead people to repeating the Leaving Cert for no good reason, or doing a course they don’t want.

Set aside a day to fully research your options – you won’t regret it

There’s still a good chance that you don’t know exactly what courses you want to do. Set aside a day or two to fully research your picks, and if you can, visit the college you’d like to study at, and the relevant department, to get a better understanding of what is taught, and how. You may even be able to sit in on a lecture or talk to a faculty member.

It’s important to understand that in an Ireland where 73% of adults between the ages of 25-64 have earned a secondary school degree, staying competitive is key. Enrolling in a course that hones a natural talent, or gives you specialist knowledge in certain useful areas, makes you extremely valuable to employers.

It is also worth remembering that many people have found success and contentment in their careers without a university education. There are a variety of further education options available – the most important thing is to complete a course that you have genuine interest in.

What if you don’t get what you want?

Come results day in August, inevitably some will be disappointed. Thankfully, our education system presents many solutions. Firstly, if you’re very confident that you performed well in a paper, but feel that your grade does not reflect it, rechecks can and often do lead to an increase in points. Sometimes they do not, and occasionally lead to poorer grades.

The best option is perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow. While few will welcome the prospect of another year in school, the experience of sitting one Leaving Cert can lead to dramatic improvements in your next one.

If you’re content to pursue a course that doesn’t require a specific amount of points, many Level 6 courses require only that you sit the Leaving Cert, or meet a minimum pass grade in a core subject. Some Level 6 courses allow for a natural transition to a Level 7 (Ordinary degree) and eventually to a Level 8 (Honours degree).

Ideally, when your third-level studies are over, you want to step out into the world as a fulfilled, confident young adult, prepared for the career path in front of you.

Many graduates are not so lucky, often because they feel like they chose the wrong degree or wrong field. While simply doing another three or four years in college is an option for some, a better use of time and effort is choosing the right one in the first place, even if that means taking a slightly longer route.

While, yes, points are used as a basic metric for universities to assess your eligibility for a course and, undoubtedly, your teachers and your parents are pushing you to hit the books, draw up timetables and get a good night’s sleep, you are the sum of more than just one set of exams. Keep calm and collected, and don’t lose hope. There are plenty of ways to succeed in the world.

Clive Byrne is Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals and President of the European School Heads Association.

Late Applications are those which are received after 5:15 pm on the 1st February 2015 and will be accepted up to 5:15 pm on the 1st May 2015, subject to the exceptions and restrictions mentioned below. For more information visit www.cao.ie

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Clive Byrne

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