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How to navigate the Leaving Cert - a Rough Guide for Students and Parents
Wednesday, June 07, 2017
Figures from the State Examinations Commission show that just under 56,000 students are due to sit the Leaving Cert this year. As the exams get underway, here is some advice for students and for their anxious parents, from Guidance Counsellor, Beatrice Dooley.
A ROUGH GUIDE FOR STUDENTS
There is no “one size fits all”, instead here is some bespoke advice to fit the individual needs of different types of students.
As a friend of mine from Cork used to say “You are there girl/ boy!” You have done the work, and then some…. You are a straight A student who agonises if you drop 2% in a test. Remember the LC is just a stepping stone to the next stage, you just need to get the points you need and to satisfy specific and minimum subject requirements for your course of choice. Nobody will ever care what % you got in your LC subjects after this year.
Try to enjoy the experience of going into the exam and showing off all of your knowledge after all your hard graft, athletes call it “flow”. There is something therapeutic about leaving it all there on the page. Remember it is possible to be over prepared. Allow yourself some wriggle room for creativity on the day.
Remember to take some time out, exercise, get some fresh air, it is vital for exceptionally able students that you allow yourselves some “alone” time to process all that you have learned. You know that busy feeling you have in your head when you are out running or swimming when you have so many ideas you feel like you are going to explode, that is what I am talking about. Even Newton took time out to sit under an apple tree …
The High Achiever
If you are taking 7 or 8 higher level subjects and your stress levels are rising at an incremental rate consider, would you be better off focussing your energy on one less Higher Level subject and dropping to Ordinary level in a subject?
Consider time management, is there one subject that you are spending a huge amount of time on to the detriment of others. For example, are you spending 1 hour on one subject nightly and 3 hours on the other 6 overall? If you spread that one hour over your 6 other subjects could you improve your grades in all of them and accrue a higher point score?
Consult with your Guidance Counsellor before making any last-minute changes to subject levels to ensure you are not rendering yourself ineligible for your dream course.
You have so much information in your head your biggest danger is that you might get lost in the detail. Plan your answers, and keep bringing yourself back to the question asked if you go off piste. Watch your time and don’t spend too long on any one question. Pace yourself, the LC is a marathon, you need to have enough energy to endure the physicality of the exams as well as the mental pressure. Good nutrition and adequate sleep are essential.
Stop comparing yourself to the high achiever! You are in good shape and have most of the CAO level 8 courses available to you.
Do you know that personality and emotional intelligence are extremely important contributing factors to success in the workplace not to mention life (that thing that you will be getting back in a few weeks!)
Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through in your answers, also bring in any transferable knowledge you have from leadership positions, Sports, Drama, Music and other extra and cross-curricular activities. You have worked consistently and will reap the rewards but remember not all learning can be assessed in a written or oral exam. You may have a learning style (eg Kinaesthetic, interpersonal) that is not rewarded in the traditional LC exam.
Your moment to shine will come when you start your lovely course in college, do you know why? Because you will be studying something you enjoy, are good at and feel passionate about. That is a very different ball game to carrying seven subjects when you only like 3 or 4 of them and the rest are obligatory.
Play to your strengths, be strategic and give your Higher Level subjects extra time and attention. Practise exam questions, familiarise yourself with the layout and marking schemes of exam papers in all of your subjects, practise answering them in the time you will have in the actual exam. You need enough points to bag your dream course also ensure you aim for a margin of 20 – 50 extra points just in case the points go up.
Two words, “exam papers”. Eat them without salt for the next few weeks. Listen attentively in class and start writing out answers to exam questions, ideally ask your teacher to mark them and suggest how you can improve on your answers. Practice makes perfect! Remember, with languages you can also factor in the orals and the aurals which are worth roughly half the overall subject grade.
You probably have a couple of PLC course offers in your pocket by now so you are simply going through the motions. If you did not yet apply to the Colleges of Further Education DON’T PANIC, you can still apply online either now or there is always an opportunity again after the LC to submit applications. A large cohort of students who apply for these courses as a backup will pursue courses in the CAO system instead next autumn vacating lots of places with some exceptions e.g. Beauty Therapy & Hair Dressing.
The “frequently absent student”
You have missed so much time this year that your friends have stopped including you on What’s App and you feature in the Attendance Officers “Student at large” list .“Chillax”. You still have one – time to cram.
I am a firm believer in the miracle of short term memory. I can still remember walking into my Irish exam with my Irish teacher telling me the story of Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne, I did not have a clue what was going on in that novel and Irish was not my bag, however having nothing to lose I went in and wrote down everything she had told me on that epic three minute journey. To my astonishment, I got the grade I wanted in Higher Level Irish.
Miracles can happen, so stay cool and ask for help. You know more than you think, look at exam papers and be strategic in your choice of questions. Write down everything you know and just keep writing until your hand feels like it is going to fall off. Watch your time and make sure you think like the person correcting, i.e. there are a limited number of marks going for each question so maximise your overall score by attempting every question even if you can only write down bullet points. Be disciplined with your time management.
You still have buckets of time to apply for PLC courses, there is a back way into everything and depending on your chosen area you may have options on the CAO system especially in the IT routes or Fee paying colleges.
The anxious/stressed out student
Repeat after me x 10:
This is only an exam
My parents will love me and feed me no matter what happens
There are many ways to qualify as a [ ......]
There are more colleges than [ ......]
I have learnt a lot more than I think simply by listening in class
Practice mindfulness (google 'mindfulness exercises' for some suggestions), get some exercise every day, and get at least 10 minutes of sunlight daily - it will help you to sleep.
Change the video in your head, every time you catch yourself worrying say DELETE. Start a new video, imagine you are walking into the exam, you feel good, you slept well and you are feeling confident. You open the exam paper every question you studied is on it, you start writing and all of the knowledge you have acquired these last 6 years flows out of your Bic biro onto the pages, you are writing so much you are using up all of your Bic biros. When you notice your mind wandering, try to stay present.
Instead of worrying about stuff that already happened and stuff that has not yet happened what would it be like to focus on what is actually happening? Zone in on sensations what can you see, hear, smell, feel, taste to bring your attention back to the now.
The recently bereaved student
I am so sorry for your loss, tough to deal with at any stage of life but extremely challenging at this time. What I am about to say may sound nuts but you will get through this. There are more important things in life than exams; now that you have experienced loss somehow that puts the LC in perspective.
I have witnessed students who lost family members just before the LC or during it. I have counselled them on the way into exams and at lunch break between papers. Don’t think about it as the LC; just take it one paper and one exam at a time. You are about to witness how strong you really are.
I dedicate this piece to the St. Louis High School Leaving Certificate class of 2016 who demonstrated the strength of character, resilience and dignity after they tragically lost one of their peers two weeks before the LC.
The mature/repeat student
You have something that cannot be found in a book, experience. Your life experience, transferable skills and confidence will carry you through. Past exam papers are invaluable to you and time management will be essential. Your time has come to shine.
Listen to Guidance Counsellor Beatrice Dooley giving advice for Leaving Cert Students on Iradio programme The Hub this week.
A ROUGH GUIDE FOR PARENTS
Fact: There are as many different styles of parenting as there are different species of students. This is not a coincidence, it is cause and effect. If you are bemused by your offspring’s idiosyncrasies and wondering:“how did that happen?” have a little look in the mirror. You see kids absorb everything we throw at them like some type of karmic osmosis.
For 17 years you have fed them, nurtured them, protected them, supported them, vicariously experienced their class tests, piano exams, matches, auditions etc. and it all culminates in this big beast that is the “Leaving Certificate”. How to help them through it?
History Fact: You have survived the LC, you know everything, you are older, wiser and your child should listen to you. Right? Wrong!
When to help
Simple, only when asked - otherwise reverse swiftly off stage. My advice, for the next few weeks, is to speak only when spoken to.
How to help
Listen to your offspring even when they are silent, under no circumstances initiate a conversation you will be severely punished for it, nod a lot, say supportive stuff like “ I understand, that must be really difficult for you. I hear what you are saying. Would you like a cup of tea (and then leg it)
Things to miss
Door slamming, muttering, swearing, cursing, dirty looks, eye rolling, erratic mood swings and staring into space
Things not to miss
No studying ... at all
Children failing to get up and out on time for exams
Not coming home at night!
Excessive mobile use
Food & Drink
A steady supply of both are advised (non-alcoholic obviously), try to ramp up fruit and veg and tone down sugar
Culture & Etiquette
The Rough Guide to Sweden has this to say about Culture & Etiquette: “Honesty and straight-talking are two highly cherished sides of the Swedish character”, (The Rough Guide to Sweden. (2009) pp 45. Rough Guide).
At all costs avoid both of these traits for the duration of the LC. Afterwards, you can knock yourselves out.
No talking or radio in the car on the way to the exam to allow for cramming, ear plugs (these are for you) ensure the bus pass is up to date, bicycle or walking shoes in good repair.
Surviving the offer stage
Remember, your guidance counsellor will be available to answer any questions you may have when CAO start making course offers, also the NPCpp helpline which is manned by qualified guidance counsellors will be open the week of the Leaving Cert results. Consult www.igc.ie for full details of this valuable resource.
As they say in Star Wars, “May the force be with you”.
Beatrice Dooley is Vice President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.