leaving cert survival month

The Leaving Cert- Leanne Nulty

Ah the torturous passage we call The Leaving Cert. Have we done well in the mocks? I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve got until after the mid-term to memorise everything. After all, that is mostly what the LC is, right?

The Leaving Cert is, above all else, a memory test. We memorise pretty much everything for English, we memorise our History essays, religion essays, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy most of my subjects. I’m planning on studying English Literature after school. However, do I agree with the way the exam is sat? Of course not! Give me 6 hours, plenty of tea, and toliet breaks, and I will write you a great analysis on the unique style of Sylvia Plath. But put me in a high pressure situation where I have to remember page long essays and probably end up with carpal tunnel by the end, I’ll give you something half decent at best.

Of course we remember the shock and trauma of ‘Pleaney’s’ absense a few years back. For those of you who don’t know: Plath + Heaney = Pleaney. It was taken as a given that both of these poets would appear, and they didn’t, sending students into a state of panic. I’m guessing that something similar may happen this year with Seamus Heaney. It would be an obvious choice to select him, to pay tribute to one of our country’s greatest poets. Although, students will expect this, and therefore the Department may decide against it. This is in order to avoid being ‘predictable’, and stop students simply learning essays off by heart. The main flaw with this is, as long as the Leaving Cert exists in its current format, there will be learning off by heart.

Which brings me onto Irish. Ireland, the only country where children are ‘taught’ how to speak their native language since primary school and yet they reach the age of 17/18/19 and they can’t speak a word. Why is this? Well, in my experience (and from what students from other schools have told me), Irish teachers just aren’t very good at their jobs. Of course there are brilliant teachers out there, but it seems to be the case for the majority. My teacher spends her time making up excuses to leave and encouraging students to do foundation level. You are given notes and expected to simply learn them off. There is no focus on language development, not like with German, French, etc. Those of us who aren’t fluent, due to poor teaching, or not being brought up with the language, are in serious trouble.

The Sraith Pictiúr are a prime example of rote learning. Students will simply learn them off and then pray for their best one to come up in the oral. There are twenty of these picture stories, which is ridiculous. It is a waste of my time, it’s a waste of the examiners time, and it’s a waste of paper. It’s no wonder that the trend of burning them after the exam has emerged. Although, I would point out that they’re not as easy to learn as expected. If you’ve not started already, you’re running out of time, get learning!

There are no two ways about it, school really doesn’t test your intelligence that much. The Leaving Cert tests our memories and how well we cope with exams. My English teacher once told us the story of a girl breaking down in tears during an exam. Is it really fair to put anyone under that kind of pressure? The SECs efforts to stop rote learning are failing. The exams are a game of chance, and depend so heavily on luck.

Nonetheless, I wish everyone the very best in their mocks, practicals and of course in the real thing. Try your absolute best but remember that no matter what, you’re not stupid. Do not let a few letters on a page dictate who you are. You are so much more than that.


“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – Albert Einstein. 

Immediate fixes:

  • Take deep breaths. Breath in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, breath out for 5 seconds.
  • Meditate.
  • Have a hot bath filled with lots of bubbles.
  • Listen to music.
  • Drink herbal teas/green teas.
  • Kissing. Kissing releases endorphins that help relieve stress.
  • Laugh. Watch some silly kittens  fall down on the internet or The Simpsons or your favourite youtuber or whatever it is that makes you laugh.
  • According to some psychologists having an open window can help calm you down. But those psychologists probably don’t live in Ireland. Brrrr.
  • Lie down on your bed for a few minutes and surround yourself in blankets.  Breath deeply and keep your head empty. Try not to fall asleep though…
  • If by some miracle the sun is out, go sit out in it for a few minutes. The Vitamin D will help.
  • Let yourself cry for a few minutes. Just let it all out. No one will judge, it’s actually really helpful.
  • Curse. Let some of that anger out in a safe way. Fuck you quadratic formula. Screw you Shakespeare. Goddammit Gaeilge you piece of shit.  
  • Writing down your thoughts can also help.
  • Watch a movie. Preferably a funny one. Avoid anything that’s going to send you into an existential crises or cry about how the world is going to hell.
  • Light a nice smelling or relaxing candle.
  • Give your shoulders a little massage, or even better- get someone else to do it.
  • Go for a swim, whether at the gym or outside (in which case, you are braver than i)
  • Stay warm with lots of blankets.
  • Write a list of all the things worrying you and figure out if they are really worth stressing over and whether there are any that you can temporary push aside.

Long term fixes:

  • Talk to someone; whether it a family member, your friends, your school councillor, or thousands of people over the internet- voicing/typing your worries will help. If you’re so anxious to it to the point of panic attacks, please go see a professional, even if it’s just for a once off appointment, it will help immensely.
  • Avoid foods that are too sugary or caffeinated.
  • Get at least 20 minutes exercise daily.
  • Take up knitting. The repetitive nature of it tends to be relaxing and you concentrate on it enough to not think of anything else, but not enough to get stressed about it. Plus you can make a hat collection.
  • Eliminate needlessly stressful things from your life. Even if it’s a person. If your phone is on the blink and it’s causing your anger to rise, stop using it. (Or else only use it if you absolutely have to). Same goes with your laptop or the internet.