Taking care of yourself during Leaving Cert exams

Read our advice on looking after yourself during the Leaving Cert.

Written by spunout


Many people find exams stressful, even after spending a lot of time studying and preparing. A lot of pressure is placed on students sitting their Leaving Cert and this pressure can feel overwhelming at times.

The most important thing to remember is that the Leaving Cert does not define you. Prioritise doing your best in the exams but recognise that if they do not go to plan there is always option B, C and D to get where you want to be in terms of a career.

Doing well in an exam begins with the preparation you put in beforehand and looking after yourself is part of that. There are things you can do before, during and after the exam to support yourself.

Preparing the night before the Leaving Cert

The best thing to do is to start preparing the night before your exam, instead of waiting until the day arrives.

Take time to relax

As tempted as you might be, try to avoid spending the night cramming. Instead, take some time to relax and try to get a good night’s sleep. Do something that is not related to exams to relax your mind, such as watching comedy on tv or listening to music. Read more about how to handle exam stress.

Make sure you have what you need

Check your timetable and make sure you know what time your exam starts at. Try to get there half an hour early. Take a look at our exam checklist and make sure you have everything you need in your bag so you’re not panicking the next morning.

Decide when to wake up and leave

Double check your alarm is set so you can be certain you won’t sleep in. Decide how you’ll get to the exam and when to leave, making sure to take into account any traffic or bus delays.

Preparing the morning of the Leaving Cert

There are some things to keep in mind the morning of the exam.

Give yourself plenty of time

Get up early so that you’re not in a rush, and make sure to leave well in advance of the exam. Aim to be there early so you can find the room and get settled.

Eat well 

Have a good breakfast. Some eggs on toast or porridge with nuts and fruit will provide you with the energy you need. If you skip breakfast, it will be difficult to concentrate as you won’t have adequate energy.

It’s a good idea to bring a bottle of water with you to the exam hall to keep hydrated. You may also want to bring a snack for during the exam, or a packed lunch for between exams.

Avoid last-minute studying

The night before the exam, try to avoid learning new information that you haven’t already covered in your study. You’ll most likely get confused, panicked, and you might end up forgetting something valuable you covered a few days before.

If you want to do a little bit of prep to keep yourself focused, take out a pen and paper and write out some key points that you want to cover. Preparing flashcards with some key points could also be helpful, but avoid cramming them with too much information. Instead, stick to the most important points.

​Try to keep calm 

Try to keep yourself in a calm environment and headspace. Avoid anyone who is complaining or panicking about the exams. They could make you feel anxious and distract you at the last minute. Instead, keep to yourself or talk to someone about something unrelated to keep calm.

Use the bathroom

Go to the bathroom before the exam starts so as to not cut into valuable writing time.

Exam tips for your Leaving Cert

Once you’re in the exam hall, all you need to do is focus on getting your answers on paper.

Calm yourself before starting

Take a few deep, slow breaths before you open your exam paper and start writing. Doing this can help you to calm yourself and focus your mind on the task ahead.

Remember, if you start to panic, you can speak to the exam supervisor and ask to be accompanied out of the room until you are ready to return to the exam.

Read the paper

Take time to read the exam paper carefully and select your questions. It is important to read the question carefully so that you know what you are being asked.

Keep an eye on the time

Work out how much time you have for each question. Start with the question you feel most confident about and keep checking the time. It is a good idea to figure out the timing for each question before you go into the exam. Your teacher might be able to help you with this.

Avoid looking at other classmates

You may be tempted to look at how those around you seem to be getting on, but focusing on your own work is more important. Use all the time you can. Try not to worry if people around you seem to be writing more than you or leaving the exam early.

Leave time at the end to review

Leave five or ten minutes at the end of the exam to review everything and to make sure all your identification details are on every page. Running out of time can be a common problem, so pace yourself well.

Be kind to yourself after the exam

When the exam is over, try your best to let it all go. Avoid going back over how you answered each question or what could have gone better. Instead, concentrate on what you learned and what has gone well, and then use this to get ready for the next one.

Make sure to take a break before you jump into studying for the next exam. Your mind will need a break. Remember, if exam stress is getting you down it can help to tell someone how you’re really feeling. Your health and wellbeing are important.

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