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Taking care of yourself during Leaving Cert exams

Read our advice on looking after yourself during the Leaving Cert


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in education


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Many people find exams stressful, even after spending a lot of time studying and preparing. Even people who have been confident in the weeks leading up to exams can start to feel nervous the day they arrive. A lot of pressure is placed on students sitting their Leaving Cert and this pressure can feel overwhelming at times.

If you are worried about the day exams begin, here's some advice to follow to make the morning of your first exam as stress-free as possible. The most important thing to remember is that the Leaving Cert does not define you. Prioritise putting your all into 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 the night before, when you wake up, when you're in the exam, and when it's over to make things easier.

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, avoid spending the night cramming. Instead, take some time to relax and try to get a good night's sleep. Do something non exam related to relax your mind such as watching comedy on tv or listening to music. Here's some advice for avoiding an all-nighter when it comes to studying.

Make sure you have what you need

Check your timetable and make sure you know the correct time your exam starts and get there a half 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 schedules that could get in the way.

Preparing the morning of the Leaving Cert

Whether it's at home or outside the exam hall, 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. Since our brains run on glucose, if you skip breakfast it will be difficult to concentrate without adequate energy.

It's also a good idea to bring a bottle of water with you to the exam hall to keep hydrated as well. 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 not to start 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 just 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 down your answers.

Calm yourself before starting

Take a few deep, slow breaths before you open your exam paper and start writing. Doing this can help to calm your nerves 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 have time to regain your calm.

Read the paper

Take time to read the exam paper carefully and select your questions. The main reason people do badly in exams is that they don't read the question carefully and don't do what they are 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 a check on the time. You should know the timing before you go into the exam.

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, don't worry if people around you seem to be writing more than you or leaving the exam early, instead just focus on yourself.

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, it's time to let it all go. Avoid going back over how you answered each question or what could have gone better. Instead, concentrate on what has gone well, and then 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, and you deserve it. 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 and worth prioritising.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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Published April 22nd2021
Last updated May 7th2021
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.
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