Delight, relief, disappointment, or even indifference; crossing the Leaving Cert finish line can come with a range of different emotions. Some manage to breeze right through it, while others have to drag their feet along the tracks. Some even have to pay others to help them drag their feet along the tracks.
Having gone through it twice, I’m still no expert on the system. But I can say that I eventually crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face; I ended up with more than enough points for the college course I really wanted. Along the way, I discovered that routine is key for our preparation and I’d like to share some useful tips I’m confident will help you reach the end of the CAO track with a nice big fist pump.
Focus and planning
Most of us are dead-set on achieving certain points at the beginning of the year, but this drive can be quick to waver through disorganisation. They say focus feeds determination, and that can be maintained through proper planning and sticking to study schedules. I’m not suggesting you all become monks for the year, but I do strongly recommend coming up with a study plan tailored for your own needs. I used to make a weekly plan every Sunday evening, which meant I didn’t have to tie myself down to certain things for too long, in the risk of encountering an illness or other obstacles that could lead to stress and conflict. This way, it was just a matter of making a new plan the next Sunday I felt up to it.
Doing this for the year may seem monotonous, but believe me; it will be second nature to you after a few weeks. Planning helped me stay proactive, avoid last-minute studying and burnout which was my bête noire during my first LC.
Sleeping patterns can dictate the survival of our other routines. To avoid falling off track of other good habits through fatigue, I made sure to stick to a minimum of 7 hours sleep each night. My nutrition and exercise patterns played a big role in helping me dose off, but so did moderating everything I did ahead of hitting the sack.
I found cutting out caffeine after 7:30pm each evening to be a great help. After that time I’d switch to decaf coffee or camomile tea. I’d also pull myself away from the books in good time to unwind and switch my phone into flight mode an hour before bed to prevent any distractions from getting to sleep at my usual time.
Although I don’t believe in overloading myself with a battery of vitamin capsules and energy boosters, I did take Rhodiola Rosea tablets each morning as I felt they worked wonders in maintaining my body clock, helping me manage my routine and keeping me happy and focused. Eating well is essential for getting through the year; for me this meant beginning my day with a nice big wholesome breakfast, digging into a leafy, protein and carbohydrate filled lunch and topping that off with a balanced dinner and some sustaining healthy snacks. I found that eating sweets and chocolate before study sessions only made me feel fidgety and gave me headaches.
Sandwiches can be quite boring, but instead of asking your parents for lunch money and risking a trip to Supermacs with your mates, why not stock up on some healthy foods at the weekend and plan ahead for the week? Healthy burritos are a winner, and thehappypear.ie has a brilliant recipe for them! Stocking up on fruit is a great investment too- preparing smoothies in the evening made breakfast much handier for me and they really set me up for the day (try throwing crushed oats into them for some slow-releasing energy). Remember to stay hydrated too; it’s worth adding that one into your food-plan!
A great decision I made during the LC was rising from bed in good time to head out for a morning jog. In the midst of exam pressure, working out reduces the build up of chemicals that gather throughout our bodies through stress and anxiety. Getting out there helps you to relax; it maintains your equilibrium; it gives you a positive outlook on your exam potential. Whatever your preferred exercise is, go with it. Try to figure out the most suitable time you can work out every day and set a realistic goal for yourself…and remember; walking counts as exercise. This isn’t a habit you’ll pick up easily towards the end of the year, so I’d advise you to begin this trend early on.
Socialising and relaxing
Taking some time out for yourself is just as important a priority as any; it should be included in your weekly study plan as an essential. School is a great means of socialising in itself, which makes limiting events and meeting up with friends to the weekend a lot easier. Socialising with positive friends helped me to de-stress, while giving me a better outlook on my study progress. Staying out with them for longer than planned is often quite tempting at the time, but it’s far more rewarding to wake up early on a Sunday morning and finish out the last day of your weekly study schedule!
Another means of relaxing, I found, was reading something completely non-LC related a few minutes before bed. Pick up a sports bio, a cheesy novel, a cook-book, whatever you’re into; this means doing something you enjoy while helping you dose off. Sounds like killing two birds with one stone!
We all have slightly different ways of dealing with the Leaving Cert, but picking up the above habits during my second Leaving Cert made it a far smoother course than the previous year. Overall I learned that the best means of beating the system isn’t by taking it on with force; it’s by taking it on with a routine.