Life beyond the Leaving Cert

Sixth year can be a tough one, but Robyn shares her survival tips.

Written by Robyn Gilmour


To each and every student who will sit the Leaving cert in the coming year(s);

I'm not here to tell you that it will be easy, and not to worry, because I personally found that everyone who told me the latter was lying. I'm here, as someone who panicked my way through the year, as many people have and will again in the future, and came out the other end. I'm here to tell you that there is life beyond the Leaving Cert.  While I can try and pass on what wisdom I have garnered over the past year, there is nothing I can tell you that you have not already heard, and that will seem irrelevant to you in those final frenzied months of sixth year. So I'm not going to take the stereotypical route, but try and give you the most honest and factual account of what is to come, as I can. 

For me, my return for the final year in school last September was exciting, the end of six long years was finally in sight. The teachers do their best to freak you out at this point, pointing out all too frequently that you are 'intellectually pregnant' and nine months from the kick off will be the inexorably long and excruciating labour which is the the big LC. If there are any teachers reading this, I would ask you not to hype your students up like this because while you may feel like you're giving them the push that they need to start studying, you are, for some people, creating a storage pool of anxious reminders which will push an already frantic mind into a state of utter panic.

There's a lot to be said for hard work

Sixth year is finding that fine balance between knowing when to heed a warning and when to filter out comments and remarks like "Your exams are less than a month away and you don't know this" and "well it's not my Leaving Cert, it's your Leaving Cert", exclusively directed at the guy sleeping down the back of the class who hasn't opened a book since October but can be heard by everyone in room who thinks "Oh God, you're right, I don't know this at all, I need to learn it".

Had I learned this early on in the year I feel like I would have been a lot calmer in the final months leading up to the exams. A teacher I had would often link productivity with panic and say that is was often the motivating factor that got the job done. For some people this is the case and cramming is what gets them the results they need in exam situations. For me however, and for most people I think, panic and productivity should be kept as far away from each other as possible. There is a lot to be said for working hard, for it is the only way you will be satisfied with the outcome of the exams, if you can walk away and know there's nothing else you could have done. Having now received the results of my own leaving cert, I can verify that everyone I know who did their best was happy with their result. I would say, if at all possible, know when you've done a good stint of hard work and take a break, don't be driven by panic or worry to work yourself harder than you're able for. 

Another piece of advice you'll hear a lot is the importance of socialising over the course of the year. I can't stress enough how crucial this is to remaining sane. Personally I thought "There's plenty of time for socialising in college, just keep the head down for one year and then it'll all be over", one of many many stupid things I told myself last year. Keeping in touch is of vital importance for the Leaving Cert year. There are going to be times when you need someone to talk to, to go for a walk with, where a 15 minute vent will be enough to calm your nerves and revitalise you. But if you miss out on those little 15 minute chats, the cup of coffee, the walk home, those 15 minutes quickly become 20 minutes, then 30 minutes then an hour and you convince yourself you don't have an hour to spare. An hour's worth and worries that you need to get off your chest is a heavy burden to carry around and it's not going to get any lighter as time goes on. Also bear in mind that you are going to see a side of your friends which you mightn't necessarily like, just as you're own flaws and foibles will shine through when under a lot of stress and you need to forgive them for that and ask for forgiveness yourself. Sixth year put a huge amount of stress on my own friendships and those of people that I knew, but the reality is you can't make it on your own if you want to come out in one piece. 

It's ok to not feel ok

There's not much else I can say because in truth, I don't think anyone has a fool proof way to beat the leaving cert. More than anything I want to stress the importance of being ok with not feeling ok over the coming year. At every hurdle I was presented with someone who had no idea how I was feeling, throwing advice at me and trying to provide me with solutions to my problems. I didn't need solutions, more than anything I just needed someone to appreciate the struggle, I needed someone to just say "I know it's hard". It's ok to panic or feel sad or angry at the school system. I realised that the Leaving Cert is aimed at a very particular kind of person, one who is academic and able to take in and remember information that is given to them. I, for the most part, am not one of those people.

I had to work 10 times as hard as those academics to come out with the same (and most of the time a lower) mark. It's hard to come to terms with when you can't count but can draw or paint or write or dance or sing amazingly that there are 25 extra points going for maths; because what does that tell you? That Maths is the most important subject on the curriculum and you can't wrap your head around it. Despite what the Leaving Cert tells you, not fitting into the category it was designed for, doesn't make you stupid.

In hindsight, I see the Leaving Cert as a hoop that simply has to be jumped through, a year that has to be endured. The result does not define you nor will it affect your future career choice if what you choose to pursue is what you really love. These pieces of advice are all things that I knew to be true before I embarked on my Leaving Cert journey but couldn't come to terms with and integrate into my own studies, so in that sense I want to stress that it is ok to freak out and not  go to bed, or study or eat, socialise and stick to the routine when the newspapers, your parents, teachers guidance councillors tell you to. If there is nothing else, hold onto the promise that I am giving you now, the promise from the girl who didn't think she could do it, that things get so so much better. 

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