The hidden truth I discovered about the leaving cert

Rebecca shares the insights she gained having gone on her leaving cert journey.

Written by Rebecca O'Brien


“Starting from zero, got nothing to lose.”

Tracy Chapman

The best piece of advice I can give about the leaving cert is the above words of Tracy Chapman. This is something I had never considered until the very last minute when my Mam said it to me before walking into my first exam. Simple words really, but a truth that resonated with me. If you go into each exam with that in mind, it is a reminder that it can only go up from there. No matter how you do, you will leave having made even a little bit of progress.

My experience with the leaving cert was less straightforward than most, to say the least. I had left sixth year a few months early due to my mental health, so I missed a lot. Because of this, I was convinced that my only option was to leave it until the following year. After thinking it through, I decided that the best option was to get it out of the way instead of facing a year of dread. I then realised my goal: to pass the leaving cert. I accepted that I wasn’t going to get 600 points, but I knew if I pushed myself, I could at least get a D in each subject.

Achieving this took quite a bit of work, including intense grinds in every subject and the decision to drop down to ordinary level in some. I think a lot of students feel as though they have to do higher level in every subject, mostly due to pressure from teachers, parents, and even themselves. While I was fortunate to have parents that put no pressure on me, they still wanted me to stay at higher level in as many subjects as I could, mainly because they believed in my ability to excel, despite missing the majority of my leaving cert year. In the end, keeping my goal in mind, I did what I knew I had to do in order to reach it.

Top points were not my goal

Having done this, I can say that creating goals is a key factor in managing the stress of the leaving cert. The leaving cert is so overwhelming that we often accept what we are led to believe: that the goal is to get the highest mark possible in every single subject in order to achieve the next step of getting into college. This belief can make us lose sight of the actual goal: to do what we want to do. For many, this does involve going to college, but the secret is that you don’t have to.

The reason I say secret, is because that’s what it seems like. We get so caught up in what we think we are supposed to do that we believe it’s the only option. This often leads to people going to college only to find that it’s not for them. My experience was somewhat similar to this, in that not only did I reach my goal to pass the leaving cert, but I also somehow made it into college. Because of this, I didn’t even consider whether college was for me or not; I just felt that I had to go because I got in.

Trusting my instincts

In the end, I deferred after a couple of months. This was another case of while I was under no pressure, my parents believed that I could do it. Again, I trusted my gut and kept a new goal in mind: to be happy. I knew that being in college wasn’t going to do this and that, unlike the leaving cert, I had the choice not to be overwhelmed and I took it.

In saying that, this is my experience. I am an example of somebody who didn’t adhere to the pressure of going to college when I didn’t want to. This does not mean that for other people, college isn’t a welcome part of their journey towards doing what they want to do. This does not mean that for other people, getting the highest marks isn’t the right way to achieve their goals. What this does mean, however, is that there are options and there is no one right way to get to where you want to be.

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