“I suffer from exam pressure. I have all my life unfortunately. As far as I can go back it started when I was 12. It got worse and worse as the years went by. It got to a stage that I couldn’t hear the word ‘tests’ and not totally freak out. The feeling I get is hard to explain but the easiest way to describe it a whirlwind that my mind keeps rolling behind my eyes, I go into a stare. And then a flood of too many emotions coming after that.”
This was written by one of our students, talking about how she feels coming up to exam time. She’s not alone.
Exam and Leaving Certificate pressure is often undermined and presented as a rite of passage that all young people must go through. This is not the case, given around 10 % of our student population annually in Ireland do not complete senior cycle at all. For those who do undertake these exams, I despair of the situation. I have seen change little since my own time as a student. Almost from 1st year, students are cultured and encouraged to fear the Leaving Cert, and to expect it to be one of the most difficult and stressful years of their lives.
Working daily with young people and witnessing the pressures they face as they navigate a very uncertain world this is what I wish for them during their leaving cert year: Treasure it do not wish it away -take every opportunity to grow and develop not just academically, but also personally and socially.
What you learn about being comfortable with yourself and others and learning to recognise what you have to bring to others and the world will serve you better as you move through life than any exam. Above all else, have fun, laugh and enjoy your last school experiences because you will look back on them in years to come and it’s not grades on a certificate you will recall but the people you met and the impact they made on you.
Remember, most people don’t know what they would like to do with their lives at 17 or 18 years. Life is only beginning and you can have many careers and pursue many passions. Finally, points are no measurement of your personhood-there is always a path to what you want to do. A little bit of stress may happen but being overwhelmed,feeling lost and alone is not ok so please don’t accept it as “normal” reach out and speak to someone you can trust. Sometimes we cannot see the wood for the trees and need someone to come along with an axe and clear the way for us. If you only learn to ask for support when you need it during your Leaving Cert year that will be one of the greatest lessons life can teach you!
For those who do need some help to manage stress, there’s a wealth of online resources out there.
For example, Reachout.com has a whole section on exam stress and management.
Not only is there great study tips, but audio files to assist self-hypnosis for exams techniques produced by Dr. Declan Aherne, Clinical Psychologist.
Also check out, A Lust for Life website, and this great exam self-help course by Clinical Psychologist., Dr. Malie Coyne.
Most of all, remember, you are not alone – and if you feel overwhelmed, ask someone for help.