Leaving Cert Exams: 7 Years of Hell in 7 Days

An extremely powerful piece from one of our students.




Leaving Cert Exams: 7 Years of Hell in 7 Days

7 years I have been in the second level education system in Ireland.

7 whole years.

I have undergone 7 years of scaremongering, of judgements, threats and dismission and condemnation.

4 years of being terrified to go to school in case I had forgotten something or had overlooked some work.

4 years of shaking so badly that I physically couldn’t write.

4 years of getting about 3 or 4 hours of sleep on weeknights because I was so scared of the following day.

My experience of primary and secondary education in Ireland has shattered my self-esteem, obliterated my self-confidence and annihilated my sense of my own self-worth.

It has been 5 years since I had my first major panic attack.

17 years of fighting anxiety and depression on my own because my faith in others and my ability to trust anyone with anything had been destroyed.

All of this, and much more, has led up to 7 days. I was given 7 days to essentially prove myself to others, to prove my intelligence and to make my teachers look good. At least, it would have if I had stayed in mainstream school. Most of my teachers there were only concerned that the exam students’ results made them look good in others’ eyes.

In the centre it is different. There is none of that pressure. There is no sense that the leaving certificate is the be-all and end-all of your life. Yes, it is important but your results should not determine your self-worth. For me that was the hardest thing to wrap my head around. I was indoctrined into the educational systems view of academia. I whole-heartedly believed that anything less than 100% means you failed, and because you ‘failed’ then you are worth nothing. Exam results were the only thing that mattered, it was irrelevant whether you were physically and mentally healthy as long as you got 600 points in your Leaving Certificate.

I have fought tooth and nail in order to live up to these expectations and to uphold them. To an extent, I still do believe that exams are the only thing that matters. However, I have to acknowledge that while I know I will not get a ‘perfect’ Leaving Certificate, or even a ‘great’ one, the fact that I went into that room every day and sat there and attempted those exams has to be the most important thing. I gave up striving for 600 points quite a while ago. I have had panic attacks. I have had little sleep. I have had some excruciatingly bad days. But I did it. I fought and today I am 44 days without self harming. I sat my exams, I did what I could. They are nearly over, by 4:31pm tomorrow it will all be over. The Leaving Certificate will be over. That prospect is absolutely petrifying, what now…?

8 thoughts on “Leaving Cert Exams: 7 Years of Hell in 7 Days

  1. The world is ahead of you. It is wonderful that the Cork Life Centre has been there to support teenagers through their education and through life.


  2. And now, your life begins. It’s heartbreaking to read just how much the writer struggled just to feel “good enough”.
    I agree that within mainstream schooling the main emphasis is on achieving high grades ; no attention is paid to helping young people to grow and develop as decent, good, happy, kind human beings.

    Exam results do not define us as people…. Yet in Ireland it seems to.

    I wish the writer the very best and hope that they realise that in continually striving to do their best, that is what defines them and the writer in my opinion, has overcome many hurdles and therefore is “extraordinary” and should be filled with a huge sense of pride. Well done xx


  3. There is a powerful wisdom in the article – a hard-won wisdom, but a wisdom that some never reach. Thanks for a profound sharing, and all the best now that ;you have finished the Leaving Certificate.


  4. What now is , is that you are free.free to go your own way.free to decide what is good for you and what isn’t.Free to understand and live your own truth.yes,this is also a responsibility,but this is what life is about. It’s an adventure, a challenge and so full of possibility now. I understand you well,I myself did self harming for many years. But at some point I made a decision to no longer be a victim , but to start creating what I want. Ever since that I am discovering so much and am being a guide and support to many others. Pain can give you deep insights and is always a great opportunity to start living by your own truths.all the very best to you. You are right,its the system that is very wrong. Good luck


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