04 Dec 2021

Leaving Cert and Junior Cert strategies for students & parents, from Operation Transformation psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy

Leaving Cert strategies for Laois students & parents, from Operation Transformation psychologist Dr Eddie

Last minute advice for Leaving cert students

Ah yes, we are just over another mini Irish summer where the sun was blasting the sky.

Isn’t it lovely to be out enjoying the bright evenings. Yet there are almost 2,000 Laois students stuck in their study spaces doing last minute cramming for the Junior and Leaving cert. These exams are a major life event for our young adults. In fact when it comes to the Irish Leaving Certificate it has scarred too many.

For me I defined for many years my abilities based on this exam. I had a pretty mediocre Leaving Cert and it was only in my late 20’s that I realised that I could study.

How we cope and adapt with life events that cause substantial change is critical to our wellbeing.

Life events can be positive and negative, include death, marriage, divorce, illness or injury, and changing or losing a job.

Significant exams also are life events. These are identified as particularly stressful.

This is the reason why students are advised regarding appropriate stress management strategies around exam stress. Parents can play a key supportive role. This is one of life's events that you cannot protect your child from. However there are very practical things you can do.

Strategies for Parents

The Psychology Coach: This is your time to stand up and encourage your student and give them perspective. Remind them that they have studied the course for many years and have the ability to write about it. Asking them to “show up, and do their best” is what you want, it’s the effort that you are proud of and not the result.

The Behind the Scenes Organiser: I think this is such an important role. Its time for a visible whiteboard. You need to be on top of the exam schedule.

Speaking to teacher friends of mine who invigilate exams, it’s incredible that each year how many students arrive late or don’t show at all.

Stick the exam schedule up prominently at home, with all exams to be taken highlighted. Place in the diary the date and time of each paper your child has to take.

Parents who leave home early due to work commitments ensure your students are up, dressed and feed before you leave home for work each morning. Help your learner get their notes, texts, essays and study resources sorted.

The Home Psychologist: You are very good at this, you have got your kids this far, you are almost there, peace will soon reign in your house again! So each day listen to the outpourings, don’t press or encourage post mortems, spilt milk is spilt, and support your learner to move on to the challenges posed by the next paper.

The Sports Coach: Promote rest, nutrition and hydration. Try to make a break between study and sleep. Encourage breaks. If concentration lapses them its time for a short break.

Discourage drinking too much coffee, tea and fizzy drinks. Try some herbal teas, water as an alternative. Healthy nutrition is key. Regular moderate exercise such as a brisk walk, swim or session in the gym will boost energy, clear the mind and help reduce any feelings of stress.

Last minute stress management tips

Nerves are performance fuel;

Exams are stressful situations and its normal to feel exam nerves, they will help you perform. Essentially the interaction between adrenaline flow and anxious thoughts are present. Uncontrolled they can lead to excessive anxiety which is counterproductive as it hinders the ability to think clearly.

Take calming breaths

The key is deep abdominal breathing, starting when they before you go into the exam hall and during the first few minutes. Breath in for 5 seconds, Hold for 8 Seconds and Breath out for 5 seconds. This is the most effective way to calm the nervous system.

Positive self-talk

It’s worth scenario planning in the event that the mind goes ‘Blankety Blank’. The best strategy is to slow things down. 'Un-blanking' is the task. Start by imagining yourself being calm and confidently before you do it.

Then do some positive self-talk “nerves are normal, I need to slow things down. The information will flow, I will be fine”.

If you are still struggling to remember the information then you need to move on to another question and return to this question later.

Try not to catastrophize, instead try and keep things in perspective.

Start carefully:

Manage the first ten minutes efficiently. Arrange your desk and when the invigilator arrives at your desk they will offer you your paper.

Opt for the paper level that you have prepared for. Due to exam nerves you may wish to change down levels, don’t; Trust in yourself.

Now that you have your paper read it very carefully and fully before you do anything else.

Then select the questions you are going to answer. Then start with the question that you are most comfortable with as it will be a confidence builder for you.

Boring Routine

Plan the celebrations later, now is the time for a boring routine. Good sleep, rest, study, nutrition, and exercise. Routine is key to positive emotional support.

Sleep is critical, have no screens in the bedroom. Stay away from people who are flapping, stressing, or engaged in catastrophic thinking.

It might be a life event, but it is one you are both so capable of, so go on make it happen.

The best of luck to all the Laois exam students .

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