Leaving Cert exam stress
Leaving Cert exam stress
Tuesday, 15 March 2022
If you’re feeling anxious about the Leaving Cert, you’re not alone.
In 2021, students were given the choice between sitting the exam, receiving an accredited grade, or both. Approximately 58% chose to sit the exam in some capacity.
2022 sees the Leaving Cert return to a more traditional format while incorporating more choice for students. This document has the adjusted assessment arrangements for taking state exams this June. The adjustments are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by students during the pandemic.
The updated system might cause extra stress for some, in an already stressful year. Find tips for managing anxiety here. We also have more advice below.
In this article, you will find:
- Why we feel stress and anxiety around state exams
- Surviving the Leaving Cert marathon
- Ways to reduce exam stress
- Jen, a Jigsaw volunteer shares how she manages the stress of Leaving Cert exams.
If you’re feeling stressed and under pressure, ask yourself: where is this pressure coming from?
We soak things in from our environment, even without realising. Sixth year can feel like living in an echo chamber where all people talk about is exams.
It doesn’t help if all your friends are living in the bubble too. Maybe your group chats have been taken over by chats about courses, CAO choices, points, and study plans.
Parents and guardians lay on pressure, sometimes even without meaning to. Asking how you’re getting on with study, they think they are just making conversation. But on the receiving end, it can feel like scrutiny and the weight of expectations.
Covid added another layer of complexity. Students have spent time studying from home, adapting to the classroom and remote learning, a transition that has made it difficult to focus.
All of these coming together, it would be difficult not to be overwhelmed.
How are you talking to yourself?
Try talking to yourself with more kindness and compassion.
How much pressure do you put on yourself?
Take a step back and look at your own expectations. Are you being too hard on yourself? Do you feel if you don’t hit certain standards you’ll be a total failure?
One way to check-in is to ask yourself: would I say this to a friend? If the answer is no, try talking to yourself with more kindness and compassion. Read more about dealing with self-criticism here.
The Leaving Cert may be the most stressful thing you’ve faced so far, so give yourself a break.
Surviving the Leaving Cert ‘marathon’
A lot of students say the Leaving Cert feels like one big race. So, think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve supported a lot of young people in Jigsaw who found this comparison helpful.
Just like a marathon, the Leaving Cert takes months to prepare for. A marathon runner has to do a lot of training to develop their skill and develop their performance. They also have to find time to rest.
Marathon runners don’t train every day, to avoid injury. Part of their practice is to take care of their bodies and minds. They have to get enough sleep, eat well and pace themselves.
It’s the same for the Leaving Cert. Get the relaxation, sleep, healthy diet, and mental breaks you need. Keep yourself well and resilient for the challenge ahead of you.
Ways to reduce exam stress
Here are some helpful strategies that could help with reducing exam stress:
Exercise: visualising your schedule
Draw out your weekly schedule and colour code it by activity. How much studying and school do you do in a week?
What percentage of your waking hours is dedicated to exams? How much sleep are you getting? Sometimes students take early hours of the morning to study that they used to spend sleeping. Is that time actually spent absorbing knowledge, or are you too tired to concentrate?
Check how many hours you are dedicating to rest and relaxation. These hours are important to help de-stress and get perspective on life outside of exams.
Instead of studying all evening, consider taking an hour for a walk or a game of football. Play basketball, or watch a TV show either. You’ll return to your books more refreshed and less anxious if you do.
Reframing your expectations
Move from the idea of being the best to doing your best.
The next thing to look at is what you expect of yourself. Be honest and realistic. Have you set a bar higher than you can achieve?
If you feel nothing but straight As are acceptable, you are putting enormous pressure on yourself. Your goals should be realistic and achievable. Aim to stretch yourself but not stress yourself.
If you’re not aiming for straight As, check in on your expectations. There may be one subject that you never liked and were never good at. Look at being clever where you invest your study time now.
Self-worth and scores
Try to avoid students who are stressed and always talking about the worst case scenario. Those people will add to your anxiety.
Some students get stressed because they feel their exam results are the only thing that matters. Sound familiar? Try to challenge that thinking.
Is it ever fair to pin someone’s value on their score from one performance? We don’t think so.
Here’s another way to think about it. Ask anyone who the world’s best football player is and many people would say, Lionel Messi. But did you know Messi has never won the World Cup? He’s played in four World Cups and even played in the World Cup Final in 2014. In that game, he missed a chance to score what could have been the winning goal.
After the final, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball, the prize for the player of the tournament. There it was: he was the best. But he hadn’t won. His team had lost.
Messi is considered the best footballer ever to play the game. But he is not rated on his scoreboard alone. You shouldn’t be either.
How people can stress and de-stress you
Surround yourself with people who are calm. Avoid students who are stressed and always talking about worst-case scenarios. They can add to your anxiety.
In times of stress, connect with people that help put things in perspective. This person could be your one good adult – an adult you trust and can talk to about how you’re feeling. Sometimes it’ll be somebody outside your family, like an aunt.
Jigsaw is another place you can go for support. If you are feeling overwhelmed about exams, we offer free text-based 1:1 Live Chats. Here, you can talk to a member of our team about how you’re feeling.
Alternatively, keep an eye on our group chat schedule in the run up to exams. These are live discussions on selected mental health themes, facilitated by a member of the Jigsaw Online clinical team.
Parents and exam time
A lot of parents and guardians get anxious when their children are coming up to exams. It can seem like exam stress is contagious. Everyone in the house gets a bit wound up.
If this is happening in your family, talk to your parents or guardian how their concern adds to your stress. Explain there is a lot of talk about exams. And it would be better for you to get a break from Leaving Cert chat.
Parents and guardians often don’t realise how many hours you are putting in.
Jen's Story: Managing Leaving Cert stress
Sixth year student Jen talks to Emmet, in first year of college, about how she manages the stress of Leaving Cert exams.