Exams and how to survive them
Parents are just bystanders but that brings its own stress in the countdown to the State exam
I’ve read about them, listened to them, written about them and, to be honest, had the odd smirk about them. Now I am one – a Leaving Cert mum.
To be even thinking like that is a sure sign of being caught up in the hype. It’s the first time too, which makes it a bigger deal. From giving birth onwards, you do learn that every parenting challenge is usually a little easier on repetition. No matter how much you swore you would never be one of “those parents” who radiate so much nervous tension you’d think they were going into the exam hall themselves, it’s hard not to let flutters of concern take flight.
We know we are mere bystanders as our offspring prepare for this monumental test of information recall and hand-writing speed. It’s all about them, not us. But the powerlessness of being on the sidelines can add to the stress – ask any football manager. Not that I would fancy getting my biro out to attempt English paper one at 9.30am on Wednesday June 7th . . . However, a mother’s guilt doesn’t stop when a child reaches 18. So it’s no surprise, as May hurtles into June, we do some revision of our own.
Here are seven things I’ve learned so far.
Emotions creep up on you
There’s no point in over-investing at the time of the mocks, sure isn’t there months to go before the real thing? Meeting the teachers after that set of results is reassuring, or not, depending on the child, the subject – and the teacher.
When the first hurdle of orals and practicals is crossed there’s still a whole summer term to go. Except that summer term is very, very short. And before the Leaving Cert, there’s the other significant leaving – of school. By the time the school has sent out notes about arrangements for the last day and farewell evening, the “last evers” are being chalked up –the last sports day, the last double period of Irish on a Monday morning, the last time a school shirt needs ironing. Then the clock is ticking as loudly in the parents’ as the students’ ears.
Suddenly you’re back to that induction evening before the start of first year, when the “Class of 2017” was writ large on the screen and it seemed such a long time away. Worse, you’re transported back to your own final school days, with no idea of what you wanted “to be” and trying to imagine life without classrooms and timetables, when it was all you had ever known.
I can recall Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin, advising last year that no matter how good parents think they are at maintaining boundaries and keeping anxiety in check, when they are caught up in the pre-exam chatter among peers and in the media, it’s impossible to stay detached.
Not that you wouldn’t want to empathise, but it’s a balance between not letting your own anxiety exacerbate theirs and appearing nonchalant, which might be taken as you didn’t care enough.
Conversations about “when I was doing the Leaving Cert . . .” are irrelevant
Don’t even think about going there – because that really is such a long time ago. How could you expect any teenager to take an era before mobile phones seriously?
The futility of unhinged “if onlys . . .”
There are lots of junctions in parenting where the old joke comes to mind about a Kerryman being asked for directions and responding with: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here . . .” The more advice you listen to, the more it seems you are being told that if you had done something different when they were younger an issue might have been avoided. By the time they reach 18, the “nurture” part of the “nature and nurture” conundrum has almost run its course. No point now in ruminating at 3am about:
If only . . . I had persevered with trying to persuade him to develop a taste for fish, would his brain be reaping the benefits now?
If only . . . I had devised “rules of use” before I handed over that first mobile phone, would one not be embedded in his palm now?
If only . . . I had been stricter about a studying routine in fifth year, would it have helped? It’s too late to alter your parenting style Even if you could, it’s not advisable. Teenagers start getting really worried if parents start changing habits of a lifetime. But that doesn’t stop occasional doubts about the wisdom of favouring a prudently hands-off approach, appealing to their sense of reason rather than laying down the law.
It’s not the time to denounce our education system
Perhaps we should have emigrated to Finland when the children were born but, to use that phrase beloved of politicians, “we are where we are”.
There is no point in railing against the exam game they are all being forced to play, except to reassure them that the result will not define them. And that there really is myriad post-Leaving options out there, unlike “in our day”.
Sport is a boost not a bind
When training and matches seem to take up a lot of time and energy during sixth year, it’s important to remember scientific research shows a positive link between sport participation and academic achievement.
Specific to the matter in hand, the results of a UCC study headed by John Bradley, of 402 boys graduating from secondary school during 2008-2011, which was published in the US Journal of School Health, reported that participation in sports during the last two years of school “conferred a 25.4-point benefit to the final Leaving Certificate score”. That’s the same as the bonus for doing honours maths!
Grinds providers know how to play you
We were sucked into the world of group grinds for a couple of subjects relatively late on. But once the organisers have your contact details, be prepared for the constant pushing of extra revision sessions, indispensable study notes, stress-relieving seminars and last-minute crash courses . . . An invaluable leg up for those who can find the money to pay or taking advantage of nervous students and their families? Who can really tell?
It’s a balance between not letting your own anxiety exacerbate theirs and appearing nonchalant, which might be taken as you didn’t care enough
There is no point in railing against the exam game our children are all being forced to play, except to reassure them that the result will not define them.