It is a long time since I sat in an exam hall, so I wanted to have a chapter in my book ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ where student opinions were aired, and feedback was relevant. When I read this chapter now, I feel it gives a great sense of the reality and pressures of the exams from a student’s perspective.
I have listened carefully and recorded information from students who have been through both the Junior and Leaving Cert exams over many years. I also surveyed sixty existing sixth years for their first-hand experience, asking them to think back to how they were feeling and their approach to the Junior Cycle exams; what they did right, what they could have done better, big mistakes and importantly what they learned. I have synopsised that chapter in this article to ensure the practical guidance and recommendations given below are useful to all Secondary School students, but particularly pertinent to those doing exams in 2022.
Advice from former students to help you maximise your learning in school
- Start revising now.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Start practising exam questions.
- Practice short exams at home under exam conditions.
- Separate notes with labelled dividers to make topics easier to find.
- As you approach exams, continue to attend class to the end.
- Failure to plan is planning to fail. Plan each day using your homework journal.
- Once an exam is done, take a break, move on and never look back.
- Homework, revision and creating good quality notes are all good forms of study.
- Breaking a topic into bullet points is a brilliant way to help you remember it.
- Get into a weekly routine of study, exercise, social life etc, i.e. follow the same routine every Monday; same for Tuesdays etc. Stick to this consistently and you will be able to plan ahead better.
- Do extra revision in the part of the day you feel more alert depending on whether you’re a night owl or an early bird (This only applies to weekends and holiday periods obviously).
- Exercise will keep your mind fresh. Walking, gym sessions, cycling, swimming, or Zumba classes are all good. Do something you enjoy, whatever that may be.
- From the month of January onwards, you need to put a proper Lifestyle (Study) Timetable in place.
- Prior to the state exams (the last six weeks), do morning trial runs on various foods to ensure they digest well. You will definitely need to eat something substantial for breakfast on the days you are doing exams.
- Be ruthless with your time. As you practice past exam questions, allocate a time limit for each part of a question (depending on the marks available for that part).
- Social media commentators and mock papers only speculate about the contents of the final exam papers. Nobody really has a clue what’s on the paper, despite what they may say or have read online.
- Believe in yourself. You have come so far and have so many talents that cannot be measured by an exam. Your results in any exam will not affect how proud your parents are of you or how important you are to all your friends.
- You need to figure out how best you learn. Some students learn by writing things out repeatedly, some by talking it out in groups, some by listening to recordings, some by reading, some by Internet research and others by typing out keynotes. A combination of the above learning styles may be your key to success.
- Try not to approach an exam with a negative frame of mind. If you constantly think ‘I have to do so much study’, it will be like carrying around a bag of coal.
- If you don’t like a subject, try and take a positive view of it saying, ‘This subject isn’t my favourite’ as opposed to ‘I hate this subject’. Thinking about life more positively can help you solve problems and deal with setbacks better.
- Spend a few minutes each evening going over what the teacher did with you in class that day.
- Share work around in a small group. Have information sharing sessions in someone’s house. This reduces the amount of preparation you need to do in each subject, as your friends will already have done the research on it. Sit down with the group and explain things to each other. Write down the key points from the shared session to enhance your own set of notes. If you are not comfortable in a group, get yourself a study buddy (a friend) to work with on the subjects you find difficult.
- Start revising now (again!).
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