As I remember it, I never told myself that the Leaving Certificate didn’t matter. One of my life goals was to go to college. I’d done a little research into courses and possible careers, then filled in my CAO.
Looking back, I suspect I could have done more study. Or at the minimum, I could have been better organized. But I can’t change what I did back then. I believe I did the best that I could.
I used to go to school early to practice for the music practical. My ear had to tune into the tones of the school piano and the acoustics of the hall. I also went in early to work on the recorder. That was less enjoyable. The occasional lunch break was cut short for extra maths classes. And the rest? It’s all a bit of a blur really. There are flashes of memory from the mocks, orals, and exams. Some are good. Others not so much. The Irish oral examiner asked me lots of questions about my family. My wrists ached from writing.
So here’s what I wish now that I’d told myself then. The Leaving Certificate is more than a set of exams. It’s not just a qualification or a means of getting into college. It’s also one of the things that Irish people have in common with one another. In 2016, over 50,000 students sat the Leaving Certificate. These exams are a shared experience for a lot of people. It’s one that can be positive or the stuff of recurring nightmares.
There are many emotions mixed into any discussion of the Leaving Certificate. And because of that, it remains a part of your life as an adult in Ireland. The Leaving Certificate doesn’t work for everyone. At best, it’s a blunt instrument. I know that I was fortunate that it worked for me.
What I wish I’d told myself was that these exams are as much about the skills developed as the knowledge gained. I’d use the exam techniques developed during the Leaving Certificate in college. They’d come in handy once again when I had to complete workplace study. Read through the paper twice before answering any questions was drilled into me.
What I wish I’d told myself about the Leaving Certificate was that I’d find it strange that I’m still talking about it a few years later. Potential employers still ask for the results of my Leaving Certificate in job applications. They ask about it in interviews. How did you do? Were you happy? Would you change anything?
Some websites say that you can take it off your CV when you have sufficient work experience. Others say it needs to remain there. A recruiter once advised me to start with my Leaving Certificate when answering the ‘tell us about yourself’ question. He wanted me to make sure that the interview panel knew that I’d done a good Leaving Certificate. I didn’t think at the time to ask him why it mattered.
What do I wish I told myself back then? The Leaving Certificate doesn’t define who you are. Good results might help but there are other paths that can take you to where you want to go. They might take you to unexpected places.
All you can do is your very best. That is enough for any exam.