Shane Nolan looks at why mock exams can sometimes be more harm than good.
The mocks are both the most useful and yet most flawed method of preparation for the Leaving Certificate. These preparatory tests in February offer students a perfect opportunity to sit an entire Leaving Certificate, months before the real deal, the purpose being to get used to the strict timing needed and maybe even relieve a few nerves. However, the mocks are only as useful as they are made.
 
The method of correcting the mocks varies school by school, with some preferring to correct them in-house while others send them across the country. While the sending of scripts away gives the mocks a more serious feel and prevents any possible favouritism, it can also be a waste of time.
 
The Irish Independent found that in 2012 only 18% of schools chose to correct the mocks with teachers inside the school. Fees for the mocks rose above one hundred euros in one fifth of schools, and even as high as one hundred and thirty euro. In tough times, especially with the Leaving Cert costs only a couple of months off (and hopefully college fees too, should students
achieve their desired points) it is often an unnecessary additional cost. Many may feel reassured that the corrections will be carried out elsewhere but the question is by who?
 
My experience of mock results was far from ideal. It wasn’t an improvement come exam time that caused this change, but simply exams being corrected by markers who are often extremely incompetent. In my history class, everyone dropped about 20% in the mock results compared to how they were doing week in, week out. Somehow, these four or even five grades miraculously recovered come exam time. They had simply been corrected ridiculously poorly.
 
Many teachers simply re-correct them to provide the fairer result, a task that could have been done originally, saving parents’ money and maybe even providing teachers with some extra. Mocks correctors only earn about half the Leaving Certificate pay per script, resulting in hastily and shoddily corrected papers. Feedback on the mocks is very little or even non-existent. It can give students inaccurate information and even worse, demoralise them.
 
However, despite all these negative aspects, the mocks are still an extremely helpful tool, albeit one that should be used differently. Practicing exam questions will be common place for students by February but it would take exceptional focus to practice an entire paper independently. In fact, it would probably be very unproductive. The chance to get a feel for the exam hall, to complete every paper while under a time limit and even just experience the pressure that comes with back to back exams can be invaluable.
 
The mocks are there to be used and therefore information that becomes available, be it through teachers or online, should be avoided. Although the Leaving Certificate is months away, this should not encourage students to find out what is on the mock papers. By the logic of the Leaving Cert being far away, one should expect a fairly standard result in the mocks to be much improved upon by the summer. Knowing questions prior to sitting a mock paper only removes the benefits of doing it. It fails to justify the financial expense and worst of all, can result in someone gaining a far higher result in February than in the summer come the Leaving Cert.
 
Give the mocks a decent bash and try to avoid knowing what will come up. If you do badly, it doesn’t matter as the Leaving Cert is all that is really important. Take results with a grain, maybe even a carton of salt, as they can be very misleading. Use the mocks to practice your timing and to deal with pressure. Make the most out of them and use them to your advantage. Good luck!