How to Prepare For The All Important Leaving Cert

The Leaving Certificate was a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows that still haunts me as a cold-sweat-inducing nightmare every now and again.

When sixth year rolled around I didn’t know which college course I wanted to do. Transition Year showed me all the things I didn’t want to do so I was going in pretty clueless. After spending September to Christmas going to various Open Days I decided on journalism. Mostly for the stereotypical reasons of English being my favorite subject and having an interest in the world but it was also a career that left the door open to branch out.

Journalism at DCU became my first choice on my CAO and eventually the degree I’m graduating with this year and the freedom it gives me to continue growing my interests is more than I could have hoped for.

I still don’t understand the system of pressuring a person to choose the career they plan to spend the rest of their life in when they’re just on the cusp of leaving childhood. It seems like a very jarring transition into adulthood but one that the Department of Education continues to prioritise as a path to university.

One thing you learn once you are past the CAO and into college is that you are still very much on a learning path and while getting the necessary points in your Leaving Certificate can be a difficult gateway to pass, once you are through your future isn’t set in stone and university gives you plenty of opportunity to explore your options.

Despite this, the Leaving Cert is still a tough hurdle to overcome and even if you have generally earned good grades in the past five and a half years of secondary school, the Leaving Certificate is an entirely other ball game for most.

For me, there was no other set of exams that had demanded such focus or drive or caused so much stress and anxiety. People are not lying when they say that the Leaving Cert is the hardest set of exams you will ever have to complete in your life. I’m sorry that this is all sounding so negative but the point is that I got through it regardless of how difficult the process was.

One of the biggest challenges I had to face was admitting to myself that there were subjects I was weaker in and in which I had been scraping passes in previous years. After constant reminders that every mark counts in the Leaving Cert and even if you pass, not getting a good mark could stop you from getting the course you want, I decided to make some changes. My weakest subject was, and still very much is, maths and after dropping chemistry and choosing Ordinary Level Irish, I needed to keep up Higher Level maths to give me six honors, those extra 25 points, and a good chance to get my first choice.

I was one of those people who thought you couldn’t study for a maths exam. It’s different to all the other subjects, there are no essays to learn off or facts to turn into bullet points, its all numbers and you can’t study numbers. At least, that’s what I believed until I failed my mock maths exam and Mum decided to step in. She started up an email correspondence with my Year Head to arrange grinds with my maths teacher outside of class and signed me up for a week-long maths course over the Easter break. I’ll never stop thanking her for it now but I remember how much I hated her for going behind my back.

By accepting this simple change, I went from failing my mock exam to a B2 in the Leaving Cert. I cannot advocate enough the importance of getting help when you need it enough so don’t wait for that wake-up call from the mock exams because the earlier you get that help, the easier it will be.

These months leading up to the Leaving Cert are time to be to be selfish – ask for the help you need, let out all the tears you must, and make a game plan that allows you to study without becoming overwhelmed. Most importantly, the Leaving Cert isn’t the be-all-end-all of things and no matter how the Leaving Cert goes for you, the world goes on and so do you.