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6 tips a qualified teacher and life-coach shares to help you through the Leaving Certificate exams

Ian Byrne @thetimecoach, a qualified Wellbeing coach with 10 years teaching and lecturing experience shares his top 6 tips on surviving the Leaving Certificate exams

1. THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN EXAMS: I was always consumed in hard work and academic credentials in my teenage years. I identified myself as one of those "high achieving" students. Exam results meant a lot to me. Unfortunately, on the 26th of March 2008, just over 2 months before my exams began, my Dad passed away from Cancer. That completely changed my outlook. I soon realised the harsh reality that no exam result was ever going to bring him back. You can always sit an exam again, you can't replace the memories and the people you've missed out on or lost. Get your priorities right. I would do anything to get my Dad back but unfortunately that's not possible. Don't wait to lose somebody or something before you value it's importance, that includes your own health & wellbeing. I've seen students stress to the point of mental breakdown, and that isn't helped by parents and teachers in a lot of cases with the unnecessary pressure we place on students. There are more important things in life than exams. Don't forget that.

2. TIME PASSES AND SO WILL THE EXAMS: 60000 students sit their Leaving Certificate each year. We all have to do it at some stage. And guess what! Even though it doesn't feel like it when you're immersed in the pressure and stress of the exams, you will get through them, and life will move on after them. I'm not undermining how important these exams will feel to a lot of you but what I am saying is that you will be completely fine, irrespective of the outcome. Everyone will find their own path through life and many will go on to live happy and successful lives even if they don't reach their potential in the Leaving Certificate. What I will advise, is that you try your best. That is all you can do. It will be over before you know it. Life passes and so will these exams and the meaning you attach to them. The Leaving Certificate will feel very irrelevant very quickly. Remember that when times feel tough. Surround yourself with positive people who will listen to you and support you to help you get by during the exams.

3. CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLE: If you haven't worked as hard as you could have over the previous years in school, then just accept it and move on. There is no point in dwelling on the past. In the lead up to the the exams, apply yourself as best as you can based on what you have done, focus on getting good quality sleep, make sure you have all your stationary ready to go from the night before, and eat a meal that will energise you throughout the exam. Ignore people that make you panic or cause you to experience self-doubt. Be conscious of your environment. By focusing on what you haven't done you use energy on things that you can't change. It makes no sense. When the experience is finished reflect on why you didn't apply yourself better, and how you are going to improve your process for future life challenges. For now, focus on what you can control, and that is the present moment.

4. THERE ARE MULTIPLE FORMS OF INTELLIGENCE AND MULTIPLE TYPES OF LEARNERS: It is ridiculous to think that the results we achieve from a set of exams that predominantly focus on our ability to retain and regurgitate information in a written format is what signifies our future hopes and aspirations. Put simply, the meaning we put into the results we achieve in the Leaving Certificate is flawed. That is not to undermine those who have worked hard to achieve, it is just there to acknowledge that the system doesn't suit everybody. It doesn't cater for all intelligences and can neglect different types of learners. We like to measure and quantify things in life, and school is no different. In school the measurement we use to quantify success and intelligence is results and this is quantified through our point system. Remember that the points are a reflection of your aptitude in a specific form of intelligence (specifically memory based learning), and this is only one area measured on a large spectrum of types of intelligence. It also values the reading and writing style of learner, when some students are more suited expressing that learning in an auditory or kinaesthetic task. Remember EXAMS DON'T MEASURE EVERY TYPE OF INTELLIGENCE. It's the systems fault for lacking diversity not the individuals that it is failing to consider. Acknowledging this is important, but it is not an excuse. You still have to sit the exams and you can still succeed. You may just have to tailor how you study and learn to suit your learning style. Do the best you can and use creative ways to help you learn and achieve your potential.

5. MOST OF THE INFORMATION YOU ARE TESTED ON WILL NEVER BE USED IN YOUR LIFE: Stop putting your life's aspirations and meaning into the set of results you obtain. Most of the information you are examined on will play no part in the life you live after school so why would you put your happiness into the outcome of the exams? The Leaving Certificate is the end of your second level Education journey, and the results you get are an indicator of how successful you've been in the specific subjects you've chosen. If we look at your life as a book, you have many chapters and the results will guide and potentially determine how you start the next unwritten chapter. Irrespective of the outcome, you are still the author of your book, and you are still in control of your life. If the results don't go the way you want, you may have to rethink and restructure the beginning of your next chapter, but that is completely achievable with the right mindset and the right environment. If you succeed, prepare for the next chapter as planned, if you don't, then find a different pathway that will lead you to where you wanted to go originally.

6. STOP LABELLING YOURSELF AND OTHERS: We sometimes ignore the detrimental impact labelling yourself and others can have on ones mental wellbeing and identity. Peoples expectations are driven by their environment, and sometimes this environment can cause you to label yourself. The message we emphasise and say to ourself and others will become a self fulfilling prophesy. By categorising yourself as being a high achiever or low achiever you ultimately set the standards and limit the potential outcome for yourself. If you label yourself as not being capable in school or in a specific subject, then you simply justify not putting the effort in and applying yourself adequately. You limit the success you will experience. Maybe you simply don't like school or the subject, maybe you dislike the teacher(s), or maybe you have to work harder than others to remember the information. These are all factors to acknowledge but they do not give you an excuse not to try and to do your best. The results are for you, not for anybody else. This is your life. Ignore the label you have attached to yourself and try to do the very best you can based on your ability. We are all capable if we apply ourself, On the other hand, if you label yourself as the high achieving "academic" student you can put your identity as a person into the results you will achieve. The pressure you put on yourself can be excessive and can cause you to question yourself and even go to extreme lengths to get the result everyone expects you to get whilst ignoring your own mental health, social life, and lifestyle along the way. It is not a healthy process to follow or live by. Remove the identity and the external pressure you put on yourself to achieve. Work hard for the right reasons, not to prove to others that the label they have given you is justified. It is not fair. Hard consistent work has got you to this point. Don't stop that. VALUE & BELIEVE IN THE PROCESS YOU'VE FOLLOWED TO DATE BUT DON'T LABEL YOURSELF. Everyone needs to remember that your process will drive your outcome. Find what works for you. Do the best you can based on your potential. Only compare standards and results against this.


Take home messages:

(i) Control the controllable. Apply yourself as best as you can throughout the exams.

(ii) Exams will pass. Do your best, that's all you can do

(iii) Compare yourself against your own potential

(iv) Move on and live your life surrounded by good people and filled with good experiences

If you need any help or advice head over to IG @thetimecoach and send me a message. I'll be more than happy to help in any way I can.

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