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05th Jun 2019

Stop telling students their exams ‘don’t matter’ – they do to them

Does the start of June make you feel strangely sick with nerves?

If so, fair enough. Years in Irish second level education have conditioned lots of us to dread Leaving Cert season – even if you’ve been out of school for decades.

We all had our own methods to get through this stressful period, from eating all around us to exercising compulsively to drinking herbal drops from the health shop (thanks, Mum).

There’s plenty of advice and ‘words of wisdom’ floating around too, with everyone from your parents to your neighbour to some woman on the radio in the car on the way to the exam centre chipping in.

Anyone who has something to say means well, of course, but the least constructive and honestly most insulting phrase ever has to be; “don’t stress- sure, your Leaving Cert doesn’t matter anyway!”

Sorry, what?

So all of this effort counts for nothing? The stacks of notes and flashcards at the foot of the bed, the early starts and late evenings, the sleepless nights, the sheer stress of it all DOESN’T matter?

Yeah, thanks for your input.

Of course, anyone who tells you it doesn’t matter is just trying to be supportive and alleviate last minute nerves, which is nice. But really, it’s the equivalent of telling someone who’s having a panic attack to calm down – it’s unhelpful and kind of patronising.

Those who say exams are no big deal are partly right – in the grand scheme of things, no, your Leaving Cert doesn’t matter. There are back doors, second chances and ways around everything.

Yes, our education format’s single greatest flaw is how it terrifies generations of teenagers into believing that their futures rest on a single set of exams. And yes, no wonder young people struggle so much with mental health, given the crushing pressure they’re put under.

But regardless of how much it really ‘matters’ in general, the fact is that if you’re heading in for English Paper 2 tomorrow, your Leaving Cert matters to you. It’s been drilled in to you at least the past two years at school. You’ve worked your arse off and you’d really like things to go your way.

What we should instead tell students is that the Leaving Cert won’t matter.

It won’t matter when you’re in college or when you’re working, when you’re in your twenties, thirties and beyond.

But now? Yeah, of course it does.

Nerves are natural and if you’re in the middle of exams, someone telling you they don’t matter is insulting.

So how about this – just do you for the next two to three weeks. Feel whatever you’re going to feel and ignore the hype.

As you grow up, you’ll find that people will have lots of ‘words of advice’ for every stage of life.

You won’t listen to what they have to say then anyway, so why start now?