“Pull-your-hair-out-and-cry-in-your-homework” season has officially arrived.
For those of you doing the leaving cert you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone else return to the couch like the potatoes you are because this post is entirely dedicated to all of those bright young students out there anxiously preparing for what is said to be the biggest exam of their lives. This is for you guys.
The final lap. You can almost see the finish line. Are you excited?? Because I sure am for you. Since I’m sure your brains are already overflowing with information, I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. Here are a few tips on how to get yourself across that finish line in June with as minimal breakdowns as possible!
1) You had a Bad Day
You’re 17/18 year’s old having to decide on your future career whilst studying 7 subjects for one single set of exams that determines whether or not you’re worthy of that future- Don’t fool yourself, of course you’re gonna have bad days.
The closest I came to a cocktail all year was the mixture of emotions I experienced on a regular basis- constant tiredness, random surges of energy, tears, stress, anxiety, tears, giddiness- you name it and I probably experienced it. Most of the time, these emotions were manageable. I learned to deal with them and get on with the work but there were days when I could hardly bring myself to open my schoolbag.
There were two ways in which I dealt with this situation.
A) I would peel my eyes open and force myself to follow the pristine study timetable I had laid out for myself.
B) I would give into temptation and fall into a deep sleep where study doesn’t exist.
So which one do you think was most effective?
Contrary to what you may expect, option B proved to be most effective for me. Now, before you get ahead of yourselves and think I’m advising you to skip study the moment you feel a yawn coming on, this is for instances when you physically and mentally are incapable of studying. I’m a worrier/ neat freak so the thoughts of skipping one of my carefully planned days of studying use to drive my OCD tendencies through the roof. For a long time, I didn’t care how tired or emotional I was, I would force myself to sit at my desk no matter what. The issue with this is that your mind and body are literally so tired from whatever mental or physical exhaustion you’re experiencing, that it’s highly unlikely you will even soak up any information. So basically, you’re pretty much wasting your time trying to learn something you won’t remember when you could be spending that time re-energising so that the next day you won’t have the same problem!
Remember: Everyone has bad days. It’s okay not to be okay. Be smart about it- it makes more sense to take one bad day, get all the tears out of you, catch up on sleep, whatever it is you need and dive right back in the next then to spend a week or two only half arsed doing the work because you’re so drained.
2) Check yo’self
A good way of minimising stress and increasing efficiency is by keeping yourself organised. I can’t stress how important organisation is in relation to success. At the start of my 5th year and again at the start of 6th year I sat down and created a study timetable which outlined what I would study everyday at each specific time. Not only did I fill out what subject I would study at each period but I also specified what topic of each subject I would cover, for example in Irish I might revise poetry on a Monday and then do essays on a Tuesday. I found this method really helpful because it ensured that I was covering every aspect of every subject with the same amount of attention, which reduced worry as I knew nothing was being neglected and increased my grades. A win win!
I know your heads are probably wrecked from your Irish teachers encouraging you to reach out to people you may know who are gaelgoirs to help you so you can add me to that list of annoying people now! Reach out people!! The oral is worth 40% of your end grade in Irish, yet for some reason most people seem to leave the preparation for it till a week or two beforehand! The oral is different to your usual subject topics in the sense the exam consists of a verbal conversation rather than a written paper. Remember: the exam is the end goal so you should always have that in the back of your head– if the exam is a conversation, so too should the study. Despite how many pages you may have learned off by heart, it’s no good to you if you can’t say it conversationally. This is where practise comes in. Put an hour aside once a week to run through your comhrá with an Irish speaker. I know a lot of people see speaking Irish as a chore but honestly one hour out of the week is not going to kill you. You will be so grateful by the time the orals come because you’ll have spoken Irish so much, there’ll be a natural flow to your voice, it’ll be a weight off your shoulders. I was blessed in the sense my grandmother is a fluent Irish speaker so I practised with her once a week, but if you ask around you’ll be sure to find someone who can speak Irish who would likely be more than happy to help you! Thank me later x
Just like it’s important to practise your conversation skills for the oral, it’s important to practise your written skills for the written subjects. You know what they say – they best way of learning is by doing, so get up and do it! Assign a time in the week to practise written questions on the topics you’ve covered. What I decided to do was to cover the subject topics during the week and then put what I’d learned to use by doing exam questions at the weekend in the library. For example, I might cover enzymes and plant biology during the week so on a Saturday I would do exam questions on those specific topics to test myself.
Create a balance between your social and academic life. This may be something as small as fitting enough time in every week to watch an episode of your fave show. For me, I kept a space open every Wednesday before grinds to watch the newest episode of Prison Break (final season aired right before my LC) or Pretty Little Liars. Not only did it give me an excuse to relax but it also gave me something to look forward to guilt-free because it fit into my schedule- I wasn’t skipping a crash course on algebra to watch it, my shows had their own space in the timetable.
If you’re anything like me I’m sure you’d love nothing more than to crawl into bed like a hermit and catch up on sleep for the weekend but you got to socialise. If the only contact you’re having with people is the brief encounter with your mother on your tea break in the kitchen or the blink of your friends at break in school than you will crack up before June even comes. On Saturday’s after all my exam questions were completed I would meet up with my friends for the evening. Every now and then there would be an 18th of a big night out coming up so I would go to that after my day in the library. Once again, because I would have abided by my timetable and got everything I intended finished, it didn’t make a difference what I did with my evening. I didn’t need to feel guilty because I wasn’t cheating, which made the night all the better!
An excellent piece of advice someone once gave me was to bear in mind that your resting days are just as important as your study days. Athletes don’t train 24/7, if they did that they’d have no energy left for the main event- the same applies for the leaving cert. If you keep studying 24/7 and never allow yourself a timeout, you will burn yourself out before the exams have even started and then all your hard work will be for nothing!
I feel that people often forget to consider the link between a healthy lifestyle and success, but do not underestimate it’s importance. Think about it logically- if you’re body is in tip top shape then you’ll be working to your fullest capacity achieving the most success possible. Isn’t that what you want? The best possible outcome?
Then take a look at your lifestyle.
You know what they say- healthy mind, healthy body. Ensuring your mind is in the right place is like the coconut oil of all problems- it can solve anything! A lot of problems students tend to suffer surrounding the leaving cert are mental health related. Although certain issues may be too much for you to handle alone and may require professional help which is totally cool too, a number of these issues people suffer can be treated by themselves through practising self care. Meditation is an excellent way of maintaining a healthy mind. There are a number of different ways and types of meditation and a number of reasons for doing so, its really up to you depending on what you hope to gain from it. My personal preference is positivity meditation which I practise every morning to start my day with positive and self affirming thoughts. If you practise positive thoughts every morning you’ll start the day on a good note, you’ll gain more confidence and work to a better standard. Set affirmations every day for yourself, these are things that you can remind yourself of throughout the day and also say when in meditation. These could be things as simple as “you’re smart enough, you’re doing your best, that’s enough” .. “you’re almost at the finish line, keep going”. Remember that your mind will believe whatever you tell it- if you keep telling yourself you’re not as smart as the one next to you or you’re gonna fail, then your brain will believe it and you won’t work to your best capacity. So feed it positive thoughts! You got this. You’re smart enough. You’re working hard enough.
A big set back for me which I’m sure 99.9% of you can relate to is sleep. I was in a constant cycle of over tiredness- 7am mornings, 7 hours of school 5 days a week, 5 hours of study in the evening, then after a total of nearly 12 hours of brain use you’re suppose to switch off and sleep? Nah-uh I don’t think so. The amount of nights I spent twisting and turning between stressing over work due and nightmares of the event itself, it’s no wonder I was constantly tired. To make matters worse, considering how stressed I was I never gave myself the time to research a remedy to fix this obvious problem so I let it continue for almost the full duration of the year. It wasn’t until a few weeks before school ended that I discovered ASMR. Now I know there’s a lot of skepticism about ASMR but look, if the cringy voices help get you to sleep then do you really care? There’s such a large selection of free ASMR’s on youtube you’re sure to find one that works for you!
Hydration is key. Drink up. I’m a terror for forgetting to drink water but whenever I do I reap in the rewards. Water makes up a large percentage of our body so it’s no surprise it’s good for us. The more you drink, the more awake and productive you’ll feel- trust me!
Vitamins. They’re totally underrated. To be honest for a long time I didn’t think they actually did anything besides taste like shit but don’t be fooled by their Dino poop tang, they’re amazing. I take Vitamin D (improves mood- sun makes us happy, we don’t get a lot of it so replace it with vitamin D and boom), Vitamin C & Iron (lack is linked to exhaustion), and Multivitamin (just to be extra safe). There’s a lot of stigma around health products, everyone seems to think they’re sky rocket prices but you can actually get all these vitamins in Aldi so no excuses people, tell mammy throw em on the list.
Exercise can fit into the balance category also but I chose to put it here because of the effects it can have on a persons health but mentally and physically. Exercise is proven to help boost endorphins improving peoples mindsets as well as the physical benefits- there’s really no downside! I suffered a lot of headaches in the leaving cert which shouldn’t come as a surprise really from using my brain for hours in the day then to be cooped up in my stuffy bedroom. How I chose to tackle these headaches was by starting to go for a brief walk as many evenings as I could and instantly I noticed a difference in myself- I felt mentally better, less, headaches, better sleeping. Get your walking shoes on and get moving!
5) Eye on the Prize
Time is money so be sensible with how you distribute it. Remember the end goal is the leaving cert exams so you should always be keeping them in mind. For example, in Irish the essay is worth 100 marks whereas the poetry is only worth 40- Your aim is to get the highest amount of marks possible so which one are you gonna put more effort into revising?
The same applies to study timetables and organisation. Don’t set yourself unrealistic targets– if you cant concentrate for 30 mins than whats the sense in making out a timetable with hour long periods? This will not only prove to be unproductive but will also be disheartening to you.
6) WORK HARD, PLAY HARDER
I know you’re tired. I know you’re sick of it.
But.. you’re almost there! You’re at the last hurdle so don’t give up now. All this work will have paid off when you are finally exactly where you are meant to be this time next year. I know the last two years were excruciating but you’ve only a matter of weeks left and then you’re free to do what you like. You’ll never have to look at another theorem or Nuala Ni Dhomhnail poem again, you’ll be in charge of your future and your education. You choose. Keep that goal in mind. Let all the college snapchats you envy drive you, let your lazy siblings plonked in front of the tv motivate you. Only a few more weeks till you can be a couch potato all you want.
All you’ve to do is brace these next few weeks first. Remember slow and steady wins the race- don’t burn yourself out. Organise yourself- make a timetable, plan your study to minimise stress. Take breaks. Eat, drink, sleep, exercise. Socialise- get out, talk, laugh. Cry if you need to, smile because it’s almost over. Then party your ass off next year and forget everything.
It’s gonna be so worth it I promise.
Best of luck to everyone, you got this x