So, it's that time of year again. The sun will break through the clouds any second just as the exams begin. It happens almost every year. The final school exams might feel like the biggest thing that is happening in the world right now but believe me it's not! While it is really important and probably the biggest task you've ever undertaken it's not the be-all and end-all of humanity.
You've studied (or maybe you didn't) as much as you can and now it's time to throw it all down on paper and hope that some of it is right. After all, these exams are what will shape the rest of your life, right? Wrong!!!
Remember when you sat the Junior Cert (GCSE) and you thought that was the biggest and most important exam and you'd end up being a failure if you didn't get at least a C in every subject? Yeah, well how do you feel about the Junior Cert now? It was no big deal.
The same goes for the Leaving Cert (FInals). While it is the step into getting your preferred university it's not the end of the world if you don't get enough points. There are so many different routes to every single job in the world. You don't need to take the most direct path. If I did that I wouldn't be sitting here now, I'd probably be in some hospital somewhere testing for abnormal psychotic tendencies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I'm just saying it has taken me years of studying psychology to realise that that's not the type of psychology that I want to specialise in. If you asked me when I was 18 and taking the Leaving Cert I would have been 100% convinced that that's what I would be doing.
It's the same as when we were children. Most of us wanted to be a famous singer or a footballer. I wanted to be an elephant trainer and work in the circus. Our plans, dreams and actions change so much as we grow older and wiser and what we wanted a few years ago is not necessarily what we want now.
Here's the main things I wish I knew:
- The Leaving Cert is not the stepping stone to the rest of your life. It is simply the stepping stone to the next stage of your life. You can keep changing your path as often as you like until you find what you're looking for. So many of the world's most successful people do not have a secondary education never mind a third level education. You can still have huge success without going to university.
- We cannot tell what the future brings. You may qualify as a teacher and realise you don't have as much love or patience for tiny tots as you first thought. Another opportunity might present itself down the line and you might want to grab it with both hands. Life will happen whether you want it to or not.
- Trust that you have done enough. Questions will come up in the exams that you don't know the answer to. Sally or Jack might know the answer and you might not. That's okay. There will be questions that you can answer that they can't. That's what exams are about. Move on to the next question and don't go over and over in your head wasting time on something you just cannot answer.
- Exercise and breaks will serve you much better than that last 20 minutes of cramming. When we cram our brain gets stressed and takes in very little information to use at a later time. Try to relax by getting some exercise or listening to music for a while. You'll be surprised how much your brain can retain when it is relaxed and not stressed. Follow your instincts in the exam, they are almost always right.
- Don't listen to what others answered after the exam. It will only stress you out if you answered something completely different and your brain will go into overdrive. Once the exam paper has been handed up there is nothing more you can do. Trust that you have done your best and even if you did get something wrong or answer differently to something, there's nothing to say they are completely right and your answer is wrong.
- The examiners are only human and they can tell when you are trying your best. Explain yourself as best you can and then move onto the next question. Break it down into baby talk if you can't think of the official terms. Sometimes you get extra marks for having tried an answer even if it isn't 100% correct.
- Don't always listen to what others want for your future. They have their own lives to live and you have yours. Just because you Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother were nurses doesn't mean you have to follow in their footsteps and become a nurse too. Make your own decisions, make your own mistakes. Do what makes you happy. Nothing is forever these days. If you want to change your career path in five or six years then you do that. Life is too short to spend it doing something you don't love.
- Even if you don't get your first or second choice for college or university life will go on. There is always a reason for everything and maybe that course just wasn't for you. If it is still what you really, really want there are always other ways into everything. I got my third choice in college and I realised after about 4 months that it was a blessing. The new friends that I had made in a university I didn't expect to be attending made everything worth while and I wouldn't have swapped to my first choice even if you paid me €1m. (Okay, well maybe for €1m!!)
- Friends will come and go and you will continue to make new friends forever. If you don't get placed in the same university as your bestie you will be okay and so will they. Sometimes it's even a bit of a blessing because you get to keep all your old school friends as well as make new friends that are just yours. You get to be yourself and start from scratch. You learn so much about yourself when you put yourself out there and make new friends. Remember everyone else is in the same boat as you. Leaving old friends behind and stepping out into the unknown is daunting but it'll be totally worth it!
- Relax and enjoy your last few months or years in the bubble of school or college because soon enough you will be out in the working world paying bills and having to be "an adult". It's not all doom and gloom in the "real world", it's fun and exciting too. Just don't wish your time away and pray to be older. The grass is just as green where you are standing right now and you have the world in your hands. It's up to you what you do with it.
Now that the exams are here all you can do is try your best and let to universe guide you. You've gotten this far and you'll get so much further. Best of luck!!