How To Survive Your Junior Cert/ Leaving Cert Exams and Keep Your Sanity Intact

It is that time of year again. Summer is winking at us around the corner and despite the apocalyptic weather at the weekend, I’m feeling confident in my choice to lay out the sun cream and the sunglasses for tomorrow. It’s Leaving (and Junior) Cert time. The Irish educational system has two set exams each year that each student in 3rd and 6th year must take.

How to survive your junior leaving cert exams

For Junior Cert, it is your first go at “proper exams”. The formality, the pressure and the potential that it will impact subjects you can study for Leaving Cert (and your entire life path) can all lead to quite a lot of stress, a lot of it quite unnecessary. The Leaving Cert is the culmination of two years of study at the end of the 5/6 years of secondary education. Many are hoping for high points to achieve a place in the course they desire in the college they want to go to. Some just want to get out of school and go from there. Everyone wants them to be over.

As a survivor of both; there are a couple of things I learned along the way which may be useful if you or your friends/family members are in this situation. Given any excuse to make a list without further ado – here we go. (And to see the advice I’d give my former self, here’s a look at a letter to Leaving Cert Me)

Things To Remember During State Exams.

Got a Spare?

Let’s start with the basics. Always, always, always have a spare pen. The last thing you want when you’re on a roll writing reams about Stalin or Shakespeare is for your pen to decide to take a holiday and stop writing. I used to bring three in with me just in case – I was taking no chances! To this day I have a tradition of buying a new pen before every exam; for the sake of 20c the peace of mind is well worth it (This might be a tad OCD. Oh well). Similarly a spare calculator (check its on the approved list) will be a relief if yours decides to take a nap mid equation. Prepare for the worst!

Eat and drink

That glorious weather we’re all waiting on means it is going to be hot, and some schools seem to think the exams in JUNE are the best time to show off how great the Central Heating is, so bring a big bottle of water in with you and some noise-free snacks. Grapes, almonds, apple slices, carrot sticks are all good – as are cereal bars for an energy hit on the go. Try to stay away from alcohol if you do drink; your brain needs all its alertness for these three weeks! Also make sure you are eating breakfast – the last thing you want is to crash mid morning exam. Try to lay off the sugary things as while they’ll give you a hit of instant energy, they’ll also make you crash – sustained energy is what you’re looking for.

How to survive your junior leaving cert

You Know Your Stuff

There isn’t going to be anything on the exam that isn’t in the curriculum. The state exams generally follow a template which is similar each year, and it is likely that your teacher will have gone over this format with you multiple times throughout the year. Don’t over expect the unexpected – this is all stuff you have done, and if you have studied the material you were taught, you should be well able to answer the questions. It is not the aim of the examiner to trip you up or make you fail; so just focus on the key material and it will be fine. (It’s a pity this isn’t the case in college but that’s another rant).

Don’t Be A Quitter

This is not a time to take up a new diet or to try to quit smoking. While these things can be positive the other 11 months of the year, leave it off for the moment. Do not add to the stress levels you’re already going to have by putting yourself under increasing amounts of pressure. Chocolate may well be your friend for a little while.


It’s as simple as heading for a walk, going for a swim or having a kick around with some friends. You’ve potentially put off exercise and sports to study this year but it is important to give yourself time to relax, to get some fresh air and give yourself the lovely endorphins which exercise provides. Everybody needs a break from the books at some point and it will do your mind some good to focus on something other than Pythagoras or CSPE for half an hour.

Read your timetable

Do it. Now read it again. Get a family member to double check it. Make sure you’re on the right day, in the right place and at the right exam. It sounds obvious but lesser mortals (final year of college me) have made this mistake and it has gone catastrophically so for the sake of your sanity, do double check.

How to survive your junior leaving cert

Read the paper.

Check firstly that you have the right one (in 2009, my Leaving cert class had to get an all new English Paper 2 because the wrong one was handed out for the first paper) and that it is for the correct level. While you can switch level on the day, unless you have been practicing the lower level papers, it probably isn’t the best idea to do it. Have faith in yourself. If you weren’t able to do it, your teacher would definitely have said so by now.

Once you’ve established this is the paper you’re meant to be sitting; read the questions. Don’t skip this, allocate time in your plan to do this. Make sure you can answer all the parts to questions. Often Part A and B seem quite straightforward but Part C can throw a curveball so make sure you don’t get addled half way through. Try not to panic – some questions may be phrased differently than what you were expecting – read it a few times to get what they’re really asking for.

Plan out your answers for essay questions.

Even a quick spider diagram or a list of paragraph topics. If you lose track of time, which easily happens, it will show the examiner where you were going with the essay. Show your workings, not just your answer – attempt marks are better than no marks for an incorrect answer.

Skip the post mortem.

Once that paper is handed up, it’s done, there is absolutely no point in torturing yourself. Put it behind you, focus on the next one and relax. What will matter is the examiner and your paper, not how much everyone else wrote or someone else’s take on what the question meant. Take it from me as a former over analyser of the should have, would have, could haves. Relax.

Mind Yourself

Your self worth is not dependent on the letters and numbers which will be printed on a page handed to you in a few months time. These are important exams but they are not the be all and end all. If they do not go your way, there are other ways to get where you want to be after them. Try not to stress. Do your best for you, that is all anyone can ask of you. And believe me, nobody has ever asked me for my Junior or Leaving Cert results six (and nine) years on, so in a couple of months when this is all over, that’s just it. It’s going to be fine. If you’re feeling the stress get to you, talk to friends, family, teachers or reach out to the support groups and lines set up for such an eventuality; Reachout is a great place to start. Take care of your mental health. These are only one set of exams in one stage of your life. In the big picture, it will just be a blip on the radar.

Hopefully these tips will be of use to you (or someone you know) during the exam season. Rescue remedy at the ready; and the very best of luck.



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  1. Great tips. I’d also suggest trying to avoid talking about the paper with your mates; it will only make you feel bad. Just move on to the next one!

  2. Wish I had read this back in 2009! Crazy how something that was so huge at the time is so meaningless now in the grand scheme of things!
    Thanks for linking up to #linkalist x

    1. Haha it is absolutely insane alright, the world has kept turning and life went on! So glad we never have to be there again!

  3. Great tips! We’re going through this with a very stressed Junior Cert candidate, can’t wait for it to be over!

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