Tips for managing stress and anxiety leading up to the Leaving Cert

Secondary school teacher and wellbeing author ALAN WHITE shares some last minute tips for students and parents ahead of the State Exams which get underway this Wednesday
Tips for managing stress and anxiety leading up to the Leaving Cert

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THE Leaving Cert Exams are a very stressful time for students in normal circumstances. However, this year the exams have the added worries of Covid, disrupted learning and accredited grades.

The class of 2021 have had to cope with school closures and online learning in both 5th and 6th year. Before anything else, it’s important to acknowledge the resilience that this year’s Leaving Cert students have shown.

The lesson to be learned from this is that if you can cope with all of what happened over the past 14 months, then you will be able to cope with the exams.

By acknowledging the strength and adaptability this leaving Cert Class have shown, they can learn that they already have the innate abilities to overcome any challenges and setbacks that might come their way over the course of the exams.

The few days before the exams begin can be some of the most stressful of all. Once the first exam begins the time flies by, however the days running up to the exams can seem endless and be the source of a lot of anxiety and stress.

There are some things you can do however to help you through this challenging time.

Be Realistic

A lot of stress comes from feelings of overwhelm, that sense that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. When it comes to revision it’s important to be realistic on the amount you can cover and adjust your expectations of the amount of time you have.

It’s important to prioritise revision topics and plan what you are going to do and when you will do it. 

By creating simple plans for all subjects you will gain a sense of control over what you have to do. When we feel a sense of control over our lives anxiety and stress reduces, which allows us to become more focused on the important tasks we need to get done.

Sleep and Exercise

These are the most important things that we can do in order to be at our best during the exams. Many students incorrectly believe that by spending all of their time revising in the days before the exams they will remember more and therefore perform better.

Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author.
Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author.

However there comes a point where too much time spend studying becomes counterproductive, increases stress and could potentially affect how you perform in the exams. Getting enough sleep not only allows the body to recharge but also decreases anxiety levels and encodes new information into the brain.

Students also often make the mistake of stopping exercise before and during the exams. 

Although it is necessary to take a break from contact sports in case of injury, it is vital to plan regular exercise times throughout the exams. During this time you are spending long hours sitting at a desk, exercise not only helps to clear the mind and boost your mood, but it also allows the body to destress which will increase your ability to perform at your best.

Don’t Compare

It’s normal to chat to friends and classmates at this time and talk about shared concerns around the exams, it can help students support each other through this difficult time. However when this can become a problem is when you begin to compare yourself to others.

We tend to compare ourselves less favourably to others in general and this can be exacerbated when we are feeling stressed.

Students at this time will compare how much time they are spending studying, how well they perceive they are doing compared to their friends and during the exams they will try to analyse what they did in the exam and compare that with their classmates. Comparing in this way only makes you feel like you haven’t done enough more often than not. It’s important to measure your own progress not that of others.

Revision is measured by the quality of the work done, not the time spent doing it, and once an exam is done its over there is nothing more you can do, so regardless of how the exam went its important to put it behind you and concentrate on the next exam, remembering that most of the time you did better than you think.

Parents Role

Parents play a key role at this time. For young people home is the safe place where they can vent their frustration and worries. This can be very stressful for the rest of the family, as the saying goes, the whole house does the Leaving Cert. However by communicating calmly and reassuringly, despite feeling anxious yourself can really help students cope with the sometimes difficult emotions they are feeling. 

It’s important also to encourage regular breaks or some revision depending on how you child is approaching the exams as well as encouraging sleep and exercise.

One of the most important things of all throughout this time is to maintain perspective. The leaving Cert is important, but it’s not more important than a student’s wellbeing and that however the exams go there are many options that will help young people along the path to their future.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and Wellbeing Author.

He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations.

For more information visit linkedin Alan White or facebook Changes Wellbeing

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