Well yes, the sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view but it’s raining – exams! They say the sun comes out for the exams or exam weather as it is frequently dubbed. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s more than welcome and long overdue, says you. May proved wet and miserable for most of us ach mar a deirtear that every cloud has a silver lining. While exam students may well have moaned and groaned along with the rest of us at the wettest and sometimes coldest May on record there was the consolation for them that it is more conducive weather for studying as the brain and other relevant bits of the human anatomy works when our system is cooler rather than hotter. It is not a coincidence that the temperate climate regions of the world are and have historically been, usually, the most inventive and productive in the world. Anyway imagine how distracting all that lovely sunshine and all its pursuant worshipers would have been!!

Well all that means is that the exams, both Leaving and Junior Certs, have started this Wednesday and will dominate the lives of many thousands of young people for the next few weeks. For the Leaving Certs, it is the biggest exam project they will ever do but the vast majority accept the challenge as part of moving on to the next stage in their lives and so get on with it as best as they can.

Getting There

Some young people are very focussed, they have a very definite career target and a clear plan for getting there. But they are very much in a minority, especially in today’s fast moving/evolving world where there are multiple career choices, even ones that have yet to be thought of but will arise in response to some emerging need or new development, be it scientific or social. Many young people sitting there exams this week do not have as yet a clear view and while they have all applied for some course or other they have yet come to an awareness of their particular forte, to finding their metier. Over the next number of years, be it at college or in the workplace, there is much growing to be done, be it physically, emotionally or intellectual in building an essential self-confidence in their worth as people and a sense of place in the great scheme of things. Academic success is being striven for by all these young people and all will achieve in the various subjects to varying degrees. We should support them in their endeavours to achieve as well as possible, at the same time instilling in them an awareness that these examinations only measure part of what a young person’s life is about.

There are so many other aspects to any person, honesty of character and endeavour, compassion and concern for others, a warmth and inclusive personality, a gift of friendship, a talent for leadership and a whole range of talents and skills. These exams measure another variety of skills of various kinds too across the range of subjects and achieving a high grade reflects an aptitude for the subject but also gives recognition to the many hours of study and associated concentration devoted towards that end. These are frequently skills needed by someone to prosper in a career which require such talents. But that being said, it is also argued that there is an over-emphasis on these exams being a memory test and so a relative doddle for those blessed with good memories, you still have to put in the work of course but less of a grind, nevertheless. There should be more emphasis on the craft of learning, logic, deductive thinking, problem solving. After all, the facts you want are in a book somewhere, indeed it’s all there at your finger-tips on your computer. The trick is knowing what you want, why you want it, where and how to find it and then know what to do with it!

Unanswered Prayers

There’s many a guy out there who never went beyond the Inter or Group Cert levels who went on to be very successful in business, construction, the arts and theatre, broadcasting. Just because one left school at an age earlier than is the norm now didn’t mean any lack of intelligence. I have met many people of extraordinary intelligence, be it in the form of high verbal skills of expression, sharp analytical thinking, business acumen, or creative artistic talent. In summary I have often said it is folly to confuse education and intelligence, they can coincide but one does not necessarily follow the other. As indicated there are those who have gone through the educational system but lack deductive intelligence and visa versa.

It is worth taking note of the sentiments of the Garth Brooks song that sometimes, more often than one would think, when you don’t achieve what you had originally set your heart on that life can then lead you down a different, previously undreamt of path which can turn out to be the best thing ever.

What is required in these exams is that you have prepared to the best of your ability as measured by the necessities of the subject in hand and to remember that it is your qualities as an individual that truly matters in the end in achieving the important things in life. Go on, give both your best shot!!

Practical Matters

Hopefully the studying and revision has been done and all that remains is to get it all down in reasonable order and shape. Be sure and get a good night’s sleep and arrive at the exam centre in good time, last minute rushing does not help, so be organised. Obviously different subjects will have varying approaches and techniques but some common observations may be appropriate/applicable.

1. If there are key points, quotations, formulae or whatever you are doing your best to remember as you approach the exam, then as soon as you get your answer book jot all the relevant matter down on your rough work page (download it, then sit back and relax).

2. Your teacher will have stressed to read each question carefully and yes, that is the best advice. It is amazing how many marks are lost by a misreading of the question – I used always (depending on the subject, of course) write out the question to counteract the tendency to see what we thought we saw or wanted to see.

3. Naturally we are going to have a quick scan to see if expected topics have come up – always a critical moment! But no need for panic or otherwise. My advice is to read through the full paper with a quick but careful scrutiny of each. The next move is key (a little forward planning will have been of help): there may well be a few questions which seem on first reading difficult, read these carefully but then start with a question that you are confident about answering well. It also helps if this/these question/s are relatively short to medium in length. This approach helps to get off to a good confident start (for the examiner, first impressions and all that) and that too much time is not spent on it. Now our brains are more remarkable than any computer and frequently by tackling less taxing questions first, apart from the confidence factor, it allows the said brain to work away on the trickier questions. And if we have the groundwork done, of course, ideas and/or solutions seem to emerge to enable the task before us. This really works!

4. Give an answer to each subsection of a question, this might be a mere word e.g comment on the qualities of the creature, Big, Bad, Wolf. Now any marks would be subdivided between all three headings, so even if you write pages on Bad without reference to either of the others than you will only get one third of the possible marks.

5. A pre-determined time plan is crucial – make a plan and stick to it.

6. A final word of advice – be positive. There are those who upon reading a question only see the bits they don’t understand and say ‘I can’t do this’ while the others immediately focus on the aspects they understand and take it from there. There are no marks for blank spaces.

Go n-Eiri Libh Uilig.

Go seachtain eile, slan.