Across the city and county this week, pen tops are being busily chewed by our next generation of grown-ups.

Notes are being made in the back of script books, and some may even take a few minutes to doodle between paragraphs.

Others will sit in halls, pen busily tapping against desk, waiting for the ‘time up’ buzzer to free them from their academic purgatory. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it’s mock exam time.

For thousands of Leaving and Junior Certificate candidates across the country, we’re entering the time of year that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once famously called ‘squeaky bum time’.

The countdown to the exams coincides with the run-in for the Premier League title race, which, one could safely assume, is occupying more time in some teenagers’ thoughts than the poetry of Thomas Kinsella.

It’s a period which will reveal the mettle of some and leave others foundering. Anyone that says pressure is just for tyres has probably forgotten what it was like inside the exam hall melting pot.

A week spent leaning over exam scripts, eking out every available (if not necessarily relevant) thought and committing it to print really takes it out of the system.

By the end of this week, there’ll be more than a few teenagers feeling as punch-drunk as a politician subject to a tribunal grilling.

Most of us have been there. Most of us can recall grasping to trot out the formula for Standard Deviation an hour into the maths exam or struggling to accurately quote from Act Three Scene Three of Othello.

Most of us can recall the immediate and completely unadvised post-exam chat with your friends in the corridor, when, to one’s horror, you realise you’ve made a pig’s ear of your Irish comprehension. Uafásach, pian i mo bholg agus mar sin de.

But to the class of 2008, I impart the following. The Easter Holidays are not too far away. The prospect of longer evenings and, before you know it, no more nights with one’s head buried between the covers of past exam papers, is tantalisingly close.

To those who’ve been working diligently these past few months, this week’s exams will offer a pretty good indicator as to how things will work out come the ‘real’ exams in June.

The next two months will give candidates a chance to sand off whatever rough edges remain.

To continue the sporting analogy, this well-motivated group will be competing for Champions League places come the end of the campaign.

Those on the flipside of the studying coin, i.e. those who either genuinely struggle or couldn’t be bothered with the whole palaver, are likely to be no better off eight weeks from now. A bit like Newcastle United currently.

While the Junior Cert is effectively nothing more than a mechanism which prepares 15 and 16-year-olds for what will follow in the senior cycle, the Leaving Cert is where the big medals get handed out.

Of course, it’s nonsense to suggest that the quality of one’s adult life completely depends on what you do for a week or so in a school hall in your late teens.

But it certainly ploughs a considerable furrow in the field of life for many of us. Gee, my English teacher would be proud of that last sentence. Best wishes to Miss White if she happens to be reading!

There are many outlets for life progress available to teenagers today that previous generations weren’t able to choose from.

While having a good Leaving Cert is a significant feather in one’s cap, there’s an abundance of options which less academically minded young adults can now avail of.

Of course, it’s difficult to impart to some kids that thousands were leaving this country not so long ago to pursue work across the Atlantic or the Irish Sea when there wasn’t a job to be found here. We’ve not always been a country of SUVs, Wiis and decent pocket money, after all. And while there’s been somewhat of an economic slowdown of late, both the brightest academically and the best vocationally and mechanically are free to pursue their futures on this island.

No matter what age you are, it can be difficult to see the woods from the trees, i.e. the big picture, what it’s all about, etc. When you’re 18 years old, it’s probably that bit tougher since the world is still your oyster when it comes to what the future holds.

When I was 12, I wanted to be a journalist. When I was 18, I still wanted to be a journalist. Ten years later, here I am, waxing lyrical in my local newspaper.

Tread softly on your dreams, dear students, but hold onto them.