Study Advice

Exam Stress: Some Advice That Worked For Me

By Lynn Clarke-Hearty - 8 minute read

Stress during the Leaving Cert is something almost every student experiences. One of these students is Lynn, who completed the Leaving Cert and is now studying Economics, Politics and Law at DCU. In the blog she talks about her struggles in school and how she overcame them. 

When I went into fifth year, I was instantly hit with the truck of information regarding the two years that awaited me. It was extremely overwhelming, despite the huge effort made by teachers. Not only are we faced with the challenging pressures of the exams, but also all of the other things that we must do to prepare for the new chapter in our lives. For me anyway, preparing for all this involved a lot of stress. However, there are some little things that we, as students can do to prevent these pressures from taking control of our thoughts and our anxiety.

I would love to share with you all, the things I did that helped me through what felt like a torturous and never-ending journey but was achievable, at the end of the day.

Get Organised

Personally, when I don't feel in control and I’m not organised, my anxiety levels rise rapidly. Something small, like missing a set of notes on a minor character in Shakespeare would result in a sudden feeling of being very unprepared. Some of us students may feel the need to prepare for every type of question that could appear on the lovely Leaving Cert and my suggestion is to get organised ASAP. Keep on top of the organisation of your notes, trust me on this one, it makes a huge difference and leads to life being a lot easier. The sooner you start, the simpler it will be.

Get folders for each subject, use highlighters, dividing tabs; stationary is there for a reason.

Music Playlists

Throughout the years, I made multiple playlists; for fitness exercises, sleeping, eating, studying – everything. During the Leaving Cert exams, I constantly blasted really motivational songs to start the day with a positive outlook. To tell you the truth, something tiny, like waking up with no milk for my morning cup of tea would have a pretty negative impact on my mood.

I would encourage all students to make a playlist that can give positive vibes and help to get motivated or chilled out.

Breath Deeply

I remember sitting in a classroom, reading notes before one of my mock exams. I was very nervous about this particular exam and I could feel my heart racing. I discovered through researching anxiety that your senses increase tenfold. This causes thoughts to sprint around our minds and we can get really worked up. The only thing that got me through those intense moments in school was getting into a routine of breathing exercises.

Inhale through your nose for four seconds and exhale through your mouth for five seconds.

Despite getting some peculiar looks from fellow students, I would often sit during class hours and complete these breathing techniques, even out loud if it meant I would be more calm.

Ignore the looks, the most important thing is you.


Sometimes as students, we can sit and think ourselves into a bad mood. Despite how many hours I spent studying, I continued to think that I was not doing enough, which ultimately led to a feeling of self-doubt and a low feeling in general. When this happens, it's particularly important to stop those thoughts immediately because we really can be our own worst enemies at times.

Counting down from one-hundred to zero sounds rather silly, but believe me, it should not be underestimated.

Talk to your friends

You would be shocked at how others are feeling, despite of how they may appear in class or at lunch. A few times in school, I felt like I was genuinely not coping with the stress of studying, completing homework, doing well in class tests and appearing in control, all at the same time. One evening, I was sitting at home after a long day, I was both physically and mentally drained. I was snapchatting friends when I got a text saying, “So, how are things actually going for you in 6th year?” and at the beginning, I was a bit unsure as to how I would answer. Would I tell them the honest truth that I was finding things tough or would I take the blasé path, be typically Irish, and say, “Yeah, sure we’ll be grand in the morning”. I took the scary step of admitting to a fellow student that things were tense, only to receive a relieving reply that they were feeling the exact same way.

So please, do me a favour and talk to others, see how your peers are feeling.

Don’t isolate yourself and seriously, do not be embarrassed if you’re feeling stressed or worried. Us students are all in the same boat, at the end of the day.

Use Career Guidance

The uncertainty of the future frightened the life out of me during 6th year and even more so during the time leading up to my exams. As a result, I found myself a regular visitor to the Career Guidance teacher. Not just to talk about what I wanted to do after my exams but also about how I was managing my time when it came to studying, exercising and eating healthily. If you have a Guidance Counsellor in school, or even just an ordinary teacher that you get along with, talk to them.

As much as we, students, sometimes hate to admit that teachers are human too, always be conscious that they sat the Leaving Cert too, they can empathise.

They are there to support you and they really can help you focus on what you want for your future.

So there you have it, I was a little ball of anxiety in my final year at school and could not see the opportunities that would be available to me in the future. There were many times in 6th year where I wanted to give up and simply not sit the exams. However, through the support of the people around me and through doing the few things that I have mentioned above, I made it through to the other side of the daunting Leaving Certificate tunnel and so can you!

Good luck with your study and exams!

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