Testing times for Wexford students
The sun shone gloriously and normal life as we know it went on as usual for everyone last Wednesday except almost 2,000 courageous County Wexford students who entered school examination halls to have their learning skills and stamina tested by the State in what may prove to be the most prolonged nerve-wracking experience of their lives.
In years to come, when they are feeling anxious, some of them may even have that classic throw-back stress-induced dream of imagining they are back doing the Leaving Cert again and shuddering in a cold sweat at the very thought of it. But for now, at least until June 24 when the final paper is handed out, the heart-racing jitters are very much the real thing.
The class of 2016 have been answering questions, writing reams and enduring ballpoint-induced finger cramps daily since last week when armed with non-curricular aids such as rescue remedy to calm the nerves, jelly sweets to boost brain sugar levels and useful words of advice from helpless parents such as 'do your best' and 'sure if you don't know it now you'll never know it ,' they sprung from the traps and took possession of English paper 1 in Ireland's annual real-life answer to the Hunger Games, where college points are the reward for the survivors.
It's ironic to note that in the midst of a national debate about Ireland's mental health services, the State itself is single-handedly responsible for imposing more stress on young people in a compressed period of time than they will probably ever experience again in their lifetimes.
Many Wexford students admitted to not having slept well last Tuesday night, tossing and turning in bed as their sub-conscious conjured up worst-case scenarios in which they forgot the exam was on at all or experienced a nightmarish blank.
'I've never been so nervous before,' said St. Peter's College student Eamonn O'Brien. 'Nerves are high but I feel better now that we've started.'
'I didn't sleep well at all,' said James Gately who was nonetheless pleased that what he expected came up on the paper. He picked the short story as his essay choice.
'It was grand but I was nervous,' said David Doyle while fellow Peter's student Dominick Cleary said: 'It was about what I expected, from the mocks.' He chose 'Three Great Achievements in Human History' for his essay.
St Peter's College Deputy principal Robert O'Callaghan was waiting outside in a corridor with teachers John Banville and Paddy Ryan to talk to the lads when they came out, offering words of encouragement and praise.
Over at the Loreto school Emer Buckley said she was pleased with the first paper, 'It was nice enough. I just want to get it all finished now.'
Laura Bruen said she thought the English paper was 'pretty fair'.
'I was nervous but I'm glad to get it started,' added Laura who finishes with Music on the second last day of the exams.
Sarah McKenna said the Leaving Cert has taken over their lives and she will be glad when it's all over. 'The last two days coming up to it were the worst. You were dreaming about it. My rescue remedy was waiting on the table for me this morning. It was nice enough when I got started though.'
'I found that I had plenty of time. I wasn't nervous,' said Annie Stafford who was taking no chances and brought two packs of pens to school with her that morning.
Loreto secretary Betty was passing by and chipped in: 'All last week, you could see it on their faces. It's the waiting that's the worst.'
A group of female friends sitting on the grass outside Selskar College, books open on their laps. made for an idyllic Leaving Cert photograph. The girls were doing some last minute cramming for Home Economics and Social Education papers in the Leaving Cert and Applied Leaving Cert programmes.
'The English paper wasn't too bad. I wasn't that nervous,' said Jamie Beary who was looking forward to finishing her exams on Friday last.
Fellow student Nicole Donnelly said she hadn't slept very well the night before but it was her six-week-old baby daughter Mia who interrupted her slumbers.
Selskar College student Michael Kehoe said the Leaving Cert puts a lot of pressure on students. 'It's kind of stressful alright. You're being pressured into passing the exams and then you have the pressure of the points race for college. It would be better if they tested you throughout the year.'
Fellow student Caleb O'Brien agreed that the exams are 'very stressful' while Brandon O'Brien who hopes to join the Irish Army said: 'You feel pressure to do well for yourself and your family. I don't see why your life should depend on an A, B or C grade.'
At the Presentation school, Leaving and Junior cert students were studying in the sunshine, on the steps and under trees.
'I was really nervous going in this morning. The build up is the worst. My mam was really nervous for me too,' said Leaving Cert student Danielle Doyle.
'It took me a few minutes into the exam this morning to realise that this is actually my Leaving Cert I'm doing,' said Megan Murphy.
'It's a big relief to have started. Once you've got one exam done you feel so much more confident about doing the rest,' said Kierra Murphy.
Lauren Gordon said the support from home is 'great' and is an important factor in helping students get through the exams.
All four Pres girls were on their way into the Home Economics exam. The subject is more of a Science subject now and a lot tougher than it used to be, they said.