A letter to my 6th-year self

Dear 6th Year Me,

I know you are absolutely terrified with mocks on the way and panicking that you have put all the wrong courses or universities on your CAO application….

Will you get enough points for the course you want??

Do you want to do law?? Do you want to study politics??

Are you better following where your friends are going, listening to what your family want you to do or do what you want to do??

Do you want to go to UCD….or Trinity??

You were always in awe of Trinity when you were a young kid. You would stroll through campus on days in the city-centre with family. But then again, you didn’t at all enjoy the open day experience. On the other hand, UCD open day was everything you had hoped for from a university.

Unfortunately, these concerns are echoed in schools across the country. I can assure you that no matter your background or where you come from you are absolutely not alone. I hate and rejoice in telling you this next snippet of information – but – these exams will be some of the most stressful exams of your life. Don’t get me wrong, you will have sat many difficult exams following on from the leaving cert. Nonetheless, these would have felt like they had more of a purpose; things you want to understand and can see much more applicable in everyday life, and, most of all, they won’t all be based on rote learning. Stop panicking and remember how capable you are, embrace each day as they arrive and make memories. You are more than just a CAO number – you are bright, funny, outgoing, and a little bit quirky… that didn’t always gel with everyone in school but I can assure you that those traits will have brought you very far.

My 6th-year self, you will make your choice, along with thousands of other pupils from schools just like yours. I can assure you that your final decision to study at UCD will be one of the best decisions you have ever made. You will have spent some of your most formative years in UCD – as an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations; to running for Election, becoming Education Officer for UCD Students Union to completing a Masters in Common Law. These years will have brought you to where you are now….in your second year of the Barrister at Law Degree on the brink of sitting your final exams and qualifying as a Barrister. You have a fulfilling job with a law centre that provides free legal advice and assistance to those who are most vulnerable in society. You have met some of the most down-to-earth people and found your tribe, however small, you cherish each and every one of those friendships you have formed.

If I was to go back to February 2010, there are buckets of advice that I would give my former self as I sat on the brink of beginning my mock exams. Hopefully, some of this advice will assist leaving cert students of today muddle through the whirlwind that is 6th year.

Practice Self Care 

Look after yourself, there is no point in putting undue pressures on yourself and burning out. You can’t win a race if you completely take yourself out of the running before it even begins. So don’t feel guilty about taking ‘me time’. 6th year and life, in general, is a marathon and not a sprint! If you need a day off, take one. On the other hand, don’t overdo it and keep your eyes on the prize.

Find your Study Groove 

You will not learn in the exact same way as everyone else. DO NOT buy into the daily competitiveness of what did you study last night; did you do notes on that; or how did you perform on that exam. You will have bad days, there will be topics others will whizz through and you will struggle with and vice versa. Understand though that you know your own brain and you know how you learn best – not anyone else! So take some time (but not too much time) figuring out what your study groove is.

Don’t be ashamed of your little wins & what you want to do 

When you perform well in a class test or if a topic you have struggled with finally clicks with, do not be afraid to celebrate those little wins because this will be what gets you through.

Likewise don’t be ashamed of what you want to work as/study after secondary school – it’s completely your prerogative as to what you want to do. I remember being asked in a careers class what I had put on my CAO for level 6 and 7 options. I replied that I had nothing down in this section and was admonished by some of my classmates, made to feel like my choice to not put anything within this section was out of pure snobbery. The reality was, I had no interest in any courses I came across in this area? I had some other courses, outside of the CAO lined up but nothing there interested me! Remember, just do you!

Do not make the mistake of dropping on the day of the exam 

Spend some time following your mocks and results to take stock. Is there a reason, aside from ill-preparation as to why you scored so low in a certain subject? If there is you might consider dropping down a level (from higher to ordinary) before the final exam day. This is what the mocks are for, they are a trial run so you can get used to exam conditions, the layout of papers; timing and your ability to perform in that subject! I would not advise panic dropping a level on the actual exam day – this is because the material might differ, exam paper layout different and most importantly you will not have had a trial run to iron out any issues you may have with things like timings for questions.

Practice Time Management

Personally, I worked part-time during 5th and 6th year and had a number of extra-curricular activities so I had to time manage accordingly. Identify your study groove early – do you study better late at night or early in the morning? Adjust your schedule accordingly. Make a study timetable that is realistic considering other commitments and stick to it religiously! This is super important.

Past Exam Papers

These are key to understanding what way questions are asked such as how they are phrased and presented. By the time you are close to the exams, you should be studying predominantly from past papers and your own notes.

All my love,

Future me.

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