Every June, thousands of students around Ireland bundle into sports halls, classrooms and community centres to sit the Leaving Cert exams; a behemoth of pressure and stress for students and their friends and families alike.
Here we follow the journey of one student through the trials and tribulations of the exams that will – to his mind anyway – define his life.
Stage 1: Shock and Denial
English paper one. 9:30 in the fucking morning. Its been raining for weeks and all of a sudden it’s 30 degrees outside and all I can hear is children chasing an ice-cream van in the distance. The invigilators remind me a bit of the Dementors from Harry Potter, pumping fear into an already tense room. It’ll be fine. It’s just writing a story.
Stories are great, sure look at Game of Thrones.
Right. What the fuck is Bono doing in this paper? First he drops an album into my iTunes, next thing he pops up in my Leaving Cert? What’s going on? This is nothing like the past papers. I’m fucked.
Bono, seriously? This isn’t happening.
I mean, who hires Bono to give a speech at a university? Oh God. If I leave early I can probably catch that ice-cream van.
Stage 2: Pain and Guilt
Why didn’t I study? I had ages. years. I’ve clocked 400 hours on Farm Simulator 5 and I haven't got a fucking clue about this geography paper.
Why is it so nice outside again?
This hurts. This is physically causing me pain. It feels as if I’ve been punched in the gut. My mate Derek is sure he aced English yesterday and he wouldn’t shut up about it. Fucking Derek.
I’m such an idiot. All it would have taken was a bloody glance through the book, but NO, you decided to spend FOUR HUNDRED FUCKING HOURS BUILDING A POINTLESS BUT VERY SUCCESSFUL ONLINE FARM.
Whats the difference between a clint and a grike? What causes a u-shaped valley? My dad’s gonna kill me, he’s mad for his geography. Gets buzzed off oxbow lakes. I should have studied. I’m a disappointment.
Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining
Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshit. I hate maths.
The only thing I can add up right now is how screwed I am. This whole exam system is fucking stupid anyway. Loads of people got successful without a poxy maths exam. Richard Branson, Johnny Depp, Nicki Minaj…
No, I need to pass this. If this goes the whole thing is ruined and my arse isn't anything like Nicki Minaj’s.
Maybe I can bribe the examiner correcting the exam. What have I got? Let’s see… €12.43, a leap card and a booklet of vouchers for Burger King.
That must be worth at least a B, right? RIGHT?
Stage 4: Depression and Loneliness
Latin. Who does Latin? I only did this class because I wanted to impress a girl whose favourite movie was Troy. Turns out that was Greek and she has terrible taste in movies.
“Cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am. I wish I wasn’t. I just want these stupid exams to be done. Why is the invigilator breathing so loudly? He breathes like dubstep. Oh well, dum spiro, spero; while I breathe, I hope.
Stage 5: The Upward Turn
Economics. Let’s go. It’s raining outside for the first time since we started the exams and there’s a collective feeling that it’s all coming to an end.
For the first time since these exams started, I’ve seen people smile. I’ve worked hard at this and i should do okay. I got a solid B in the mocks so this is starting to look up. Derek said he struggled with his physics exam on Monday so thats good. As long as I do better than him I’ll be happy.
Stage 6: Reconstruction and Working Through
Finally, Music. The one exam I think I can bank on. I know my Mozart, I’ve studied my Berlioz, I could tell you everything there is to know about Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my sleep. I’ve been waiting for this one since the practical, which I think I aced as well.
This could be a hundred points in the bag.
The exams are almost over. Just Japanese tomorrow. I do really weird subjects… but whatever. This is my Shawshank, and I’m almost Tim Robbins, standing in the rain breathing it all in.
Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope
That’s it. Holy shit. THAT’S IT! I just marked my final full stop on my last exam. I’m done. I’m actually done. I’ve never felt relief like this.
Derek is waiting for me outside, he had religious education this morning. If there is a god, I don’t know why he put RE on the last day of the Leaving Cert – but who cares! The sun is smashing down, birds are singing and everyone looks happy.
I can’t believe this is the end of it all, six years of secondary school all leading up to this and it’s… done. In fact, it almost feels like a bit of an anti-climax, after everything I’ve done in the last six years… where are the fireworks? Where’s the marching band, for goodness’ sake?
Oh well. It doesn’t really matter, because good Jaysus, I’m happy right now.
And better still? This is only the beginning.