25 Jun 2022

Offaly influencer's thoughts on stress at exam time


Ronan Scully of Self Help Africa

"A college professor handed out an exam that had 20 difficult questions. The instructions said to read the entire exam before beginning to write. Most students, seeing the number of questions, despaired of answering them all in the time allotted. They ignored the instructions and started right in on the first question.

A few students wrote nothing at all. They just looked at the paper for a while, and then stared glumly into space as though they were trying to remember something. One student completed the exam in a matter of minutes, submitted the paper, and walked out of the room, smiling. The others looked up for a moment, incredulous, then returned to their scribbling. That student was the only one who passed. That student was the only one who followed the instructions fully, reading through all 20 questions before reaching the final one. The final question went like this: "Congratulations! You have followed the instructions perfectly. There is no need to answer any of the other 19 questions. Just answer this one. This question is very simple, and it is the only one that counts. Write the name of the janitor who cleans this classroom."
The month of June is upon us and the end of the school year has come. What does this mean? "Summer exams" and making sure to read the exam papers properly and following the instructions perfectly! I mean the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exams which are a 'part and parcel' of life especially here in Ireland. No student or parent living in Ireland can escape them; they are inevitable. We all remember the following scenario, “Put your revision notes away. It’s time for you to take the exam,” says the assigned teacher to your school exams hall. You feel paralyzed by fear. Your stomach churns and tightens. Your head feels full. Your palms get sweaty. Your feet ache. As your assigned teacher places the exam paper on your table, your mind goes blank. Sound familiar? Sweaty palms. Shortness of breath. Goosebumps. Visions of blanking out. Yes, these are my memories of examinations in mine and most likely in all adults' memories of their Irish childhood.  At this very moment there are thousands of young people, God bless them, across Ireland about to take the Leaving Cert or the Junior Cert exams. Each of these young people have studied and sacrificed for the past several months and indeed for the last 5 or 6 years of secondary school just to get them to this very moment, a 2 week or so exam called the Junior or Leaving Cert   that will test their proficiency in the many subjects which they have been studying for. Over the coming weeks part of my daily prayer will be for every young person taking each of these exams and I will be lighting my daily candle and praying for them along with the many other people who want the best for their loved one's during exam season. A prayer I always prayed as I faced exam time and never let me down was; ‘Holy Spirit, send your power, help me to remember all that I have learnt, inspire me with the gift of Knowledge’ Amen

Exam Time

We all know now that we have entered exam season especially if you have a son or daughter or grandchild or nephew or niece doing exams this month. I have a daughter doing her Junior Cert. I remember well the stress and tension, the constant reminders from teachers that 'these are the most important exams you'll ever take' and the feeling that you are going to do nothing but spend the next two or three weeks of your life getting the right answers down on paper to the questions you have been asked to answer on the examinations leaflet. But in doing these exams whether it is your Junior Cert or Leaving Cert and which is a time of stress and tension for you and your parents, I want you to hear some positive messages that are not based upon whether you have achieved A's, B's or C's or whatever in your exams. This isn't about taking away from the importance of exams, or going against what your teachers are saying!

These exams are very important, revision and study is vital, but what I'm trying to say is that there is more to life than just these exams, although you might not see that now as it is hard to see the wood from the trees when you are in the middle of the forest at times. My good and great friend's Dick and David have mentioned this in our weekly conversations to me at various times about this journey through life. Firstly, before you take your exams each morning, remember this simple fact, you are a truly amazing, unique and genuine young person and you are so loved and adored by your family and friends no matter what may befall you. They adore you in all respects and no doubt you love and adore them too. You have great gifts, savvy, skills, intelligence, knowledge, flair, know-how, talents and abilities that are unique just to you and only you. You have something to offer our community, our city, our county, our country and our world, something that cannot be taken away, or added to, by these exams. Please always remember that.

Your worth, your value, your youth, your personhood, your life in God's eyes and in the eyes of the people who love you and adore you is not affected by your performance over these next few weeks. He and we and your loved ones already think you are amazing and one of a kind.

Also please don't give up on your faith or whatever and wherever it is that you connect with God, please don't give up on it. Right now, in this intense period of your life you need God more than ever, and you need the support of those around you, especially your family, your friends and your community, to pray for you, to light a candle for you, to offer up a petition for you and to support you. I promise you that they are already doing those things in their own unique ways because they love and care for you so much. You also need times of fun, times of laughter, times of complete relaxation to not only enjoy yourself but also to help your brain process what you've been revising and also helping it to rest and to get you ready for the next upcoming exam. It is natural to pray before difficult situations, and many people have found comfort in prayer before an exam or test.  

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, dare to dream, but, even more importantly, dare to put action behind your dreams and be the best you can be in your exams over the coming weeks. These days candle shrines burn brightly in many of our churches, representing the prayers offered by parents and students at this time. St Paul once said: “With God on our side, who can be against us?” Essentially being open to the love of God in all our lives is surely a great gift.

The life that this young generation now enters more fully is a vibrant one, full of energy and yet very challenging. I don’t think it is easy to be a young person in the present culture we find ourselves in. All of these young students will now experience the competitive environment that is the point’s race, finding the right college course and career path in a volatile global economy where so often only the fittest and leanest survive. The ‘burden of youth’ at times can be tragic, manifesting in addiction, anxiety and mental health issues. However, the enthusiasm, resilience and sense of hopeful optimism that is so real for young people, will carry them through the difficult weeks ahead. I believe faith in the living God is a great source of strength and love for our young friends. Essentially faith informs us that we are not alone.

Our God resides in depth of our human experience, even in the stress of getting ready for the Junior  or Leaving Certificate or Third Level exams. So over the coming weeks pray for young people that the good Lord will bless them with strength, happiness and peace. Parents, Grandparents, loved ones and friends say this prayer written by Bill Turnball each morning for your loved one before they head off to the exams hall as my Nana Scully use to say for me -  'Dear Lord, You have given wisdom to those who seek knowledge and you have blessed us with strong, healthy minds that hunger to learn.  Bless my children this day, and this week, as they see the fruits of their labours culminate in the writing of exams that are designed to test their knowledge. I pray that you would guide them to study those areas most important.  Help them to discern wisely what time they spend on each subject and when it is necessary to put the books away and just rest. I pray that as they sit at their desks, with pen in hand, that you would give them pause to breathe, to concentrate and to recall all that they have learned. Help them to not be flustered or panicked.  Give them sharp minds and clear focus.  Sharpen their memories and give them the right words to lay out on that paper to answer the questions before them. I pray that you would bless the work of their minds over this past year and that all of their late nights, long projects, marathon reading and difficult questioning would not be in vain but that you would multiply what they already know into good marks for solid effort. Give them peace about finishing and handing in their completed exams , knowing that they did what they were asked to the best of their abilities.  And help them to shake off any concerns or worry so they can focus on the next. And Lord, bless their summers, that they would be renewed in mind and body and challenged for the next years’ work. And bless all those who are graduating and writing for the last time.  I pray that they would be filled with humility at all that they have learned and understand that this has been the groundwork laid for what is to come but not the end-all and be-all of their lives.  Bless all that they do, that they would use their gifts, talents and knowledge to bring goodness and peace to our world. Amen'

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