A Parent’s Practical Guide to Surviving Leaving Cert

Jill Holtz

May 3, 2019

Tips for surviving the leaving cert

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Is your teen heading into their Leaving Cert years? It can be a very stressful couple of years, particularly the final year, and there is a lot going on that parents need to be aware of and prepared for. While there’s plenty of advice and help online for Leaving Cert students, there isn’t as much for parents! Our Practical Guide for Parents to Surviving Leaving Cert is essential reading:

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Whether your child is embarking on the first stages of the three-year Leaving Cert cycle and debating their subject choices or has completed their CAO form and is about to sit the exams, there are many milestones along the way for parents to be aware of.

The guidance needed for the next Leaving Cert cycle is extensive, and while much of this will come from teachers and school in general, you need to understand the options being presented to your child so that you can ensure they are making the right decisions.

Get all the facts here, and then start some conversations at home with your teen about their subject likes and dislikes, how prepared they feel for exams, what career path they have started to think about (if any), whether higher or ordinary level exams are a more suitable choice, and so on. With the confidence of information, you will be better equipped to have calm and considered conversations with your teen – because the last thing anyone wants or needs is to have heated arguments that cause more undue stress.

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Practical Guide to Surviving Leaving Cert

Your Teen Choosing Subjects for Leaving Cert

teen and mum leaving cert

In the CAO system, your teen’s highest six grades will be used to calculate the points for entry purposes to courses offered in all Higher Education Institutions (Universities, Colleges and Institutes of Technology).

As a result, most schools will offer students the opportunity to take seven (or more) subjects, to allow the best six to count for CAO points. Some schools also offer the LCVP (Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme) as an additional option, which has a focus on enterprise and preparation for working life.

To start with, your teen must consider the options open to them after the Junior Certificate. They need to check the requirements for each of the third level courses in which they have an interest, and then they must put in the time necessary to research the consequences of taking or not taking any particular subject.

Certain universities may require students to have specific base subjects, while certain courses will then also have their own requirements. For example, to enter an NUI institution (UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and Maynooth) the majority of students must have Irish, English and one other language as part of their six subjects. Further, to study Commerce, students must also have mathematics.

Sit down and look at courses together with your teen and discuss what they might be interested in applying for and what the requirements will be. This will also be useful for when they come to make their CAO application (see below).

If your teen doesn’t know what they want to do when they leave school then it’s advisable to choose a good balance of subjects for Leaving Cert to leave their options open. Students who are a year ahead of them may be able to offer helpful insights into what it is really like to study any particular subject.

Some Tips For Choosing Subjects for Leaving Cert

Your teen should:

  • Choose subjects they enjoy
  • Pick subjects they are good at
  • Opt for subjects they need for their chosen career
  • Keep options open by making a balanced choice now
  • Talk to Guidance Counsellor and teachers
  • Discuss it with both parents/guardians

Your teen shouldn’t:

  • Choose a subject because a friend is taking it
  • Pick a subject just because they like (or dislike) the teacher
  • Choose a subject because they think it will be easy
  • Opt for a new subject without finding out more about it
  • Make a decision at the last minute without thinking about it
  • Panic

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What To Expect as a Parent from Leaving Cert Years

teen leaving cert

You can expect a lot of stress and a lot of work. Teens will face a “mountain of work” – teachers seem to load on the homework and expect study as well, and that’s for all seven subjects.

I can only share my experience, but I did find that my daughter has definitely been motivated and hard working which has helped. I didn’t need to try to motivate her. If your teen needs motivation, then maybe looking at future options and getting them excited about what they could do after school would help motivate.

Stress is very high at times. Especially near mock exams, orals and CAO applications. So keeping things organised for your teen and yourself will help when stress levels rise.

Your teen is likely to be a bit crotchety (or more crotchety than usual!) so expect a bit of backlash from the stress. Try not to take it personally.

If they are complaining about a teacher or the workload, listen and try not to jump in but let them work out their feelings. They may just need to vent.

They are in the throes of a huge deal, so while you know that it’s not the be-all and end-all, they don’t right now, so be supportive.

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Are Grinds Necessary – Yes or No?

grinds yes or no leaving cert

Whether or not your child needs grinds or extra tutoring obviously depends on a number of factors. I went to school in Scotland so I didn’t have the same system, and personally I feel it should be the school, teacher, pupil and parent who all work together to make sure the student is managing the subject. But grinds are a major part of Irish education.

Unfortunately, one of my daughter’s teachers just wasn’t up to scratch and she needed a grade in that particular subject for the course she wants to do at university, so that meant paying out for weekly tutoring.

You can expect to pay an average of 30-40 euros at a minimum for a weekly 1-hour session.

Tips For Choosing a Grinds Teacher:

  • See if you can share a session with one of your teen’s classmates – it will help bring the cost down, plus they can study and go together, and that helps with lifts too.
  • Ask for recommendations from other parents. Word of mouth is really important here.
  • If you can’t get a word-of-mouth recommendation, ask the potential grinds tutor to give your number to a past parent who has used them for a quick reference. It’s worth it.
  • Consider using a college student to keep the cost down – if they have recently been through Leaving Cert and are studying that subject in college, they may be a good option.
  • Ask the grinds teacher if they will let you pay up front for more sessions and get a discount. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Many people also opt for crash grinds courses during midterm, Christmas and Easter holidays. We didn’t go that route, but you can expect to pay approximately €1,000 for a week’s crash course.

Studying at Home or at School

study Irish college summer courses leaving cert

This will depend on your situation, your child’s preference and what’s available at their school in terms of supervised study after core school hours.

Because we live a bit of a drive away from school and I’m already picking up her younger sister, it’s not very feasible to drive twice to school, so we ruled out staying to study after school. In any case, my daughter preferred to come home, have something to eat then get stuck into her homework and study at home in peace. She can play music while she’s working and not get bothered by other people.

However, that might not suit your teen. Michelle, the other co-founder of Mykidstime, says that her daughter prefers to stay after school for supervised study, get her homework and study done so that then when she comes home she knows it’s all finished for the day.

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Tips for Parents of Leaving Cert Final Year Students

Teen reading a book Christmas gift ideas for teens leaving cert

Don’t bother telling them about when you were doing the Leaving Cert

It’s irrelevant and times have changed.

Stay practical for them

Put key dates and times into your phone and on the family calendar so you are on top of when you need to be chauffeur outside of normal school drop offs and pick ups.

Help them get plenty of sleep (9/10 hours is ideal)

Although you can’t stop them staying up late, remind them that a good night’s sleep is really helpful for studying the next day.

Provide good meals and nutritional snacks to help them avoid sugar and caffeine

Good snacks include nuts, dried and fresh fruit, popcorn, or high fibre cereal like Weetabix with milk.

Try to free up as much time for them as you can

We have a rule in our house that our daughter doesn’t have to do chores during the week so she can maximise study time, but she has to help at weekends.

Make sure they get exercise

Whether that be gym, swim, team sports or just walking the dog, encourage them to take a break from studying and get active.

Don’t over-reassure

You might feel anxious too about the whole thing but too much reassurance can prevent them learning to reassure themselves, so it’s a balance of keeping calm and being there for them when they need to vent.

Acknowledge that they are anxious

Listen and be empathetic. This is a big milestone they are facing, and it’s understandable for them to feel nervous and unsure.

Make sure they set aside time for socialising

Obviously this won’t be a problem for every teen, but if you think your teen is spending too much time with their “head in the books” then suggest they organise some down time with friends.

Help them to get to grips with managing their time

Some people like to be rigid in their schedule, others like more variety. My daughter and I sat down the very first time she was sitting end of term tests in Leaving Cert and made a study plan together.

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What Are The Big Milestones in Leaving Cert Final Year?

surviving leaving cert

The really big milestones are the Mocks (February), the language orals (April) and the final Leaving Certificate state exams (June).

Then you also have CAO application time, applications open in November. If you want to avail of a discounted application fee you just need to make sure their application is done by around mid-January.

If your child is sitting the HPAT (Health Professions Admission Test) e.g. to study medicine, it’s usually takes place on one Saturday later in February.

Download our free key dates for the Leaving Cert sheet that you can print and stick on the fridge. 

You will need to pay for the Mocks and the final state exams as well. So ask your school at the start of the year how much to expect to pay this year if you need to budget for this.

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Leaving Cert Exam Stress

Avoid Exam Stress leaving cert

As you get into the exam period, there are 3 really big things you can do for your teen to help mitigate against exam stress:

  1. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help – maybe they would find it useful to run over some main points as they study, for example.
  2. Make sure they are organised – so they have what they need for the exam, and all the dates and times are clear in their heads, as well as yours.
  3. Deflect the pressure – encourage your teen to aim to do their best and be assured that it is the effort they make and not the result that makes the difference. Not getting a top grade does not mean failure, and tell them that you will support them because of their effort rather than the results.

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The CAO and Understanding Points

leaving cert cao points

Get to grips with the way the CAO application process works and how points are going to matter when they come to pick their preferred college courses. There’s a good Parents Guide on the CAO website, and here is a CAO points table that’s handy to bookmark.

Basically, the way it works is a student’s points are calculated on their six best subjects. So, a student who gets between 90 and 100 per cent in six higher-level subjects will get 600 points (100 points per subject x 6).

Or if a student got an H1, H2, two H3s and two H4s they would get 100+88+77+77+66+66= 474 points.

There are also bonus points for doing Higher Level Maths. A bonus of 25 points will be awarded for Higher Level Mathematics for H6 grades and above.

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Leaving Cert Results Day

I must admit I’m not looking forward to Leaving Cert results day in August. How nerve-wracking for my daughter, never mind us!

You can get your results at your school or from 12 noon on Results day online on www.examinations.ie. To access your results online you will need your Personal Identification Number (issued to all candidates before the commencement of the written exams in June) AND your exam number.

It depends on what your teen wants. They may be comfortable with going to school where they will be with their friends and the camaraderie can help get them through the experience. Teachers and the principal will be there too to give help and advice.

But not everyone will want to be surrounded by people, so having the online option is always a good back-up plan.

Working Out Leaving Cert points

Nerves can make it easy to miscalculate so help your teen work out their points. Here’s an online points calculator that might help.

The National Parents’ Council post-primary helpline will be in operation on the day to provide support to students and parents alike. The freephone helpline will be on the go for six days, and can be reached at 1800 265 165.

What To Do If Your Teen’s Results are Not What They Wanted

If results are not what they anticipated, you have the option of viewing marked scripts and requesting an appeal. Let’s say a particular grade falls below expectations, your teen can ask to view their exam script – there is no charge for this. If you then wish to do so, you can then appeal the result.

CAO Offers

CAO offers are available online on the CAO website from 6am the Monday after results day and will also be issued by post, email and SMS text.

Each offer will come with a date to accept by – usually seven days later – so it’s important to be on the ball in terms of accepting it. There should be instructions about how to accept within the offer.

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Leaving Cert Celebrations

debs leaving cert

As well as a school graduation ceremony, there are other celebrations during final year of Leaving Cert.

The big celebration is Debs, in the majority of schools the Debs is held in the autumn after the final year.

In some schools, before the big ball, there is a smaller ball known as Pre-debs or Grads. Final year students in my daughter’s school organised grads for pre-Christmas which was quite a good idea as it was out the way early and was a nice Christmassy celebration too.

Grads tends to be less formal dress-wise, whereas Debs is the formal ball for students so expect long prom-style dresses and tuxedos.

You can of course rent both tuxes and dresses. Girls will probably have higher costs due to needing shoes, clutch and jewellery, as well as hair and makeup.

It’s not compulsory to go with a date, often people attend with their friends or in groups.
There are some handy FAQs on the Planmydebs website.

Then just before the end of 6th year, the school will organise a graduation ceremony for you to attend with your teen to formally graduate them from school.

And Finally…

Remember (not that you’ll ever forget!), it’s a big year for your teen so the more you are prepared and know what to expect the better.

Try to keep calm yourself as the stress levels will rise. I know, it’s hard not to get annoyed by a grumpy teen having a go at you, but bite your tongue…and deep breaths are always helpful!

Have your say! Do you have any other tips or suggestions for parents of final year Leaving Cert students? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!

 A Parent's Practical Guide to Surviving Leaving Cert

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