In a week of Leaving Cert and A-level results, there’s been a worrying amount of “don’t worry if you’ve done horrifically, lots of brilliant people failed exams!” going around. It bothers me. It bothers me because far, far, far, far more non-brilliant people failed their exams. Because the path is often that much harder when you’ve failed, or you haven’t done as well as you would have liked, at exams.
I think the Leaving Cert is hideous. I also think that it does matter, hugely, to people in their late teens and early twenties. It’s affecting their career/education choices now and for the next few years – years when, some of them, people are figuring out what they want to do (lots of people continue to figure this out for many many years) and looking at the various paths open to them. People don’t always find their career or learning passions at seventeen or eighteen. I would guess most don’t. But so often the starting point is that end-of-school exam and what doors it opens for you.
And it’s hard. It’s hard whatever you’re doing, whether you’re the 500+ points student going off to study the course you’ve wanted for years, or whether you’re the person figuring out whether to repeat or to look for work or to take that place on the tenth-preference course you don’t really want, or somewhere in between. It’s hard because there’s a whole other step now. (And then a step after that. And after that. And after that.)
But as with everything, the step we’ve only just completed is what matters to us, at least for a while. I don’t think it does any Leaving Cert student any favours to dismiss it entirely, any more than it does to suggest that eight A1s is the only way of being successful at that exam (though fair play to them, even though they’re clearly insane).
It’s a big one, when you’re seventeen or eighteen or nineteen. It’s not going to define your life – but for most, it’s going to be a really crucial factor in an area of your life for a few years. I know it seems silly to suggest that we go for this middle-ground attitude towards the wretched exams, but I’m sick of the hype at both ends of the scale, from the ‘it’s the biggest deal ever!’ to ‘it’s totally meaningless!’ Wishy-washy middle ground, folks, it’s the way to go.