This is a spoiler-free review for the 1998 independently produced Irish movie How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate. The movie is free to watch on YouTube and my thoughts are posted after the cut.
Despite the black and white style, this movie was released in 1998, just a year after I graduated high school.
Prior to watching this movie, I’d never heard of a Leaving Certificate. I asked an Irish friend about the certificate, and he informed me that it’s one of the most important standardized tests an Irish student takes. It’s a big deal: without an adequate score, it’s not possible to get into their university system.
When I was a senior in high school I never knew this kind of standardized testing pressure. The dot com boom was in full swing, I even had friends who were dropping out for six figure salaried tech jobs. I lived next to one of the highest rated community colleges in the country, technical schools were recruiting, and the options seemed limitless. Even the American SAT, probably the closest test comparable to the Leaving Certificate, seemed a brief formality. I was guaranteed admission somewhere and the ability to pay through student loans.
My friend told me the Irish system has a very positive side in that college is largely free and students aren’t left with crippling loan debt to universities like so many are here in the United States. I was told there are private paid study services to help improve Leaving Certificate scores, but that’s true here too for tests like the SAT/GRE. Once an Irish student gets into their university system, they have a pretty good ride financially.
This movie is worth watching for the look into the social aspect of Irish test culture, and because I’m told the pressure for Irish students to perform on this standardized test is still true today.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but found parts of it hard to watch because I kept thinking about what my life would have been like in the Irish system and if I’d have been better off, or worse.
Here’s a video of some Irish students opening their Leaving Certificate results: