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Exam Results Day – Stresses, Surprises and Uncertainty

In the UK this year A-level and AS level results day is Thursday, August 13th and GCSE results are released on Thursday, August 20th.

But 2020 has been no ordinary year and these results will not be calculated nor delivered in an ordinary way.

Previous generations of students will remember the nerves and excitement of sitting exams, in big school halls with all their friends. They will remember the excited buzz of finishing an exam, meeting friends and family afterwards to celebrate and discuss how well they thought they had done. They might remember the encouraging conversations with teachers, and the emotional support they received from school staff. Then exam results day – usually a hot August day, gathering with friends in the sunshine anxiously opening results envelopes together, sharing the joys and disappointments, and celebrating successes and consoling losses.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has had an enormous and hugely detrimental impact on education overall. Most students have missed many months of face-to-face schooling and the GSCE, A level and AS exams were not able to take place. Results are to be calculated on predicted grades and in some cases for A-levels in England, a “triple lock” system is in place whereby the highest grade from an autumn written exam, a mock exam, and an estimated grade can be awarded, dependent on a successful appeal through the school.

This has led to many students feeling lost, confused, and cheated out of an experience which has traditionally been seen as a rite of passage for any teenager.

If you are one of the students from this cohort of leavers, you might be experiencing a huge range of emotions during this period. All these feelings and responses are valid and normal.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these students and their experience? If so, in what ways? What other feelings might be coming up for you?

Megan didn't do very well in her mock exams, but this prompted her to work harder and focus on getting good grades in her final exams. Megan was really disappointed not to sit her final exams. She feels cheated and that it is pointless putting effort into anything ever again. On results evening she has an argument with her parents.

Jesse feels relieved not to have had any exams this year. However, they feel guilty that they are passing through the system without any real challenge. Their sister is teasing them, saying that they haven’t got any “real grades” and “had it easy”. They spend results evening secretly binge eating.

Bidisha has been a model student through all of her school life. She was looking forward to proving herself in her final A-level exams and hoped to get a place in a top University. She feels angry, frustrated, and has a real sense of loss and grief. She spends results evening crying alone in her bedroom.

Felix did not always do well in school and he is not bothered about missing his exams, nor about what grades he is awarded. However, he is sad that he never got to say goodbye to his friends and the learning support assistant who emotionally supported him through school. He spends results evening drinking in the park with two mates.

Zion has always tried his best at school and his family are proud of him. Whenever someone in his family has received their exam results, they have had an extended family gathering and a traditional gift is passed on to him. This year, Zion will not be able to socialise at his relative’s house. He feels sad, left out and disappointed that he will not be able to carry on the family’s tradition. He spends results evening having a quiet and ordinary dinner at home with his mum and dad.

Lois worked hard for her mock exams and her coursework. She is pleased with the grades she was awarded based upon her predicted grades. She thinks that the system is fair. She is unable to have the big party she had planned but instead she celebrates with friends via a small and fun online House Party on results evening, and she is excited about a camping trip planned for the weekend.

Top Tips for Coping with Results Day

1. It is normal to feel anxious about receiving your results. Remember that you are not alone. Your friends are likely to be nervous too, even if they are hiding their feelings. Your older relatives will have been through similar nerves when they received their results. It is important not to bottle up your feelings - talk to a trusted friend, a relative, or a teacher about how you feel.

2. Think about your next steps. Your results are likely to lead to another experience in life, whether this is moving onto a job or further qualifications. However, you may not get the results you want or need to do this. Having a plan B will help you feel more in control. Remember that if Plan A doesn't work there are another 25 letters in the alphabet.

3. Don't feel pressured to share your results. With the excitement of the day there may be increased pressure from your friends to share your results. But your results are your own private information and you should only share them if you feel comfortable. It might help you to avoid social media for a few days to avoid some of that pressure.

4. Only ever judge your success by your own standards. Effort is far more admirable that attainment. Be proud of any improvements and if you know you have done your best, that is all that matters.

5. Avoid unhealthy habits. Drinking, smoking, drug-taking or punishing yourself through self-harming behaviours and poor diet won’t make a problem disappear. These are all temporary solutions to a longer-term problem. These unhealthy habits might even make things worse in long run. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling with any of these behaviours.

6. Be kind to yourself. Practice talking kindly to yourself and be your own best friend and motivator. Compliment yourself on any small achievements and focus on the things you have done well.

7. You might feel cheated out of an experience this year and that you haven’t had a chance to prove your worth in some way. Remember that there will be future opportunities. You might be able to take your exams at a later date. Or you can just use these grades as a springboard to other opportunities for success, such as moving on to further or higher education.

8. Remember exam grades do not define you and do not define your future, and this is just one small piece of the very large puzzle of your life.

9. Celebrate your achievements. And even if you do not quite get the grades you had hoped for celebrate anyway. Celebrate that you have done your best. Celebrate that you have finished school. Celebrate that you are wonderful in so many other ways which cannot be measured by grades. If celebrations cannot be as big as you might have hoped for due to social distancing, find small ways to mark your celebrations at home.

10. Finally remember that these grades do not define how successful you will be in the future. Some of the most successful people you know, or have seen in the media, failed at some point in their life. It was their mistakes, followed by determination, that made them grow. Take a look at this list of celebrities and how they grew from their failures to be some of the most successful people on the planet!