Dear parents of A level (or prospective A level) students,
I want to speak to you about something on behalf of many children who got their A level results today, or will do in future years.
There has been a wide coverage on the media today along with analysis of the pass rates, percentage of A* etc… The stories and videos that seem to come first in the media are students who get high grades or the grades that allow them to go to their first choice universities. If you are a parent of these lucky or hardworking students, congratulations; you have a bright child and I’m happy for your child who is able to do that, and I hope with my heart that they enjoy going to the university of their choice or do whatever they have decided to do. And then there are the stories of students who didn’t do as well as they wanted to. They come up a little later in the news along with those “experts” who kindly attempt to explain that “it’s not the end of the world” and there is a clearing system and there are other options.
I personally feel that the way this results day is covered in the news is slightly inaccurate. As this BBC site says, every year, there are the similar photos and videos of envelopes being opened and excited students gushing about how pleased they are, or those students who narrowly missed out but managed to secure a place. Of course, there is a limit as to what the media can cover in a small time frame; but in my opinion, it gives a false image of the whole process.
What about the realities that they completely ignore? What about the emotions that we feel that gets dismissed?
I don’t think there is enough credit given to what students actually go through by the media and by many parents. There are some people who breeze through the whole thing – but that’s extremely rare. Most of us are stressed, scared, under pressure. We might not always show it – I try to remain cool and collected because I’m shy and I don’t want to be freaking out in front of my parents. But what about the hours that we spend before an exam, before each exam (for there are many), afraid of the questions in the paper and wondering whether we have done enough revision despite the file of notes or revision guides we clutch in our hands? What about that time after we’ve finished all our exams and we’re doing something nice, but suddenly we think about that results day and we start to worry? What about that night before the results day when our heart rates goes up in fear of those few letters that might just have a little bit of an effect on the rest of our lives? What about the whole clearing process some of us have to endure, hoping desperately that there is a place for us in the world?
I like to think I don’t get stressed during exam periods and that I don’t over react with getting results back. But at the end of that last exam, I genuinely do feel a weight off my chest – a feeling of liberation and relief, and I realise that I have, in fact, been stressed. Exam periods are a time in which children, whether consciously or unconsciously, feel stress and pressure to do well.
Where does all that stress come from? I won’t deny that there are children out there who are drama queens, but most of the time, the exam stress comes from you. You and the societal expectations to do well.
We all want our children to be perfect. Or happy. Why wouldn’t we? Either way, we feel your wish for us to do well. Sometimes, that is motivating. Other times, it is just pressure. We know you’d rather us do well than not well. We know. We’d rather do better too. Of course we’d want to do better that that cousin who got 5 A*s and went to a prestigious university. If we had the choice, we’d all want to be the one with the best grades; we don’t need you to tell us that. There are some of us who are so scared of getting results back because we might not get “good” grades, and we are secretly afraid to tell you that we did poorly in fear of your reaction. We don’t need you to tell us that perhaps we didn’t revise enough. We know exactly how much or little we’ve revised and we will be feeling satisfied or bad about it accordingly.
We get your concern that if we do really badly, we might not be able to go to a good uni and get good qualifications and get a good job and etc etc. We live in an era when we are constantly reminded of future career paths and how not doing a particular subject can have a lasting effect and so on. But if you’re worried that your child will be jobless or poor because of the grades that they got, that does not mean that there is something wrong with your children or that they didn’t try hard enough. It means there is something wrong with society. Not us.
Please, I beg you, give us a break. When we’re revising really hard for the exams, tell us that there’s no need. Comfort us with the truth that if we don’t get into our first choice universities, it is not a fail; just that the uni wasn’t a good match for us because it didn’t suit our capabilities and what we can offer – just like breaking up with someone because you don’t feel suited for each other and there are other people and places where you will be much happier than investing and trying too hard to be with that one person. Tell us that even with 5 Es, there are things you can do in life because we have other talents that cannot be measured with a stupid test or two. Say to us that there is nothing wrong with taking a year off and trying again if we want to. Take the time to tell us that you appreciate all we are going through. If we behave like “it’s the end of the world”, don’t deny our emotions – give us time to come to terms with it all instead of telling us immediately that it’s not. It’s really hard for us not to panic about it, because it could well be one of the life changing and “important-real-world” things we’ve done in our lives. After all, we’re only 17 or 18.
If you think that I am scapegoating the problems of “bad grades” just so that I feel better, maybe that is what I am doing – maybe it’s not. But I do feel better and I won’t stop until you stop pressuring us for the wrong reasons. And don’t tell me to confront reality until you confront your own problems, instead of blaming society or using other means to escape from them.