wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

I predict a riot. . . or exam freak outs

When marking a batch of mock exam papers, a teacher friend of mine found a note written by one of her students,

“I haven’t got a clue how I will cope with this in the exam hall. No matter how desperately I try to deal with this I can’t.”

According to recent reports, ChildLine has received 34,000 calls between 2014/2015 – from teenagers struggling to cope with exam related stress. This is an increase of 200% year on year!

It made me think about the pressures placed on young adults these days, particularly from generations who in contrast dealt with nothing of the sort. My parents grew up in an environment that expected them to go to school for ten years, after which they either got a job or went to university. As the whole, the process was simple. In comparison, noughties teenagers are assessed from the age of twelve up until the age of twenty one. Studying for SATs, mock exams and placed in sets according to their results. Every exam is “highly important for their future” – as if puberty and trying to ‘fit in’ weren’t big enough problems!

One aspect of the system that I really take issue with is ‘predicted grades’ – the logic is easy to understand, schools need to plan ahead. But I also worry about the potential damage.
For example, below are my predicted grades based on mock results. I’ve compared them with my actual grades.

English Literature – Predicted: B  Actual: A
English Language – Predicted: C  Actual: A
Maths  – Predicted: E Actual: C
Science –  Predicted D Actual: C
History –  Predicted: C Actual: A
Media – Predicted: C  Actual: A

As you can see, my teachers didn’t expect very much from me! So I suppose you could argue that this ‘spurred me on to prove them wrong.’ But the truth is that wasn’t the case. I didn’t have a problem with hard work or intelligence, it was stress.
Whenever I entered the exam hall my mind would go completely blank and I’d panic. All I could think about was how important the exam was and how vital it was that I did well. Ah yes, I can picture it now.. The defining silence, the uncomfortably small desks and the smell of sweat and fear!

I can still remember how I felt when I saw my ‘predicted grades’ for the first time. I cried hysterically and worried that my chances for a successful future had been sabotaged, (yes I was dramatic back then too)! I lied to colleges and explained that I was ‘ill’ during the mock exam period, terrified that I would be refused a place.

I think that many teenagers suffer from this practice. How can they be expected to believe in their own abilities, when judged so harshly? My cynical side questions a school’s motives. Do they want to push the child, or merely protect the school? League tables, ofsted reports.. the more I read, the less I want to know.

Mix these expectations with a nice healthy dose of parental pressure, and we have a recipe for disaster.

The ChildLine reports prove that teenagers need more help to deal with the stresses of the exam period. It should become a priority going forward.
The boy who wrote the note to my friend is very lucky. He found a teacher who not only listens, but cares about the emotional wellbeing of her students. I can only hope that many other teachers feel similarly.

If I could go back my fourteen year old self, I’d give her some advice to help reduce the exam anxiety within! 

  • GCSEs – don’t worry too much, they don’t count for a great deal in the adult world. Just aim for Cs, this will get you into college.
  • A-levels – these will get you into university, THAT’S IT. So again, just aim for what you need.
  • Bachelor’s Degree – This is when it gets more serious – you’re actually paying for your own education now, so don’t f**k about.
  • Master’s Degree – seriously don’t f**k about, this is well expensive!

But what do I know. . .

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Categories: Advice for care givers

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5 replies

  1. Another great article

    I loved the pressure of exams or at least thought so at the time. Realised since that the almost continual revision I did (eg a level revising started on Boxing Day for June exams) might have been extreme.

    Still struggle with work life balance now where I’m only content if I’m working hard as then at least if I fail (ie miss targets) then it won’t be because I’m not working hard.

    Keep on writing these as they help me put into words things I can’t describe myself. You’re descriptions are so on the mark

  2. I’m old enough to have taken O levels (although the last year before GCSE’s came in!) I was the first year to whom student loans were available, although there was no £9000 fees nonsense, just for a first degree. And I STILL have exam nightmares when I have prolonged periods of stress. And it’s 20 years since I graduated and I paid my debts off ages ago. If I was 18 now, I would be seriously reconsidering my choices.

  3. Great post! I can definitely relate, I too was predicted much lower grades than I actually received! There’s so much pressure on kids today.


  4. Great post! I can totally relate to this! I got soooo stressed at uni exams that I had to skip and re sit exams! Horrible time! Even now I feel down around exam time when I see students stressing! I also get extremely anxious around things associating me to my exam period. For some reason I have associated a hand wash smell with exam time and if I happen to smell that somewhere I get the worst nausea ever 😔😔😔😔! There’s indeed too much pressure on young adults!

  5. I remember stressing unhealthily over my O levels and then being completely unable to do it all again for A levels and dropping out of school. I do not envy today’s young people one little bit – I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts about Year 6 SATS stress recently… what are we doing to our children!!

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