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The final furlong – A level and GCSE results

It is the Easter vacation and the air is palpable with fear and panic, homes weigh heavy with anxiety all because of GCSE and A level exams.

Parental dread mixed with fear and sheer panic sits in the pit of your stomach,  I know how you feel so I can readily share from experience.

I did not appreciate just how much my then seventeen about to be an eighteen-year-old son who was studying for A level exams, could have such an effect on me, it was one of the most stressful times of my life.

We have a vested interest in wanting to make sure our little darlings are successful.

I sure did and I know that there will be many parents who are fretting over their son or daughter wondering if they are doing enough studying and revision and, how they can help them.

I can remember the fear of the what if, the what ifs lined the walls of my house like soldiers.

I would lay in bed wondering what we would do if he failed, or if he didn’t meet the grades. We had a plan of action at the time for the worst case scenario but it didn’t make me feel any better.

The mere mention of A level results, GCSE grades, makes me break out in a sweat.

Having gone through the aforementioned with my eldest I face the GCSE slog again in 2020 still fresh in my mind’s eye.

When my eldest delivered the grades he needed to get into his first choice University I was relieved in fact I remember my legs collapsing from under me I ran up and down the stairs like some crazy mad woman as the weight of the worry lifted from my shoulders.

It was a release, the worry, the studying, the exams, the holidays, the waiting and finally the results it was too much I’d rather endure the two caesarian sections I had when I had my children then brave that worry all over again.

I was in a permanent state of stress starting in September 2016 through to the results day. It was the start of the end, his final year of school so there were feelings of love and loss rolled into one.

Remembering his first day at school to his final day of school, with exams over and the end of year prize giving assembly. Sadness and elation all in one.

You live and breathe what your child is going through during study and exam time, find me a parent that doesn’t and I’ll call them a liar.

We are desperate for them to get the results they need because this gives them choice, the choice to decide their destiny rather than be forced down an unplanned route.

After the final exam my son said, ‘Mum, I’ve given it my best I’ve given it everything. I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say I couldn’t do anything more’.

That was our mantra during the revision and exam period and that was all I could ever ask that he did the very best he could do.

When he got the grades my husband looked me in the eye and said I told you not to worry, I knew he’d get in. Wise words after the event.

I had that worry that sneaky trickle of fear that would wake me up at night.

What would we do if he missed a grade? Retrospectively, it would have been his second University choice which we liked and offered a good fit but still a second choice and a compromise.

There was the fear of him failing one of the subjects or missing all the grades altogether or the prospect of going into clearing and waiting for a University we had not visited, there were so many variables spinning around, a game of chance like roulette.

None of the above came to pass but it wasn’t without a few sleepless nights as I lay there conscious that his future lay in the balance all subject to attaining the right grades to meet the University entrance requirements.

Too much pressure on students who are still only seventeen or eighteen.

How one deviation, one different outcome can affect a student’s road map.

There is too much emphasis on exams and some students are not equipped to manage that level of pressure, they will have enough to deal with in life as it is.

I thought I would share with you my top tips to help lighten the load, strap yourself in and take a deep breath because you are in this for the duration.

They are the ones that sit the exams not you and no matter how well you did at school or how well you revised and even if you think you know better, your kid has to find their way and no amount of cajoling, bribery, corruption or niceness will change that.

It is perfectly natural to feel nervous and stressed for your child the irony is your child is less likely to feel the same way because they are in control of their studies.

No doubt they will have moments of panic and anxiety but it is our job to share and carry that worry with them and to make sure they have all they need while they study.

Lock down the hatches because you are not going anywhere until the last exam is over and here’s why:

  1. You will if you haven’t already imagined every worst-case scenario, as discussed above. What if they don’t get the grades they need for their first choice, what if they get two great grades and miss another, what if they fail one, what if they fail altogether, what if the sun never shines or England lose AGAIN. There are a lot of what if’s. And I pretty much entertained everyone. The worst case rarely happens!
  2. Make sure you have a plan of action in the event of failure, what options are on the table, can a resit be done, consider an alternate University course as an option. One of my girlfriend’s daughters needed 3 A’s to get into Bristol and study law she got 2 A’s and a B. She got into Bristol to study an Art History course with a conversion to Law in her final year. Meantime she’s loving every minute of it and doesn’t regret the choice she made if anything her choice has broadened her outlook.
  3. I used the analogy of running a marathon and not a sprint when it came to my son’s studying which he understood because he is a sprinter. Now is the time to step it up a gear, revision should be more or less completed, and it is time to review and address any areas of weakness.
  4. Practice, practice, practice the biggest advantage any student has over the next one is to practice in timed conditions on old exam papers. Remove all devices and any distractions, set the exam time and work through practice papers. My son emailed his finished papers to his teachers for marking, he probably drove them mad with his persistence but he got A’s so what’s to question.
  5. Sleep, eat, play and repeat. Every student works differently but I am a big believer that getting up early gets the work done. I taught my son to block out chunks of time in his Google calendar starting with getting up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, play (watching TV or PlayStation) and bedtime. Make time for contingencies like research or phoning or emailing to get help. Use an alarm, this makes you razor-sharp focus to get stuff done. An example of this might be to block out time in the morning to study history and chemistry and in the afternoon sit an exam paper in exam conditions, do a complete paper or elements of one where practice is needed.
  6. Exercise. Not always easy especially if exercise isn’t already part of their life. Make them take the dog out for a walk, go to the shops if they are nearby, encourage them to come with you. If they play a sport, get them out just make sure they block it out in their diary on the days they train. Even if they kick around in the garden for half an hour they are away from the study area and getting some fresh air.
  7. Boyfriends/Girlfriends – Friday night, Saturday night only. Call me old fashioned but girlfriends and boyfriends are a pain in the arse worse still what happens if they split over this most important period. If they are in a relationship and it seems serious then lay the ground rules make it clear that these exams are the most important part of their lives right now and that this exam period whilst it might feel like it is lasting forever, is in fact short in the overall scheme of things. They can see each other after the final exam. Life will still go on with or without each other.
  8. Remember to take care of YOU too. You may well be bearing the brunt of their rudeness, insolence and general moodiness. Cut them some slack and don’t take it personally if you make some suggestions and they tell you to f**k off. It is their way of handling the pressure and anxiety.
  9. During exam time drive them into school and pick them up when the exam is over. Even if they can drive, they have the added stress of thinking about the exam and not concentrating whilst driving and having to find somewhere to park. You want them to arrive feeling calm and relaxed and with plenty of time to spare. Make sure you have a backup plan in the event your car breaks down, do you have a taxi firm you can rely on, phone them up and find out how fast they can respond if you need a taxi in ten minutes, or ask a friend to be on stand by just in case.
  10. Never give up. Not hitting the grades or just missing out doesn’t have to mean its game over, with many Universities accepting slightly lower grades. Work with the school and be prepared to call the University of their first choice, do whatever it takes.
  11. Finally, be there for them through thick and thin, good or bad. Encourage and reassure them, because whatever happens success or failure it never is the end of the world.

“I failed my exam in some subjects but my friend passed. Now he’s an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner” ~ Bill Gates

Good Luck to you all and remember the most committed, win.

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