OPINION: Don't get stressed if exam results aren't as expected

Two Male Students Searching For Their Exam Results on a Notice Board

The NSPCC urge students not to panic if results aren't what they'd hoped for and to think through the alternative options - Credit: Getty Images

As students get ready to receive their A-level and GCSE results, Emma Motherwell from the NSPCC says there really is no reason to panic, whatever the grades

“My mental health plummeted since A-levels started last year.

"I really struggled through the lockdowns and I’ve been really struggling with school.

"I am in my last year of sixth form and am not motivated. I can’t even get myself to revise for exams without crying. I just feel so lost right now,

"I wish there was something that could be done to make this easier for me. I feel bad saying that I want them to mark my coursework less strictly or something along those lines but I wish that they’d consider how unwell I’ve been mentally and how that has affected my performance.”


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These are the words of a 17-year-old girl who recently contacted Childline and at the NSPCC we know that this echoes the thoughts of many young people who have spoken to our counsellors over the last few months.

The summer holiday is about relaxing and taking a step away from studying for a bit, but the pressure of exam results and what they can mean for a young person’s future can not only be daunting, it can also provoke feelings of anxiety and depression that can impact their mental health.

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From April to June this year our Childline counsellors delivered 1,812 counselling sessions to young people who spoke about concerns relating to exams and exams being cancelled. This figure has more than doubled compared to the same period last year where 861 counselling sessions were delivered.

Almost half of the young people who called Childline this year spoke about their mental and emotional health or self-harm and over half of all sessions were delivered to girls.

It is understandably disappointing when young people don’t receive the grades they wanted, but this doesn’t necessarily impact their future as there are always other opportunities.

In the first instance, a young person should ask a teacher, careers advisor or any adult they trust about what they think their next options are. This is not only an opportunity to discuss options but also how they’re feeling.

It’s also important they remind themselves of how well they did on a specific piece of coursework, or other parts of their life. It has been hard for all of us since the start of this pandemic, but children and young people have suffered considerably, especially from the closure of schools and being forced to alter their classroom environment for a virtual alternative.

Sometimes grades don’t reflect a young person’s ability and occasionally it might be worth speaking to the school about an appeal. Things may have been different if they were able to sit an exam. It also might be worth looking at training programmes and apprenticeships available locally.

If a chosen university hasn’t offered a place, there’s also the possibility of applying to other universities through the clearing process, or it might be worth considering taking a gap year and focusing on something different like volunteering or a different course.

Some parents may find that their young person struggles to talk to them about their results, and it’s important to be patient and supportive until they’re ready to discuss how they feel.

Parents should also encourage their child to take time to think about what they want to do next, this isn’t a race and there’s no need to rush decisions. It might help to sit down with them and write out a pros and cons lists for each of the child’s options too.

When a child or young person struggles to open up and discuss their feelings, this can be hard, but they should know that Childline counsellors are here.

Young people can call on 0800 1111 or go to the website www.childline.org.uk, there they can access our message boards and talk to like-minded young people about how they’re feeling or head over to the Calm Zone to help sooth their worries.

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