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I won’t be letting my A-level results define me

14 Aug 2019

Illustration by Serina Kitazono

The moment my last A-level exam ended, on June 13, I naively expected the clouds to clear and the sun to shine in celebration of my newfound liberation. However, it was the opposite – the exam questions were surprisingly difficult, the rain poured heavily and the sky was grey and bleak, in typical London style. Maybe my use of pathetic fallacy came from the intense English lit cramming I’d been doing, or maybe from the hopes I’d had that as soon as exams ended my mood would shift dramatically.

I thought that this summer would be the time of my life, and a well earned break – but it wasn’t always necessarily that way. When I was in the midst of exam season the thing I most desired was for the stress to end. I assumed that the moment A-levels ended, I’d forget all about them and revel in the multiple weeks I had of unfettered freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely had an amazing summer so far. I got to hang out with lots of my friends (which was weird since we seemed to have forgotten how to converse without our studies somehow being part of the conversation), went to Janelle Monáe’s phenomenal concert, visited museums, cycled around Hyde Park and binge-watched shows on Netflix guilt-free, among other things. 

“It’s been difficult to go from knowing what my near-future looks like, to accepting being in limbo”

Yet despite all the enjoyment I’ve had this summer, I’ve constantly been reminded by friends and family members that results day is approaching, and that the plans for the rest of my 2019 are dependent on the grades I get on 15 August. It’s been difficult to go from knowing what my near-future looks like academically, to accepting being in an uncertain limbo regarding where I’ll be studying in a few months. Will I be at my firm uni? Will I be at my insurance uni? Will I go through clearing? Will I reapply? These are questions I think about on a daily basis. 

In the moments where I wasn’t distracted by something this summer, anxiety and paranoia would kick in. I started to overthink my performance in every exam, getting more and more self-critical as the days went on. There was a period in July where I felt so upset because I felt as though I couldn’t escape the cycle of good distractions followed by spiralling into stressing about results day, and it was hindering me from experiencing the joys of summer in its entirety.

The thing that helped most throughout this turmoil was speaking to my friends, who were all experiencing similar feelings. During these conversations, where we discussed our anxieties and hopes for the future, I gradually became comfortable with being uncomfortable. As the days went by, I started to appreciate being in the moment and enjoying the summer more, rather than fretting over grades that are beyond my control. I’ve realised that regardless of the grades I get tomorrow, life goes on, and I should be grateful to be alive and breathing instead of worrying and hyper-fixating on grades. They are not the only measure of my self-worth.

“Regardless of the grades I get tomorrow, life goes on”

Of course, a degree of worry is natural and to be expected – exam season was a hard time and I put in a lot of work to try and secure those university offers. Yet now the day is so close, I’ve finally escaped the tunnel-vision mentality that was restricting me from fully enjoying my summer. My greatest achievement of this holiday was developing patience, and learning to define my time and hobbies outside of the structured framework of the education system. I’ve used the time to read books from authors such as Frantz Fanon and Fernando Pessoa, to watch films and to just relax. I used to be so worried about what could happen and what people would think of me if I didn’t secure my first choice, but being in limbo for so long has given me time to get more used to the idea. 

I’m hoping for the best, and preparing for the worst. Not all of my friends have the same outlook, and I also have moments where I fall back into the pessimism that held me back before. But it’s got better as I’ve realised these feelings are all natural and valid. Although it’s the day before results day, and the sky is grey and bleak again like it was after my last exam, this time I’m not going to interpret it as a sign of disaster.