It’s exam season, which often translates to: hell on earth. My sister had her first ‘academic’ A-level today (she had her photography exams a couple of weeks ago) and so this is a blog post inspired by her but that I would like to share with everyone facing the pressure of exams over the coming weeks.
I took my A-levels five years ago. I took English Language, History, Politics and Photography and I did OK. I was supposed to get a lot of As, (AAAB I think?) but things did not go to plan and instead I got A*, B, C,C. (A* Photography, B English, C Politics, C History). Despite the fact that I had worked SO hard revising and thought I loved what I was doing, when it came to the exams I choked.
And although they weren’t ‘fails’, the results that I got meant that I did not get into university to study what I wanted to study which was, weirdly, politics. When I got the results I was in America on a family holiday and I felt two things:
1) Crushed. I had thought I would do so much better, my friends had all done well and this meant that everything that I had planned to do could now not happen. I was so disappointed with myself and felt that I had let everyone down.
2) Relief. This came a little bit later and I didn’t recognise it at first, too busy being mortified I suspect. But come it did, and after a while I embraced it. When I was told that I now couldn’t go to university the following year, I realised that I actually didn’t even want to go, and definitely not to go and study politics in Leeds. All of a sudden I was off the hook, the pressure wasn’t there, I was technically free to do what I wanted.
We debated with the idea of re-sitting my exams and I looked at colleges in London that would allow me to do that. After getting home though, and really thinking about it, I decided that I really didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead, but I knew I didn’t want to go through all of that again.
So I didn’t and instead I threw myself into work, I got a job at a charity in London and, after I had saved enough I went travelling for a bit with my friend Tom. When I got back I bounced around a bit before moving to Dublin to go and live with Alex (who had dropped out of uni after just a year to join a boyband), where I did every single shitty job that you can think of: waiting tables, delivering Thai takeaway food, pulling pints, working at the races. In truth, I didn’t love all of that, not least of all because I couldn’t keep a job for more than about two shifts. Eventually Alex and I decided to make the decision to move back to the UK where once again, we pulled pints. But then, after a bit, we both settled into ‘career’ jobs. Him, with the charity that I had worked at the year before and me on a marketing internship. After time I started my own social media business (2014 was a GOOD time to be doing that freelance) and Alex got a job in PR. Since then he has stayed with the same company, despite having no official qualifications he has moved up the ranks and I went on to start the blog and then a few months later, write the book and now here we are.
When I got the news that I hadn’t done as well in my exams as I had hoped I would it was an incredibly difficult thing to get my head around. I hadn’t really thought about what would happen if I just didn’t get the grades. I had had it drummed into me throughout my whole life that, after school, you do well in your exams and you go to university, that was the path that I thought I had to take. And when I was told that I literally couldn’t go on that path, it was scary. What was I going to do? I didn’t know, but I trusted the world, and it sorted me out.
Now I am not saying that you are going to fail your exams, of course you’re not, I suspect you will all do much better than I did (my sister definitely will), but I just wanted to tell you my story so that you realise that life will carry on after these exams, no matter what happens. If you pass, if you surpass your expectations, then that is great and I am so happy and proud of you. But if God forbid, you fail? The world won’t stop spinning, of that I assure you.
By this point you have done everything that you can. You might be sitting there, as I am sure I did thinking ‘Jesus Christ why did I not study more? Why did I miss so many classes or sleep for so much of my holiday?’ You might be regretting all sorts and pulling your hair out that you haven’t done enough, but I’m going to tell you now, that that is totally pointless. By the day before, or the morning of the exam that you are due to take, you realistically know as much as you are going to know. You can’t stop time or really do much about the situation, other than just to do the best that you can. I know that school have put a LOT of pressure on you, you might have a lot from your parents too, but you need to know that all anyone can ask of you at this point is that you do your best.
I thought, before I took my exams, that if I failed, that would be it for me. My parents would hate me, all my friends would ditch me and call me stupid and that no one would give me a job. I was SO wrong about that. Yes my parents were disappointed, but FOR me, not OF me. My friends? They were gutted on my behalf but didn’t patronise or leave me, instead I think most of them just gave me tequila. And the job thing? Granted, I haven’t tried to be a nurse or a lawyer but no one, and I mean no one, has ever asked me how I did at Alevel. And GCSE? I can’t even remember.
At this point, you can only do your best. No one wants any more from you than that. I am sure that they will go so so well and that you will be fabulous, but you need to know that whatever happens, you’re going to be alright. Enjoy this time if you can, I know that sounds mad, but THIS is what you have worked for your whole life. This is your chance to show off, to throw caution to the wind and to show the world what you are made of. You’ll be absolutely fabulous, breathe deeply, sleep, treat yourself and do your best.
Good luck! xxxxx