Students around the country have this week received life changing news. A-Level results have become one of the most important moments in a teenager's life, but does the burden piled on by these exams live up to the hype? And do the effects of that pressure on the individual last way after the results have been forgotten?
I still remember results day well; sweating, shouting, crying, people phoning numerous universities to see if they would be accepted into their first choice. As the daughter of an English teacher I am forced to relive this every year, often hearing about those who, despite working hard, have not managed to secure grades to continue on their chosen path.
However, for many the actual results are quickly forgotten and it is only the memory of that intense stress leading up to them that remains. It is almost an initiation into the working world of pressure. Is it right that this is done to teenagers, those taking GCSEs and A-Levels, breeding into them this all or nothing attitude towards exams? A friend recently told me he'd had a nightmare that he was going to fail his maths A-Level, despite having already passed it, left school five years ago and gained a music degree since, he is still haunted by A-Level results day. It is the anxiety of these results days that lasts, the idea that achieving these grades will help us in any way is left behind.
Education minister Michael Gove's plans to make A-Levels rely on the one summer exam means that the pressures on eighteen year olds will only become greater. Teaching young people to focus on this one moment in their lives, will only have the effect of further depressing a whole generation of teens. In terms of school life for those getting results this summer it has all been leading up to this moment, however as soon as they get to university or embark on careers, these results will no longer matter.
Many young people these days have to remain in their parents' houses and be supported by them well into their twenties and thirties, but pressures from exams are piling on earlier. The other day I heard a 15-year-old talk of his devastation because of the results of his mock, mock GCSEs. Yes that's right, not his GCSEs, not even the practice for them, the bit before that. OK I suppose this may have been a particularly highly strung boy, but it also shows the intensity of anxiety for modern teens. This creates a rather confusing paradox; on the one hand they are asked to be independent in achieving the best results possible. On the other, especially a few years down the line, they are not being supported to begin their own lives.
It is practically impossible to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life at the age of eighteen, so how does it help to focus all attention on results in subjects they may never need again? It also instils an element of competition in people, that whilst inevitable could see them continuing to compare themselves to their peers instead of choosing an individual path in career choices. We cannot all follow the same route, especially in times when it is so hard to find University places/jobs. This is what we should be teaching teenagers, not if you get an A* everything will be fine.
This is not to say that A-Levels aren't important as they do help teenagers work hard and have goals, but it leads them to believe that it is all that matters and piles on the idea that if they do not achieve one exam result they are a failure. A-Level results simply are not the be all and end all of future employment, from my peer group I have seen those who did not even take A-Level courses go on to achieve extremely well paid and demanding careers and those who achieved As not manage to get onto the first rung of a ladder.
This is not to say that teenagers should not be happy about what they have achieved in exams. Rather that teachers, parents and society should realise how much pressure there is surrounding A-Level grades and question what the individual gains from them.