Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Sports Hall. (GCSEs are here again…)

Doesn’t time fly? I can hardly believe that once more a querulous cohort of GCSE students are being ushered begrudgingly into sports halls up and down the country with the weight and expectations of their parents resting heavy upon their slender adolescent shoulders.

I remember only vaguely at this vantage point my own GCSE experiences, perhaps it was the heady self assurance of youth, or the lack of expectation from my parents but I don’t remember it being a particularly big deal – but perhaps that is only with the benefit of hindsight. What I do know now is that in the interceding years there has fomented an atmosphere of rank terror and ever mounting pressure. Yes it is true, the students of today stand poised to enter and inherit a very different world and job market than the carefree days of yesteryear but even still the lunacy that accompanies the rhetoric around the importance of exams does perhaps pinpoint quite why we’ve seen the largest surge in diagnoses of anxiety, stress and depression amongst our youth ever.

So this is my antidote to that. All of this, all of the pressure, the expectation, the terror, is white noise, a buzzing fly for the thousands of you for whom these exams represent either the crowning glory of your academic life or a nasty gut punch after toiling for the last two years for what will feel like no good reason.

End of the world0002
It may feel like the fate of the universe depends on your GCSE performance, but it really doesn’t. It’s all going to be okay.

It’s important to remember that no matter what happens with your GCSEs, it remains a stepping stone and nothing more. A sort of gateway exam as it were. Obviously some of the recent and ongoing changes from alphabetical to numerical have thrown up confused and mixed messages and for many who are possibly university bound, the boundaries that were once so simple differ magnificently from one university to another. Hopefully though this will force schools to look at university entry and offer advice earlier than usual. With certain institutions and courses stipulating what now constitutes a grade C when in old money it was pretty obvious, it may be you’ll need to revise your plans and either do a resit or re-examine where you want to study post A levels. The same is true for certain HNDs, BTECs, Internships etc. who may have minimum requirements in English and Maths but what that shakes out in new money is somewhat subjective.

Your results when they filter through, squatting at the end of the summer holidays like a spectre at a banquet will necessarily impact the choices you make next, but, and it’s an important but – good or bad, nothing is permanent. As much as it feels like the most important thing in the world right now, as long as you’ve done well enough to keep your options open you’ll be just fine. My business partner is one of the smartest people I know, BA from Durham, MA from Warwick, PhD from Columbia, he had lousy GCSE results comparative to his ability and pretty unremarkable A levels if we’re getting into finger pointing. Equally, people I went to school with who performed astonishingly at GCSE level were middle of the pack come A level. As worried as you might be you are only ever really judged on your highest level of accomplishment, so as long as you do well enough to not close down avenues, things will work out just fine if you apply yourself and move forward in a positive fashion.

So no matter whether you’re the big winner or the wooden spooner come results day, try to hold on to the fact that it is, comprehensively, not the end of the road, just a bump in it. You can do resits alongside A levels or BTECs etc, you may need to slightly adjust certain plans to accommodate your new circumstances but you should never submit to feeling like a failure, nor should you be too smug. It all shakes out in the wash and if you know where you want to be, I guarantee if you apply yourself then your GCSEs are just business as usual.

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