Dear A-Level Exam Students

Posted 19/08/2020

Dear A-Level Exam Students,

I’m so sorry to those of you who unfairly had your marks downgraded.

I’m so sorry to those of you who might not get to go to your first choice of university as a result of this.

And I’m so sorry to those of you who might now not be going to university at all this year.

Seeing your stories in the news has prompted me to consider how I might have felt, had I been receiving my own results in the current chaos.

I received my results just as my eating disorder was really taking a hold on my life. Though not the root cause (let’s remember that we’re dealing with deep-seated and highly complex psychological illnesses), the stress of exams and results certainly did exacerbate my disorder.   

At the time, I saw going to university as a precious fresh start. Somewhat naively, my family and I hoped that in leaving my school behind, I’d been on firmer ground for ‘outgrowing’ my unhealthy relationship with my body (obviously eating disorders don’t work this way, and aren’t things which are simply ‘left behind’, but at this point, any formal diagnosis of my illness, and consequent help, was still pending).

Had that opportunity of a fresh start been snatched from me, and in a manner so absurdly out of my own control, I would have been utterly devastated and left in an ever more vulnerable place with my eating disorder.

There are I imagine, thousands of young people up and down the country currently in this position. Above all, I’ve been thinking about you this week. I expect words of comfort are landing a little short at the moment, so all I want to do, is to remind you of two things.

Thing number one. You do not have to wait for circumstances to change to seek help. Whilst a change or environment definitely helped me, it wasn’t the reason I was able to begin my journey to recovery; it was because I decided to ask for help. And it doesn’t matter where you are in your life or education, whether you’re in your childhood bedroom or your university accommodation, you can always ask for help. And you don’t have to do this alone if you don’t want to. Beat will be there for you to offer advice and support to you and your loved ones, for how you can ask for support.

Thing number two. A few years ago, I wrote another blog piece about how exam results don’t define you. This could certainly never be more true than it is today. Exam results certainly don’t define you. And exam results that were downgraded according to a dubious algorithm definitely don’t.

I also wrote that rather looking to harsh metrics like numbers on a scale, minutes spent on the treadmill or UMS marks accumulated, you should define yourself through your music, your hair colour, your friendships and your relationships. I’m not sure I was exactly right in this. I wrote it with the sort of self-assured gusto only twenty-two year olds are capable of. Now, with all the wisdom a twenty-five year old can muster, I’d suggest that rather than looking to define yourself at all, you set out to discover yourself. I don’t think life is about being whittled down into a clearly defined perfect shape of a person, instead, I think one of greatest things is that we get to try things, grow and change. So I’d suggest you look forward to doing just that.

I know for some of you the next chapter of your lives isn’t the one you imagined, but please remember that, it doesn’t matter wherever you are when you ask for help, there are channels to support you

Contributed by Summer