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  • Writer's pictureRosie

You are more than a grade... but is this grade even mine?

This year has been incredibly difficult for A-level students. With students unable to sit exams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has led to uncertainty about how grades will be scored. Every year I get reminded of those feelings, the uncertainty of what these grades mean. In that instance it can feel like your life is changed. I hate to be one of those "old people" who say "you know these grades don't matter", but I am one of those old people now!

How do we get to that point? Having a perfect plan, the exact perfect results, the plan working out can be great. It also can then present with its own anxieties. As I've spoken about before, perfection is a really hard thing to maintain. It puts a lot of pressure on you and also creates an anxiety of "how will I cope if it doesn't go as planned". Having some things not go to plan allows for moments of disappointment, then you find a different path. Down the line you look back and go "oh yeah I survived that thing".

Originally it was decided that grades would be scored based on teachers opinions. These predicted grades were then sent to the exam boards who took this information alongside data from previous years to then make adjustments to the predictions. I sort of understand this but I also feel previous years shouldn't predict current, everyone is unique. At one point grades were dependent on postcode (in Scotland- sky news) but after student outcry the original teacher grades have been reinstated (see link at end of post).

It was then decided that mock results would be used to set grades, some students raised that this wasn't representative of how they may have performed in the summer. Mocks are taken in January, there is a lot of learning and revision that happens after that in time for the "real" test. Also mocks help you to practice how to approach a test, so by the summer exams in theory you will have got better at answering exam questions.

At first I thought about the anxiety that students must be feeling. Results day is already anxiety provoking as it is, then with the uncertainty and changing of how grades will be calculated.... Then I started to think about what it would feel like to be given a result based on opinion, how does this affect your view of yourself? How would it feel if your teachers thought you were better or worse than you think you are? How is this going to affect young peoples self identity and worth? Around results day we tend to tell people "you are not defined by your grade", I believe this is still true but does this grade have a different impact when it is someone's opinion of our performance rather than our actual performance?

Learning to tolerate anxiety

The exam situation creates a space in which you can feel anxiety and stress but come out of the other side surviving. It's one of the first situations in which you get to tolerate anxiety. The accumulation of events in which you have felt anxiety but survived make you stronger, normalises anxiety and helps you to navigate anxiety in the future. Without this experience, I wonder how much it will affect future generations tolerance of anxiety?

The future

Future employers will be taken on a generation of people who haven't officially been tested as it were. Some jobs have minimum grade requirement; the employers will be trusting and holding faith that they are employing people able to manage the demands of the job. I'm not saying grades are everything, and actually I like to think a lot of people learn better in a practical way on the job. I wonder if there will be some people who got lower grades than they hoped (especially if on mock alone) who then miss out on job opportunities? Or those who got given higher than they think they should have got; will there be some sort of imposter syndrome? Like "Should I be here?"....

I don't know what the effect will be but I feel we should be aware of the potential for an emotional impact and influence on an individual's self worth.


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