I’ve had one hell of a year! I’ve been through so many ups and downs that I wanted to take some time out to reflect on this and share my experience with you. And as Results Day fast approaches, I hope that my article helps this year’s A-Level students, who may not get the results they hoped for and who may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.
The massive turning point for me came on 15th August 2019 – AKA Results Day – the make or break day, where you find out whether you’ve secured a place at your dream university – or if you’ve failed. I, unfortunately, received the latter news.
I failed my Chemistry and Computing A-Levels, only succeeding in Biology (I received and A-grade in Biology, a C in Chemistry and an E in Computer Science). Finding out such soul-destroying news devastated me. But, seeing my parents’ shock, grief and disappointment was a feeling that was a thousand times worse. Knowing that I’d let down some of the most important people in my life made me feel even more inferior, if such a thing were possible.
It was also made worse by the fact that I’d ignored my parents’ advice and decided to study Computing, despite not having studied it at GCSE. And well, I proved myself wrong.
Weighing up my options
The only things I could do at this time were a) try not to cry, b) reflect on my results and c) decide whether I should resit or go to university through Clearing.
Option A was easier said than done. I think it took me about a week of crying before I began to feel normal again. As for option B, I had a few ideas as to why things went the way they did. My computing coursework was atrocious, my coding skills were poor (mainly due to my procrastination while studying), and my computing exams didn’t go much better.
As for option C, I did somehow manage to secure two offers from Cardiff University and the University of Leicester for biological sciences, but after checking out the course options and visiting the open days, I eventually made the decision to resit my exams.
Studying for my resits
In order to successfully resit my exams, I had to take choose a 3rd subject to study, allowing me to accumulate the necessary UCAS points I needed to make it to university. So, in early autumn I opted for Classical Civilisations.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t go out with my friends during this time, I wanted to stay home and really focus on my work. The plot twist – which my tutor somehow agreed to – was that I was going to cover two years’ worth of material in a matter of months, and sit the exams in the Summer of 2020. Throughout this time, I got some help and tuition in chemistry as well – and I found it relatively easy to cope. I knew what went wrong in my previous exams and what I needed to do to improve.
But, I was terrified about sitting my Classical Civilisation exams. It involved essay style questions and a very different mark scheme than I was used to. I had to be extremely responsive to feedback. One of the main issues that I grappled with was the lack of time with my tutor, I only saw him once a week. This was causing me to have greater anxiety about failing my exams for the second time, which made it harder for me to concentrate and study. I was, however, enjoying the content of the course and I was getting to grips with famous ancient writers like Homer, Seneca, Plato, Sappho and Virgil to name a few. I found learning about the lives of ancient Greeks and Romans really interesting!
A moment of escapism
Probably one of the only good things that had happened to me over the past year was a family trip to Marrakech, which we took in late January/early February 2020.
It was my first time visiting the African continent and we’d decided to use the trip as time to relax. It was a vast contrast to our usual fast-paced holidays. The warm sunshine and the chaos of the old town Medina, as well as the gardens and the food, were some of the best things about Marrakech. Seeing the Atlas mountains in the morning, and watching the city light up at night, while hearing the azan from the top of our guesthouse – was magical. It was a welcome reprieve to the stress that I was putting myself through to prepare for the exams.
When my family and I returned home we all decided to book a holiday to Spain in the summer after my exams. Little did we know of the craziness that was awaiting us. Obviously, during December, we were all watching the news about the coronavirus in China, and to be honest, I, like many others didn’t think too much about it until cases started emerging in Europe.
The impact of Covid-19
My fears became all so real when my mum and I both fell ill with the virus. I recovered after just a few days, but my mum seemed to only get worse. I experienced a mild fever, headache and my body ached. But my mum suffered terrible migraines, a lack of smell and taste, tiredness, diarrhoea and a loss of appetite – she became completely bedridden and I grew worried that she wouldn’t make it through. What made it worse was that my brother wasn’t around much and my dad was working long shifts at the hospital, so the responsibility of her care fell on me.
Studying no longer mattered. I was at my mother’s beck and call – I felt so distracted and worn out, and it was hard trying to understand what she needed. During this time, managing my own anxiety and helping the rest of the family became a massive struggle. I felt like I was at breaking point and I became lethargic – one day I even broke down in tears. But thankfully soon after that, things became easier, as my dad took time out to help take care of my mum and thankfully, after 3-4 weeks of being infected, my mum made a full recovery.
From bad to worse
Then, the news came that exams would be cancelled. It simultaneously took a weight off my shoulders, but also put a pit in my stomach because the new grading system left me with no clue about how the exam board would judge me fairly. I’d only studied classics for about six months – in comparison to other students who’d been studying for a whole two years. I hadn’t even attempted a practice exam yet!
Then, soon after my mother’s recovery, my father tested positive for the virus. This occurred shortly after he’d worked a shift where he’d dealt with COVID-19 patients. He had adequate PPE to protect him, yet he still managed to contract it, possibly because he was more susceptible due to being an asthma sufferer. Yet another worry! (I worry a lot as you can probably tell). My mum and I took care of him, and I was relieved that his symptons were not as severe as mum’s. I was able to finally catch up on studying, as he too made a full recovery.
Managing my anxiety
I noticed that through all this madness my anxiety was worsening. I’m naturally a highly-strung person, with a really noisy mind, and I find it really difficult to let my stress go.
On top of this, I also have a really bad habit of stress binge-eating in order to self-soothe. This didn’t help me at all, in fact it worsened my relationship with food. I noticed new symptoms like sleepless nights, panic attacks and vomiting episodes. My IBS seemed to worsen as lots of junk food seemed to irritate my stomach, which left me bloated and in pain.
Anxiety really takes a physical toll on the body – it leaves me feeling tired and lethargic. Thankfully, I’m getting some help and I’ve talked to my local counselling service. I’m now on an online CBT course, which I’m hoping will go well.
I honestly feel like I’ve aged a decade through all the stress.
I kept on studying and submitted everything I needed to (with the help of my tutors of course) to my exam centre, in order for them to make me a centre-assessed grade. And, I told them about every single chaotic thing that had happened to me – hoping that they’ll factor this into their consideration.
The exam centre that I was assigned to was at my old school, and they were really awesome! I was able to get in touch with the classics department for past papers and extra resources, and I was also able to get in touch with the head of the chemistry department for assessments and advice on areas to improve. I am forever thankful for their support.
Seven mantras to live by
Here are the seven things that I’ve learnt over the past year:
You are stronger than you realise.
In trying times your mind becomes stronger and you become more resilient as you discover new strength to survive.
Keep your mind distracted.
Find something (anything), like a hobby, that will keep your mind off things. For me, this was trying POPSUGAR workout videos and reading the Percy Jackson books (they’re so good!!!).
Know that things will pass.
When things seem tough, stay optimistic about the future and know that brighter days are ahead of you.
Listen to the advice of people around you.
Don’t dismiss the guidance of your parent, teachers or peers. If I’d taken my parents’ advice (they know that I’m a better writer than a coder), I might have enjoyed my first year of university or been on a gap year expedition in Fiji.
Don’t let the fear of failing hold you back.
At times I let my fear take over and distract me from actually doing work. When we make mistakes, we get feedback and this helps us improve.
Address problems head on.
One of the major reasons I failed my exams first-time round was that I was too complacent in dealing with my own issues. I should have been more vocal about what I needed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are always going to be kind souls willing to help you out in difficult situations; whether that be in your studies, your hobbies, or dealing with mental health issues. Use the resources available to you.
As Results Day rolls around again, I just hope that I have learnt enough about myself and my subjects, and worked hard enough to get where I want to be. I hope that I have learnt from my failures and hardships, and that you can learn something (or at least be mildly entertained by my tale), as you wait for your next survey to appear in your dashboard or inbox.
In the next coming months, I can only wish you good health in mind and body, and good luck in all your endeavours ahead.
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