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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Exam overload: Are you getting stressed out?

Students are facing immense exam pressure due to the revised system for post-16 qualifications in the UK.

The new Education Secretary Estelle Morris has bowed to pressure from teachers' unions and agreed to review the way changes to AS-levels were brought in.

Teachers had complained that pupils and schools were struggling under the burden of AS-levels, Advanced Highers and Key or Core Skills examinations.

They said many pupils were giving up sport, voluntary work and other leisure pursuits because of the strain.

The new system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, brought in this year, was intended to bring greater diversity and breadth to lower sixth-form study, so that students would no longer be confined to studying just three A levels for two years.

In Scotland, the Higher Still reforms were intended to give a better range and blend of academic and vocational qualifications. The main teachers' union there is threatening to boycott the internal assessments involved.

What do you think of the changes? Are you a stressed-out student, or parent who has seen first hand the problems caused, or a teacher or head teacher who's been grappling with implementing all this?

HAVE YOUR SAY

Exams are stressful, but after months of work when you finally get that grade you can feel a warm glow of satisfaction. For about twenty minutes until someone tells you how much easier exams were in their day. Students do work hard for their exams and taking that achievement away form them by insulting their work and effort is just as frustrating as the revision and exams themselves. STOP IT!
Catherine, UK


It is far better to learn these skills in an environment where there is a support network

Vicki, NZ, in London
Exams should be stressful, and they should be difficult at this level - by pitching them at a level where everyone passes you will only end up creating a society of uniform mediocrity and undermine the value of higher education. As a previous correspondent points out, life is stressful, and the way you handle it is the most important thing. It is far better to learn these skills in an environment where there is a support network, and when your future does not in reality depend on the outcome.
Vicki, NZ, in London

I have just been watching the news about the new "AS" levels - whilst taking a break from all this revising. It is such a mess. My friends and I are all continually stressed out. it is exam after exam. The exams are hard and the teachers are unsure of the depth of knowledge we need. Now if the Government wish to scrap them I want to know what we will get as an apology - will it be easier next year? Longer holidays? Lower grade boundaries - you can bet that we will get nothing! The Government will not admit their failure.
Katherine Cook, England

I am currently in year 12 and am taking three AS levels and in the middle of my AS exams. I am extremely worried about the situation in which I face, due to the lack of knowledge by both teachers, students and the examination boards themselves; a week before our AS English exam our school was sent a letter declaring that we had been studying the wrong selection of Keats poetry, this letter was also sent to many other schools across the country. With the added problem of revision, many AS revision books are not published until August, the month of our results! Many of my teachers to whom I haven spoken to about the marking of our exams are confused and themselves worried about the new AS levels.

Another problem is the prospect of university applications next year, as it is not clear on entry requirements concerning AS grades, how will universities compare AS students to A level students who are entering under a deferred application at the same time, as many of the current year 13 will be taking a year out and applying at the same time as the current year 12. All I ask for is for the Government to take notice of this confusion and to do something to clarify it for future AS candidates.
Nat Hitchings, UK

Whether or not you tell students to "buck up" they will still get stressed. Exams engender stress and there are much fewer opportunities these days for those without qualifications, therefore young people feel obliged to do them. Please remember before you scoff and say how things were easier that people kill themselves over exams.
Mark Cordell, UK

I can't help thinking that all these complaints about stress are a little over the top. My year was the guinea pig for SATS, and this didn't do us any harm in the long run. I sat my A-levels 5 years ago, and didn't have the option to do modules, because my school didn't like them! I still managed to have a social life, and a part time job as well. Exam stress is really just good preparation for real life, where you have to juggle a lot more than just a heavy workload.
Jenny, Scotland

Having just started my first job after graduating a year ago, I long for the stress of A-levels. Living at home, not having bills to pay, no debt. Oh, I also have to study for professional exams whilst working around 40 hours a week. You are not under stress. Exams are a pain, but I would not describe them as extremely stressful on their own.
Dave, UK

All exams are stressful, but I don't think the change to post-16 education has done anything to worsen the situation. I took 4 A levels and they really don't compare to university exams. The main problem with exams is that everyone is expected to take them - it is good to have some qualifications, but it is also necessary to realise that some people are better suited to apprenticeships and practical work. There should be more support and encouragement for people who want to follow that route as opposed to seeing them as "drop-outs".
Sarah, England

There is no such thing as too many exams. Do young people not realise that without exams, there is no chance of a decent job? As for extra-curricular activities. It is time some people realised that school is about learning facts, not playing. There is a lot of irresponsibility being stirred up by dubious anti-stress arguments.
Patrick Martin, N.Ireland

Stress is a part of daily life and we are always subject to tests, whether formally or informally. The real issue for this debate should be whether the "pay-off" justifies the stress, and given the decreasing quality of the exams and the value of qualifications, pre- and post-university education, is it worthwhile putting yourself through it all. No doubt all the children will work hard and they can take pride in their achievements, but in a "meritocracy" only the best students should go to higher education, instead anyone can get in.

As for exams, the bar is set far to low, so no wonder the results have shown a continuous rise. Perhaps it is time to get rid of the "gold-standard" A-levels completely and go for a Baccalaureate system or something else, because at the moment, kids are killing themselves, sometimes literally for worthless or less-than-worthy qualifications.
Moez Qayyum, England


Our entire educational system is based on exams

Ed Moore, UK
I completed my tertiary education in France. For the baccalaureate, I had to sit a total of 10 exams (for 9 subjects)one after the other in the course of a week. Most of those exams were 4 hours long. Isn't being able to work under pressure and manage stress what exams are all about?! England is only just coming into line with what European students have long experienced. It only gets harder at University so save your whinging for then!
Mary, New Zealand

Before we started the AS courses, we were told that they would be a step up to A-Level from GCSE level. Instead of that I feel as though we've been thrown in at the deep end, and I'm finding very hard to stay afloat in the sea of work we have to complete this year. Most of my friends wish the old A-level system would return, at least then we could live a little too.
Tomos Lewis, Cardiff

Here we have yet another example of lack of adequate planning and 'change for change's sake' in education. Both teachers and students have little knowledge of what they are doing or why they are doing it. It has been a year of total panic with courses covered in haste and often left unfinished.

These new examinations are putting teenagers through tremendous, and totally unnecessary, stress. In short - yet another mess.
Alun Lloyd Davies, Carmarthen

I ask the generation dealing with our future to take one hard look at society among kids today. What I don't understand is the double standards, we have adults complaining about drugs and how lazy some of us kids are, then we get complaints when we work our guts out in exams saying, "It's too easy" or "We need to change the system". You know, the exams are probably not difficult, certainly not easy but not impossible, but today¿s society pushes kids so hard, and with the new system it only shows the next generation that there are only winners in life.
Craig Barber, England


It has been a year of total panic with courses covered in haste and often left unfinished

Alun Lloyd Davies, Carmarthen

I am a drama teacher with 12 years experience of teaching A-Level. Today my student sat their AS Drama exam EDEXCEL board. The paper was not laid out according to all the instructions and information we had received over the past 12 months. Colleagues in other local schools suddenly faced panic among students this afternoon and we the teachers have been made to look stupid. Our school is now beginning the complaints procedure. The government have inflicted on schools an unwieldy and unnecessary item, so much so that even the exam boards are messing up. We now face the prospect that students will not have done as well because the exam boards don't even know hoe to set their papers.
Jane Luton, England

I cannot believe that once more, the children of 1983/84 and being used as the test for future children. As one of these people I am very stressed at the moment as barely time has passed since we had 25+ GCSE exams to take now we have about 10 AS exams. What next, an overhaul of Universities for our year to try out. Come on you beurocrats, sort yourselves out and let us get on with it.
Stuart Warner, England

I did my A levels 5 years ago now, and since finishing university and beginning work, I can honestly say it was the most stressful time of my life, purely because it was three subjects very in-depth, rather than the 10 or 11 we juggle generally at GCSE level or the 1 main overall topic we study at university. A little stress is good as it pushes you to go further, but so much stress that students now have neverous breakdowns, is going way too far.
Clair van-de-Cappelle, UK

Okay, so there is a fairly poor work ethic amongst us sixth formers at the moment but if anything, this is brought on by the constant change in the system that we have to endure. Our entire educational system is based on exams - almost our entire summer term is lost to them. Shouldn't we banish this old-fashioned idea that if you exam someone to death, they'll somehow become a better person, and return a full school year's teaching time to our dedicated staff?
Ed Moore, UK

There's nothing wrong with a little bit of stress. It certainly sorts out those with the ability and those who sit on the backs of other people.
Sam, UK

I am currently taking my GCSEs and am faced with the daunting prospect of 5A/S levels next year as well as the additional pressures of taking part in the Young Enterprise and Duke of Edinburgh schemes. There has been much debate in the last two years as to whether exams are getting easier - it has sparked debate within the students and staff at my school. Interestingly many of the staff have reached the conclusion that, contrary to popular opinion, exams are actually getting harder.
Gina Denton, Cheshire, UK

I read about someone who had 7 exams in one week and was finding it very stressful. While I sympathise with them, I had 5 exams in one day last Tuesday. I had to be kept under supervision all day because I had clashes and even had to be escorted to the toilets. I feel that nothing good has come out of this new AS system. They just place added stress on us.
Danielle Martin

I believe the Government has chosen quantity over quality. These exams don't require any deep understanding, they are just horribly time consuming. Britain is known for its quality of higher education so why copy other countries?
Laura Bradley, Britain


Welcome to the real world kids

Anonymous, Canada
I did 4 A levels and 1 A/S level and obtained 5 grade 'A's. I do not understand what all this whining is about in England. Students taking 3 A-levels think it is impossible. If you are determined and put in the work, anything is possible. And life don't come easy, wait till you get to university. I did my A-levels in the Middle East. And currently I am studying at University level in Canada. Welcome to the real world kids.
Anonymous, Canada

If any student would like to come and meet my 24 x 7 x 365 work deadlines I'll happily do your exams for you! Enjoy it cos it all gets harder from here.
Mandy, UK

My friend and I have just sat our AS levels, and we think it's an unfair system. The amount of pressure we've been under over the last few months is unbelievable, and it's apparently come to nothing. We are the first Year 12 to have to sit examinations, and we've had to work throughout the whole year. They've pushed us very hard to try to make the system work, and I don't see how they can treat us like this at this late stage.
Catrin Cooper, Menai Bridge

The new AS levels are clearly acknowledged to be a disaster for all concerned. Schools should pull out now, and return to the A level system for the next academic year. As a parent whose eldest child completed excellent A levels last year and whose second looks set to fall victim to the new system I am deeply worried.
Caroline Palmer, Aberystwyth


We are being penalised and given more pressure to pass the exams because of something we have nothing to do with

Huw, Carmarthenshire

I am the youngest child of four and one thing that has hit me about the new AS Levels is that we are missing out on other external activities. My two older brothers and older sister have all had time to go out and socialise with friends and have had the time to do things like the Duke of Edinburgh award, in which my two brother and sister all did in their first year of sixth form, but I have now nearly finished my first year and I have just not been able to do any of the award. This will mean that I will lose out in later life.
Sarah Groves

I cannot believe that once more, the children of 1983/84 and being used as the test for future children. As one of these people I am very stressed at the moment as barely time has passed since we had 25+ GCSE exams to take now we have about 10 AS exams.

What next, an overhaul of Universities for our year to try out!? Come on you bureaucrats, sort yourselves out and let us get on with it.
Stuart Warner, England

I understand that the idea of this system was to broaden our academic horizons, and allow us to study a range of subjects in order to decide what we want to do in the future. In my opinion, it has done completely the opposite. The amount of work we have been expected to get through in these last two terms is phenomenal.
Anna Cresswell, Cardiff

The UK education system is losing its competitiveness when comparing to those Asian countries', esp. Singaporean, Japanese, and Chinese. They have lots of homework, tests and exams all the time when they were still in primary schools and they normally study 5-8 A levels and still copping well. The A level reforms in UK is deemed to fail because the gap between GCSE and A level is too wide. Students here weren't taught to work hard earlier enough and they are now complaining...
Elaine, UK

This year our school opted for the new AS system which meant each pupil was forced to take four new AS's at the end of only one year of teaching. The result of this has caused the most stressed and difficult year of my life so far... I have no time for extra curricular activities such as sport or seeing friends. Often I am too exhausted in the evenings to be able to finish all my homework.
Anna Rossiter


Now because of their changes, I have not done that well, and a dream that I have had for years has now been shattered

Steven Marshall, England
As a mother I dislike the new system. I feel these exams were pushed on to pupils much too soon. My son was not in the mood for the first exams in January. The re-sits came in the middle of the next lot of exams. This had a domino effect. They should space them out more...There is not much good about the new system. I preferred the previous one..
C.A. Odlum Bryna, Llantrisant

I've got four exams tomorrow morning and as a result I have to sit two in the afternoon. I'll be supervised over the hour and a half break but I still believe my grades will be affected.
Ruth Newman

I read about someone who had 7 exams in one week and was finding it very stressful. While I sympathise with them, I had 5 exams in one day last Tuesday. I was in school from 8.30 until 5.30, and I felt completely exhausted for the rest of the week after that. I had to be kept under supervision all day because I had clashes and even had to be escorted to the toilets. I feel that nothing good has come out of this new AS system. They just place added stress on us.
Danielle Martin, England

I feel angry that it is always our year that is the guinea pigs. First with the introductions of the SATS lower down the schools and now with this new AS system.

Why should our year have its education jeopardised every time that they make a change?
Amy, UK

I'm currently sitting the As level exams, I have found them very hard to deal with as there has been so much stress.

Due to the heavy workloads, it is a jump for my age group to face from GCSE level.

Please could you inform whether or not they will give the chance to resist them as I have been told in my school we can.

But in the news they mentioned pupils can't retake A levels.

Thank you.
Clare Jones, north Wales

I'm currently sitting AS levels in three sciences and maths.

Over the past year I have found the workload to be large but not unmanageable. In my subjects, exams have always been modular.

One module in January, two in summer though I have not been allowed by my school to take advantage of this.

The science subjects lend themselves to this approach whereas the arts are perhaps more suited to a linear system, with all the modules at the end of the second year under the system this is possible the schools just haven't done it.

My advice to stressed students is talk to your school about why they chose to sit all three modules in this summer term.
Alexandra Thompson, UK

I cannot tell you how angry I am that my year has been used as the guinea pigs once again. Ever since I was 12 years old, I have wanted to go to university in America for which I needed a B average in my exams which I have worked every day for. Now because of their changes, I have not done that well, and a dream that I have had for years has now been shattered.
Steven Marshall, England

Do these people that criticise 6th formers for wanting to achieve good exam grades so that they can progress onto university know their worth? These exams mean a lot to people so that they can go to university, as it is the only real way of attempting to achieve a good enjoyable job. Don't tell us not to moan at the stress because you obviously aren't going through it and do not know the grief it has caused for teachers and students alike. The content for syllabuses have not been reduced, so teaching time has decreased whilst the workload has remained the same. It is like trying to take 4 A-Levels. I know that across the country the OCR Biology course has been pushed for time greatly. Exam clashes have also plagued the system. Why is it not possible for exam boards to coordinate subjects to be examined on the same day? When it came to study leave, I only got one week - half term, and then the days between exams. I had to make one subject suffer in order to achieve potential in my other exams. Is it fair to have to do this and jeopardise our own futures? I have done my best - and wish everyone good luck.
John Kentisbeer, England

People have always been allowed to resit their exams if they're not happy with their results and probably always will be.

Yet, because somebody wanted to change the exam procedure students are suffering the consequences.

We are being penalised and given more pressure to pass the exams because of something we have nothing to do with.

If they want to change the way exams are done then that¿s up to them but they could at least have the decency to allow us to resit if we want.

After all, this is our future that is at stake.
Huw, Carmarthenshire

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See also:

06 Jun 01 | Education
Heads call for A-levels inquiry
07 Jun 01 | Scotland
Teachers to vote on boycott move
02 Jun 01 | Education
Exams stretch schools to the limit
30 May 01 | Education
Sixth form overload 'shambles'
11 Apr 01 | Education
New exams 'stress out' sixth formers
25 May 99 | Features
Taking the stress out of exams
19 Mar 99 | Education
A level reform aims to broaden choice


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