Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Thursday, 14 July 2005 12:05 UK

The strains of the exam season

The hard work is over but the waiting begins
Pupils across the UK have been celebrating the end of the exam season.

Some A-level students are sharing their experiences with the BBC News website.

Here, two of them describe the stresses of taking a string of exams in a short space of time and the relief when they are all over.

Katie McFarlane, 18, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Katie McFarlane

Reflecting back on the past six weeks I can confidently say that my preparation and revision was not as successful as it could or should have been.

Having been ill for the past eight weeks with an undiagnosed illness, in my final days before study leave I spent more time in bed than I did at school, whilst my body's need to sleep for a good 16 hours a day still has not passed!

Combined with the heat wave on the weekend before I sat eight hours of exams in two days, my confidence dropped ensuring in turn my motivation and concentration completely disappeared, thus leaving my revision in a much neglected state!

As for the exams themselves, well they weren't all that much better. The first few left me in tears and on hearing rumours that thousands of candidates failed to achieve even 30% on the critical thinking papers (I don't know how official that is!), I wasn't too hopeful for the rest of them.

The first few left me in tears

Ironically enough, the exams I dreaded the most, with two history papers and two media papers on the same day, followed by a closed book English paper the next day, seemed to go the best out of them all!

My final "proper" A-level exam was a history unit, which unfortunately didn't go all that well and I now feel as though I finished my main exams on a bit of a low.

My weekend was then spent partying with my school leavers ball on Friday night and a friend's 18th birthday party on Saturday, I was obviously extremely well prepared for the horrors of AEA history on Monday!

'Dodgy marker'

Unfortunately I went into the exam with the wrong attitude, having convinced myself I wouldn't pass and therefore I found it extremely difficult to get into the style of thinking and writing required for the paper, leaving me even less hopeful now.

I feel I'm ending my exams on a negative note, struggling to convince myself I will be pleased (or even pleasantly surprised) by my results on 18 August.

However, having experienced what many students and teachers will refer to as a "dodgy marker" in my English AS exams last year, I have learnt to accept that a lot can depend on the individual examiner. I just hope the ones marking my papers are feeling generous.

I cannot deny that I am already both concerned and excited by results day, although I'm certain to be in a state by mid-August.

Nearing the end of a period which many people would consider to be possibly the most stressful of my life, I find myself sitting here asking why I'm not the ecstatically happy and relived 18-year-old I had imagined I would be.

Instead of finding my freedom from the worries and stresses of the previous few months with a carefree summer of fun and relaxation, I am already concerned by the looming presence of results day just seven weeks away, knowing that until my place at university is confirmed, I will not be able to fully enjoy my time off.

However, there is absolutely nothing I can do to change my results now, so tonight, in true student style (I'm practising for uni), I'm off down the pub!

Amy Longsden, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Amy Longsden

I haven't been nervous before any exams this year, which is a massive contrast to last year when I felt sick before each one. I think it is to do with the fact I am used to the process now and have less exams in one go, thanks to taking some in January this year.

General studies was my first exam, a nice gentle start to ease me into it, although I am still at a loss as to what the point of the subject is at all. You are tested via:

1 - a multiple choice paper on spatial awareness that results in guesswork if you are totally lost.

I am really looking forward to university now that the time is fast approaching
2 - a science essay that the science people find hard because it is essay-writing and the humanities people find hard because it is science, thus suiting only the few people who wisely study a mixture of subjects at A-level.

3 - a multiple choice French, German or Spanish exam that again results in guesswork for those who haven't studied a language in two whole years .

I think this part of the exam will be coming up for review as there is less and less concentration on foreign languages in schools.

4 - an essay on the arts and morality that is by far the most interesting part for me as you can actually express your own opinion!

5 - a paper using some pre-release material (graphs, statistics, articles etc) with questions and an essay.

I have many problems with general studies, and it is this last part that I least liked. You are given a copy of the material a couple of weeks before and you are expected to spend at least three hours preparing it, learning the contents and analysing the data - an outrageous demand considering how much work and revision is necessary for your "real" subjects.

Then when you get to the exam, you are given a clean copy of the material, so you then waste time reading that through again to remind yourself of what it is in it, or look at it for the first time if you were unable to do so earlier because you were busy revising for the more important exams.

As you don't find out the questions before the exam (and therefore have no opportunity to write full answers in your pre-release material), I do not see why we shouldn't take the original booklet into the exam.

The way things are now, it is your memory being tested rather than your analytical skills.

Results day looms

I was one of the last to finish doing my exams, thankfully it was a really good one (synoptic politics) and it all ended on a high note.

Some of us went into school in the morning to revise together beforehand and it was very difficult to wait until one o'clock - none of us could sit still and concentrate so it was kind of a relief to get in there and do it.

It would have been nice if the school hadn't thoughtfully arranged for a large group of young children to come in that day and make a huge amount of noise right outside our room for the duration of the exam, but luckily I was able to keep my focus even through that.

It feels weird now, not having to revise anything or do any homework or get up early in the morning! I am half-heartedly looking for a job this week and have just got a Nigella Lawson cookery book so I can refine my cookery skills in time for next year (albeit with cheaper ingredients than most of hers) and do something useful with my time.

I am really looking forward to university now that the time is fast approaching, and it's so good that I don't have to do anything else about it other than get my grades.

Results day seems such a long way off at the moment, but I know it will be here before I know it.

Katrina, 17, English Midlands


It was at five o'clock that I finally realised the enormity of what I was about to do. The exam which I was to sit later that day, and the other five which were to be written in the too near future, cumulatively had the ability to completely change the direction of my future. It was then I began to panic.

I entered that first exam with raw fear, and decided half way through, having written possibly the worst essay in the history of theatre studies, ever, that I needed to develop a new coping strategy.

To do this is I looked at why stress had taken so long to reach me, and why, when it finally had, I was so unprepared. I blame impossibly high standards, and the media's presentation of the reality of A-levels in the 21st century.

For me, the enormous amount of pressure I felt did not come from my parents or even my teachers as the press would like to believe. Instead it came from my own standards set for my self and the standards set by society.

With the increase in A-levels of a vocational nature, and more students gaining top grades at A-level, the older generation like to believe that A-Levels were harder in 'the good old days', therefore it is no longer an option for the youth of today, my peers, to complain of the difficulty of exams, although I believe that there is now more pressure than even to achieve.

My generation have no reason (apparently) to fail, aside from raw stupidity. The pressure placed on us is far more than the past generations ever had before.

However, my exams are now over and the long summer wait for results has begun. I am in a state of limbo, relieved that the exams are over, and simultaneously nervous about my grades. I apprehensively await the 18th August: results day!

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