I don’t remember much about my time at college. In fact, most of my teenage years are a bit of a blur. So when my peers share memories of the agonising wait for their A-level results, and talk about the happiness, panic or soul crushing disappointment of that day, I have very little to add to the conversation. It feels like I can’t relate to it at all.

Because my own memories of results day are pretty faint, and having experienced many things since then, I think it led me to feel as though it wasn’t that much of a big deal. Sure, I’ve always recognised that it’s an important day for students, but the magnitude of it for them has never really registered with me. Luckily, I have had the chance to relive it in some respects. Working as an Administrator at an independent sixth form college has been a real eye opener, leading to some unexpected results of my own.

Preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best

A-level exam results

We’re trained to expect the absolute worst when it comes to A-level results day, when everything from tears of joy to angry outbursts are a possibility. We’re trained to keep calm, be helpful and to be understanding when students come to us in various states of emotion, and told to keep in mind that however they approach us on the day, their reactions are about the results they have received, and NOT about us, so “don’t take it personally”. Fortunately, I wasn’t assigned to be in the thick of the action, so kept a healthy distance from most of the chaos. I dipped in and out from time to time, and only spoke to students in passing. Thankfully, no tears or tantrums were witnessed by me, which was just as well!

Nerves by association and ALL THE FEELINGS!

Notebook & Coffee

This year was my second time experiencing results day from ‘the other side’, and what hit me unexpectedly, both times, was nerves. But why? I wasn’t waiting for results that could potentially determine my future, so why was MY stomach in knots? It turns out that whether directly affected by the outcome or not, the atmosphere is sure to have an impact on a person. I’d go as far as saying it’s inevitable! But that wasn’t all…
When a student came to me to return the textbooks she no longer needed, she informed me that she had been accepted to Cambridge to study English. As if from nowhere, I felt myself welling up. I say ‘from nowhere’ not because it wasn’t great news and a bloody big deal, but because this particular student was one I had barely interacted with during her time at the college. There had been no emotional connection. But in that moment, I felt truly happy to witness the results of her hard work paying off. I was witnessing the beginning of a journey that had endless possibilities, and it was an AMAZING feeling.

What I learned

We tend to fall into many bad habits as adults, and not sympathising with young people because we’ve forgotten what is was like to be in their shoes is one of them. We sometimes allow hindsight and life experience to turn us into arseholes, and conclude that the things experienced by young people aren’t ‘real’ when compared to problems we’re faced with later in life. We could be right, but why compare the stress of mortgage arrears to results day, or anything else that young people go through for that matter? There is little to be gained from such comparisons.

The fact is, at 18 years old, A level results day might be the biggest thing a person has ever had to worry about. Sure, bigger worries may be yet to come, but at that point in time, THAT day is their Everest. Trying to minimise the importance of what they are feeling isn’t helpful, but allowing them to experience it in their own way is. Of course we know that exam results don’t define a person, and that there is usually a way to make sure things can work out in the end. But we must allow those who are worrying about exam results to do just that. It’s all part of the process.

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