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‘Exam grades do not define you’ - 9 tips for coping with GCSE results day

Fiona Hannah and her son Jesper Dean outside the Teenage Mental Health premises in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Fiona Hannah and her son Jesper Dean outside the Teenage Mental Health premises in Ipswich. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

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GCSE students nervously open their exam results this week after years of hard work - but how do you cope with all the nerves?

Exam results day is a nail-biting time for many young people but especially so this year, as the coronavirus crisis meant that all exams were cancelled.

The furore around teacher-assessed GCSE and A-level results being marked down by a controversial grading system has led to worry for many about what their futures will hold, even though the government has U-turned on the issue.

Teenage Mental Health - a private therapy service for young people based in Coachman’s Court, Ipswich - says it has seen an “increase in young people who are suffering with issues of loss and grief as a result of this change in educational routine”, with major milestones such as proms, leavers’ days and exams cancelled.

“The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has had an enormous and hugely detrimental impact on education overall,” said Fiona Hannah - who set up the service after her own son, Jesper Dean, suffered mental ill health as a teenager and young adult.

MORE: ‘Heartbreaking in every way’ - how my son’s drug crisis exposed ‘dire need’ for mental healthcare

“Most students have missed many months of face-to-face schooling and the GSCE, A-level and AS exams were not able to take place.

“This has led to many students feeling lost, confused and cheated out of an experience which has traditionally been seen as a rite of passage for any teenager.

“Students will be facing a wide range of emotions as they approach their results day - excitement, nervousness, disappointment, resentment, anger, stress, relief and guilt.

“All these feelings and responses are valid and normal.”

So, how do teenagers cope with the range of emotions of exam results day and beyond?

Here are Ms Hannah’s 9 top tips:

■ 1 - It is normal to feel anxious about receiving your results

Remember that you are not alone. Your friends are likely to be nervous too, even if they are hiding their feelings. Your older relatives will have been through similar nerves when they received their results.

It is important not to bottle up your feelings - talk to a trusted friend, a relative, or a teacher about how you feel.

■ 2 - Think about your next steps

Your results are likely to lead to another experience in life, whether this is moving onto a job or further qualifications.

However, you may not get the results you want or need to do this. Having a plan B will help you feel more in control.

Remember that if Plan A doesn’t work, there are another 25 letters in the alphabet!

■ 3 - Don’t feel pressured to share your results

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With the excitement of the day, there may be increased pressure from your friends to share your results.

But your results are your own private information and you should only share them if you feel comfortable. It might help you to avoid social media for a few days to avoid some of that pressure.

■ 4 - Only ever judge your success by your own standards

Effort is far more admirable that attainment. Be proud of any improvements and if you know you have done your best, that is all that matters.

■ 5 - Avoid unhealthy habits

Drinking, smoking, drug-taking or punishing yourself through self-harming behaviours and poor diet won’t make a problem disappear.

These are all temporary solutions to a longer-term problem. These unhealthy habits might even make things worse in long run.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling with any of these behaviours.

■ 6 - Be kind to yourself

Practise talking kindly to yourself and be your own best friend and motivator. Compliment yourself on any small achievements and focus on the things you have done well.

■ 7 - Remember that there will be future opportunities

You might feel cheated out of an experience this year and that you haven’t had a chance to prove your worth in some way.

However, you might be able to take your exams at a later date. Or you can just use these grades as a springboard to other opportunities for success, such as moving on to further or higher education.

■ 8 - Remember exam grades do not define you and do not define your future

This is just one small piece of the very large puzzle of your life.

Some of the most successful people you know, or have seen in the media, failed at some point in their life. It was their mistakes, followed by determination, that made them grow.

■ 9 - Celebrate your achievements

And even if you do not quite get the grades you had hoped for, celebrate anyway.

Celebrate that you have done your best. Celebrate that you have finished school. Celebrate that you are wonderful in so many other ways which cannot be measured by grades.

If celebrations cannot be as big as you might have hoped for due to social distancing, find small ways to mark your celebrations at home.

For more information about Teenage Mental Health, which has 12 highly-qualified staff, visit its website.


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