Half term shenanigans

So the iGCSE is done and dusted, the Shakespeare paper has been tackled this morning and pupils will be breathing a sigh of relief up and down the country… Not quite so for the GCSE lot, who have English Language still to go – cruelly placed as it is, just after half term.

How do you maintain that exam focus over a week of holiday?  Yes, of course, you stick to your revision timetable, and you try to remember to eat well, and, if you’re like me as a teenager, you lock yourself in your room for a few days at a time only to reveal yourself, mad-doctor-haired and more than a little smelly, desperate for a shower on about Wednesday afternoon.

crazy-professor-28436930The most important thing you can possibly do though, no matter where you are in your exams and no matter how many you still have to go, is to give yourself a day off.  A whole day. Preferably (and I know that in terms of your social life this is tantamount to suggesting you run through the school shouting the national anthem while wearing a bear costume) while turning your phone/laptop/brain-chip that connects you to your friends off.

I can hear people scoffing.  But you’ve just spent the last few weeks living, breathing and dreaming exams.  You’ve been in school every day or revising at home, you’ve sat in the same spot in the exam hall staring at the head of the same boy in front of you through hour upon hour of test and you’ve spent your break times and lunch times conferring with your friends about which bits were easy and which bits were hard, probably winding yourself and each other up about all the silly little mistakes you might have made but won’t know about for sure until results day.  You need to just…stop.  Have a day off. Spend it outdoors.  Spend it with your family but tell them they’re not allowed to mention the E or the R words.  (That’s ‘exam’ and ‘revision’ not ‘Emergency Room,’ though probably best to avoid a trip there too.)  Go to the seaside, engage in some mindless window shopping, play with your little brother, walk the dog, read a magazine, watch the news and remember the real world out there, go to the park, go swimming – do whatever it is that you used to do back in the days when you were ‘normal’ and not thinking about Geography Unit 2 when you woke up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night.

Have a day off.  Your books will be there tomorrow.  And when you’ve had a good, old-fashioned exhausting day of playing out, (which no one is ever too old for, by the way) sleep well, set your alarm for a decent time and get going on that revision.  It’ll be worth it.

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When exams go wrong…

exam-stress-cartoon

Sometimes, after months of hard work, hundreds of timed essays, a carefully planned revision timetable and more coffee than is good for you, it goes wrong anyway.  The exam board suddenly changes the question style, or you sleep really badly the night before, or you’re ill, or you just panic – and it feels like the end of the world, because you put in all. that. work. for. nothing.  Add in the pressure of having to get up tomorrow and do an entirely different exam, or, worse, college places hanging in the balance or university applications looming, and some students find themselves facing very real – and very upsetting – stress.

So what can you, the student, do about it?  Nothing – and everything.  Nothing, because what’s done is done.  In that sense, you need to do your utmost to put it behind you as soon as possible because you don’t want the upset to affect tomorrow’s exam, or tonight’s revision for that matter.  Shake it off, go for a run, play a computer game, have a long bath – do something that will take your mind off it for the next hour or so.  Then put the offending books out of sight (but don’t bin them!), get the next lot out, and crack on.

(Parents often find that whatever they say in this situation is entirely wrong – however lovely you are about it, a very distressed student may well interpret your concern and care as an indication that either you didn’t think they were clever enough in the first place, or you don’t understand how upset they are, or why.  They’ll realise you don’t mean any of these things eventually, but in the immediate aftermath, it may be best to offer hugs while they’re crying and to just listen to their fears with plenty of tea and cake on hand.)

And then, as I said, you can do everything.  You can use this upset to fuel your determination to get through the rest of your exams.  Once they’re over you can talk to your teachers and make a plan for next year – maybe a resit, maybe not.  Maybe your coursework result will be enough to pull you through.  Maybe your chosen university will accept you even if you drop a grade.  Maybe an AS resit will be far easier by the time you’ve done a whole year of A2 work.  There are lots of maybes out there, and they don’t involve punishing yourself.  If you want to resit, great, do it with bells on!  If you don’t, make a new plan.

Because here’s a secret.  Exams are, really, totally, enormously important.  While you’re doing them.  Next year, this lot won’t matter so much.  And the year after that, they’ll hardly matter at all.  Your SATs are the most important exams you’ll ever do…until your GCSEs.  And your degree is the most important qualification you’ll ever get…until you can write on your CV that you’ve got X years of experience in the job.  There is ALWAYS a way forward.  There is ALWAYS something new around the corner. There is ALWAYS a next stage.  And yes, right now, your exams are important, and it would be foolish to say otherwise. But one day, a few maybes away, noone will give two hoots what you got in your A levels because they’ll be far more interested in you being able to explain an example of how you once overcame adversity, and they might even give you a job if they like your answer.  Or, maybe, you’ll be the one conducting the interview.  Maybe maybe maybe…