Preparing for assignments and exams is always hard, but the final few months before them are what I find hardest.
The final few months of GCSEs, the final few months of A-Levels and as I am currently experiencing, the final few months of completing my university degree. Whilst I am no expert, I believe that my personal stories may provide comfort or insight into overcoming stress experienced in the final exam season in education.
Having lived in 6 different countries, I attended many schools that each had their own individual curriculums. As I continued to move, the further behind I got in my learning. Whilst I was able to pick up the content for certain subjects more quickly, the stress I was experiencing playing catch-up and trying to stay on top in my weaker subjects like science and maths caused me to have many panic attacks.
I attended a high calibre school that prides itself on high academic grades and here I was, amongst my classmates, so many of which found the content easy while I was barely staying afloat academically. I am definitely the kind of person that is more willing to try hard at a subject if I enjoy it. It’s safe to say, I hated science and maths with a passion!
Those final few months leading up to my GCSE exams were so incredibly stressful. I kept telling myself to “just keep pushing” but forcing myself to get up every morning and study for subjects that I detested and lowered my self-esteem was so hard. No one talks enough about the correlation between academic grades and self-confidence, but my self-esteem was at an all-time low during GCSEs.
Performing average on my GCSEs was unsurprising. I scored well in the subjects I liked and was good at and barely passed the ones I didn’t. But honestly, I did not care! I had got what I needed to move onto the next stage in my academic journey – A-Levels. Having chosen my subjects, I entered Sixth Form feeling excited for lessons to begin; the first time I had had this feeling in a long time.
I learned quickly, especially as I entered Year 13, that exam stress doesn’t end with GCSEs. I can safely say that I have never been more stressed than I have been during my A-Levels. The combined pressure of “you chose these subjects, there is no one to blame but you if this doesn’t go well” with the external stress of needing sufficient grades to enter university, was a lot.
Having studied the entire Christmas break to have mock grade results that were nowhere near good enough was devastating. Truthfully, I wanted to leave home to gain independence and I knew that the only way this was possible was if I achieved the grades to go to university.
It perhaps was not the healthiest thing to do, but I stopped attending social gatherings. I quit my local job and stopped playing netball to just focus on studying. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, shaking with stress that I wasn’t going to pass my exams. Whilst I put a lot of pressure on myself, I had overwhelming feelings of fear that if I performed poorly, I would disappoint my parents who had invested their time and money to provide me with the support and education that they believed I deserved.
Fast forward to the present day, I am now a third-year student at the Russell-Group institution Cardiff University. I’m about to enter the last assessment period of my higher education qualification. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed. I am so nervous about big assignments I have to complete such as my dissertation, but there is something different now… I have confidence in myself.
I don’t agree with how the current school education system defines a student’s success based on little letters on a piece of paper that you spend years studying for. However, I also understand the harsh reality that life itself is stressful. Stress is something that cannot be avoided no matter what stage of your life you are in, it’s how we handle it and address it that defines us.
I know I am only 21 and have so much more to experience and stress to be had, but I have learnt to look at the bigger picture. A quote my godmother once told me that has always stuck with me is: “I understand that this test might seem like the end of the world right now, but it won’t matter in a few months and you will forget you ever did it in a few years time”.
Whilst my dissertation is a project that is causing me an exuberant amount of stress right now, I remind myself that this stress is temporary. It can’t defeat me, especially if it’s not going to last forever.
This blog was submitted by Ellie, a young person attending Cardiff University.
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