My life

For teenagers examination pressure never truly goes away, as
they face a battery of SATs, GCSEs, A and AS levels, writes
17-year-old Emily Beddoes.

For me, there are two types of stress brought on by exams. The
first pushes me on, inspires me to reach higher goals, and causes a
rush of revision before tests.

The second is an isolating dread, which begins in my stomach. It
is the kind of stress that makes me stay awake at night, going over
mathematical formulae in my head, trying to remember all the
reagents for a particular chemical reaction. It is the stress that
makes me feel like a failure whenever I get a low grade, that
everything in my life is a precariously balanced castle of cards
which could topple around me at any second. Some teachers, instead
of trying to understand why there is a problem, deal with it by
piling on extra work.

The exams that I took last summer determined whether I could
apply for medical school. At the age of 16 I managed to ruin my
chances of going straight into medicine from school, which is what
I had intended to do. Not only this, but knowing I couldn’t
get on the course I wanted made me lose some of the impetus during
the second year of sixth form. Why should I try? What was the point
when I had already been prevented from doing what I wanted? Having
the pressure of exams thrust on me meant that the year before I
took my AS levels was the most stressful experience I’d

I have grown up in a culture of tests, exams and grades. SATs at
seven, 11 and 14, GCSEs, and finally AS and A levels. Each time I
have taken an exam, I have been told that it is highly important,
that it will have a huge impact on my life. Up until GCSEs, this
simply wasn’t true. My SATs results have never come back to
haunt me. I can’t even remember what I got.

I read that 8 per cent of teenagers say they have had suicidal
thoughts brought on by the stress of exams. Although I have never
felt close to suicide, all of the contributing factors towards exam
stress and pressure have made the past month one I would like to
forget. It was made bearable by being able to phone friends, turn
up the music for 20 minutes or have a good cry on my mother.
I’m lucky to have these safety nets, some aren’t.

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