GCSEs, the exams all Year 11s in England, Wales and Northern Island take to mark the end of their secondary school education, have come to an end. While our first emotions may have been relief, joy, disbelief that the end had actually come, no one can deny that this exam season really took its toll on our demographic as a whole.
Personally, the days that followed my final exam began to be permeated with a sense of helplessness. A helplessness, with a results day looming a good two months away, rooted partly in my inability to change anything and yet there was also the kind of helplessness fueled by emptiness, as if instead of leaving me free in the truest sense of the word, GCSEs had drained me. It left me wondering whether the fight for heightened work ethic and academic brilliance among our students had just left them in a place of apathy.
Taken by roughly half a million students this year, GCSEs, with subjects varying from Textiles to Latin, have become that much harder. The changes in the grading system, for example, left teachers and entire institutions alike unsure about how to predict their students’ results, when what a 9 looked like was no clearer than a murky pond. Exams have never been certain in their nature, but with students coming out of the exam hall in a state between pure bewilderment and utter despair, well, then it’s safe to say that this year’s GCSEs were doused in perplexity.
For students whose lives have been dominated, wholly consumed and even dictated by the twenty-something exams they have had to take over the course of a month, freedom has come at such an extreme cost. The stakes have been higher than ever before, following Michael Gove’s education reforms, which most notably disallowed coursework, an implementation meaning that the student’s grade relies solely on the two or three exams after two years of studying the course and have made it so that AS exams, the exams between GCSEs and A-levels, cease to exist, so the importance GCSEs has heightened for those aspiring to receive a university degree. This year, not only have the total number of exams a student sits increased, with more papers per subject, but the actual bulk of information they have had to carry into the exam hall with them has multiplied in the same burdensome manner.
With all these changes hanging over our heads, who could ever argue that we would cope well? We truly did not. Students have reported suffering from mental breakdowns, have had frequent panic attacks queuing for the exams and whilst revising, nosebleeds from inordinate stress. The thought that these exams were our one shot; no coursework, no controlled assessments and no second chance, was enough to send students into a mindset so severe that some heartbreakingly attempted suicide. How can we justify “rigorous testing” manifesting into this?
So, to answer the question of what we have been left with. Us students with rampant and rife mental health issues, our teachers are left with uncertainty, waiting until that fateful results day when they can evaluate whether they could even understand the course they were teaching, and our parents are left with confusion, unsure of how everything will pan out for the year of guinea pigs placed in their care.