We need to talk about exam results

by - August 02, 2020

graphic of letter and notebook and pen with grades

As a University student, I have had my fair share of results days and still have quite a few to come 😅. Getting back results is something I don’t like (usually because I am pretty harsh on myself and set really high expectations for myself). I also find it stressful. But, I wanted to generally speak about exam results because I know it’s something that all students can relate to and most of us dread. 

It is no secret that generally there is a lot of pressure on students to achieve high exam results (I definitely feel it being a law student). This pressure has sometimes led to a competition in grades as a way of validation. Personally, I usually avoid sharing exam results. Not because I think it is something to be ashamed of regardless of what I achieve, but to avoid the whole comparison game. Whether my exams go well or badly, if asked, I will reply to people honestly. I think being open about when you are not so happy and your ‘failures’ is important. We need to normalise failure as being part of being a student and life generally. Every student will get a mark they are not happy with at some point. However, the reason I am usually hesitant on sharing academic results is that usually, students use it to compare - as a way to try and determine whether they have been ‘successful’ or not. To assess if they should be happy with their grades or not depending on whether their score is higher or lower than who they asked. Whilst I inevitably also fall into the comparison trap sometimes, you should feel happy or disappointed with your exam results based on your aims regardless of how others have done. Success is relative and when it comes to academic results, we are all on our own individual journeys. Each of us are aiming for different grades depending on what we find easier or more difficult and our circumstances. 

It can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing academic results as a way of measuring your intelligence. I know when I hear of a student who has achieved amazing exam results that I often think wow they must be so clever. That sums up how even though I know that academic results do not define who you are, or your capabilities, that I automatically do subconsciously associate good grades with being smart. But here is what I wanted to remind everyone about (including me who sometimes falls into the trap)- you are so much more than your academic achievements and you can be incredibly gifted, but yet do badly in an exam. An exam result is merely a reflection of your circumstances (yes hard work of course influences), but more than anything the situation you were in when you took the exams. These circumstances are often not within your control - life is unpredictable after all. 

Moreover, I truly believe that sitting exams is a skill. Some people are better at it than others, and as such, it really only measures one type of intelligence. You might not be so great at sitting exams, but incredible at sports for example. Einstein's quote comes to mind here. 

Einstein intelligence and fish quote


Remember the journey, not just the result (pun intended). I really try and keep this in mind whenever getting back exam marks. What you learnt along the way counts for so much regardless of whatever number or letter you are given - that at the end of the day is what will stay with you. Revising for exams taught me how to be determined, how to carry on even when a subject felt hard- these are life skills I can use way beyond receiving my results regardless of whether they are good or bad. You are a person at the end of the day before a student. Eventually, a grade will become meaningless as you progress through life- achieving a certain mark to get to where you want to be is a stepping stone. Once you are in, nobody really cares about your grades so much. What you took away from that subject is something that can stay with you. Also, it is important to remember the journey you took when receiving results because grades never "just happen". That is another problem with comparing grades - it encourages you to see marks as just something someone has just magically achieved, but does not show you the work behind scoring a certain mark. You put in hours and you spent time learning in order to sit that exam and just for doing your best given your situation, you should be proud. Be proud of the work you put in. The effort. Not giving up when you found it hard. Be proud you adapted to online learning and sitting exams through COVID-19 (that was an interesting experience...). 

To any student or indeed anyone who was previously a student: your grades do not define you - not your worth, not your academic skill or your intelligence. Whilst it is natural to feel disappointed from time to time in an academic grade, that grade will not determine your whole life. It may mean a lot in the current moment, but a few years from now or even a decade away, you probably will not even give it a second thought. 

If you are a student receiving results soon, I wish you all the luck and hope you achieve what you hoped for (I am thinking of all you GCSE and A-Level students 🍀). If not, remember the learning experience and that at some point this will just be another story you tell. Whether you do well or not, there is always another option- there are always other ways of following your chosen career path. That grade will not be the be-all and end-all- I promise - take it from someone who is a student herself. 

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