The pressure is mounting: new exams will increase students' stress

Classroom

A-Level results day will prove an extremely stressful occasion for many students but the new exam system will not relieve this pressure

This Thursday students across the country will receive their A-Level results, the culmination of their 14 years at school.

The results, for many, will decide where they will spend the next three years and, in excess of £27,000. Needless to say there is an inordinate amount of pressure resting on this day.

This year Michael Gove instigated a change to the A-Level exam system. To be taught to the year starting sixth form in 2015, these exams will first be assessed in 2017. Under the new system the A. S. examinations will not contribute towards the final A-Level grades but will count as stand alone qualifications.

The new system will mean that results will be based on the final results at the end of the two years. With a move away from coursework and modular exams, students will be reliant on strong performances in just a few exams of high weighting, to ensure the future they want.

While it may be tougher for students to perform at a high standard, as one bad day could result in an end to their dream careers, the increasing number of students entering university will mean that universities become more reliant on these results in their selection process.

Furthermore with an end to the A.S. Level, universities will rely on students’ grades at G.C.S.E., meaning that there is little room for an improvement curve, and students taking these exams at 15 and 16 will need to already be thinking about the impact on their future.

Examining on a wide range of subjects, the G.C.S.E.’s allow an understanding of students’ ability across the board. However, they will work negatively for a student who has a particular interest in a specific subject and who may perform far better in a specialist environment.

These changes will not only increase the pressure felt by students in their final year at school, but will also put pressure on younger students to faultlessly achieve. These examinations demands perfection and does not allow for growth and change where students may be able to realise there potential later on.

This will both deter some students, who feel that as they have not achieved, they never will, and cause extreme stress for others who strive to achieve the perfection that is seemingly being demanded of them.

Last week the headmistress at a top private school was announced to have told her students that how they performed in their exams did not matter. Her school was aiming to teach students that perfection was not everything in a bid to lower their stress levels and make them more rounded beings.

Recent statistics have shown that there are an ever-increasing number of teenagers and young adults being treated for depression.

With the pressure that is being placed on them, this comes as no surprise.

Universities are being forced to assess their counselling services, which are struggling to deal with the number of students diagnosed with depression or other mental health issues.

One student at Cambridge University highlighted the mental health problems that come with the extreme pressure faced by students at a top university: “Most people I know go to counselling. It seems as if everyone has some form of depression or anxiety but that is just accepted by the professors.”

Many are turning to medication to treat them, at a cost to the NHS and at a risk to their own future well-being. While medication is able to help improve someone’s mood, it does not solve the original problem and the reason for their sickness. This in itself needs to be addressed, but with a severe strain on medical services, patients are finding it harder and harder to access someone who can help them approach these problems.

The news has been littered with reports of students for whom the pressure of the current system has become too much. Families have been torn apart by their suicides or are struggling to cope with their mental states. Weekly we hear of a student who seemed to have the world at their feet but could not deal with the pressure it brought.

By Friday for many students the pressure will be over and they will be excitedly looking forward to their future. However for others, the pressure will be just beginning.

They will be enduring a nervous wait to discover whether they can go ahead with their desired future or whether it will have to be all change for them. All this comes as a result of how they performed on a few specific days in June.

There is a need for an exam system that can distinguish between students more easily. However this needs to be done by taking pressure away from the students, rather than, as Gove has done, by increasing the pressure both on the students and, on the NHS as they struggle to deal with the growth in mental health problems.