Advice to help young people deal with the stress of exam results

Updated on 20 August 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made the last few months very unsettling. If you were studying for A Level, AS Level, BTEC, GCSE or the International Baccalaureate (IB), you suddenly found out in March that you wouldn’t be doing your exams. For some of you, that might have been a relief; for others, you might have felt disappointed after all the hard work you’d put in.

Now August is here and many of you are getting your results (if you studied for the IB, you received yours in July). In any given year, this would be a nervous time so it’s natural to be feeling anxious or frustrated about what’s going on and uncertain about what the future holds.

The Good Thinking team has put together these tips to help you cope with the stress of results day and determine how you’ll come out the other side. More than anything, you should be really proud of what you’ve accomplished at a really difficult time.

1. Understand the grading process

As you've not been able to take your exams, your grades are being worked out in a new way this year.

On the 17th of August, the Department for Education announced that students in England will receive teacher assessed grades for their GCSE, AS Level and A Level results. Find out more on the UK Government website.

A different grading process has been used for vocational and technical qualifications, such as BTEC and IB. On the 19th of August, Pearson announced that it would be regrading BTECs and asked schools and colleges not to issue any BTEC L1 and L2 results on the 20th of August. Find out more on the UK Government website, the Pearson (BTEC) website and the IB website.

2. Find out what will happen on the day

With social distancing, results day might look a bit different this year. Your school or college should have been in touch to explain what will be happening – will they email or text your results to you? Can you collect them in person (and, if so, should you arrive at a certain time and wear a face covering)? What kind of support will you be able to get on the day, either online or in person?

If you’re applying for university, make sure your UCAS Track details are up-to-date. Have any information about job, college and uni offers to hand and have your mobile phone with you (topped up and fully charged) on results day in case you have to make phone calls to potential employers, colleges, universities or UCAS.

Read this TES article to find out how two schools are handling results day and check out The Student Room’s Q&A on how to prepare for results day.

3. Focus on what you can control

So many things are up in the air at the moment and that can be really difficult to deal with. A helpful way of coping with uncertainty and stress is to focus on what’s in your control – try to have a daily routine with time for exercise, hobbies and chatting to friends, for example.

Take a moment to consider how resilient you are. You’re living through a global pandemic and you might also be putting your energy into fighting racial discrimination, climate change and other causes you believe in. Be kind to yourself and try to stay positive.

It’s a good idea to talk to your family and friends about how you’re feeling and discuss how they can support you now and after you get your exam results.

Read Good Thinking’s advice about dealing with stress, uncertainty and anger. You might also find this Good Thinking blog by a GCSE student and this YoungMinds blog by an A Level student interesting.

4. Don’t panic if your grades are lower than you hoped

It’s never easy getting unexpected or disappointing news but sometimes these situations can bring about new opportunities, whether that’s finding a new apprenticeship or job or going to a different uni to the one you had planned.

Employers, universities and colleges understand that these are extraordinary circumstances and they will do everything they can to help you progress. If you don’t get the grades you expected, call them and see what they can do for you. You could also go through UCAS clearing or defer your university place until next year.

These articles by Childline and TES contain lots of useful advice. You can, of course, talk to your teachers about the options available to you. If you’d like to speak to someone anonymously about how you’re feeling, Childline and The Mix offer free helplines.

5. Celebrate... but do it sensibly

It’s really important that we all continue to follow the official guidance on social distancing due to COVID-19. You might not be able to give your friends a hug or take a group selfie at the school gates but perhaps you can find another way to celebrate your results, like a meal with your family or a WhatsApp video chat with your mates.

If you decide to share your results on social media – YoungMinds is running a #EndOfSchoolSelfie challenge, for example – remember that some of your friends might be disappointed with their grades. Try not to brag or compare yourself to others.

Use the next few weeks to give yourself some time off (like you would have done after your exams) and focus on doing things that make you feel good. Listen to music, enjoy your hobbies, spend time with your family, get some sleep...

Read Good Thinking’s article about five ways to good mental wellbeing and listen to our podcasts about sleep and mindfulness.