Results day: How to deal with anxiety, stress and imposter syndrome

Last published 2 August 2021

Mhairi Underwood, Head of Student Voice and Diversity at The Student Room, has seen first hand the pressures facing young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, she looks at some of the concerns students have ahead of results day.

If you’re a student receiving your results in August, you might be feeling pretty anxious right now.

You’re not alone.

You’ve been through the most disruptive 18 months in living experience in education, and now you’re receiving teacher-assessed grades (TAGs), which is different to how any other cohort has received their grades.

In a poll we ran in June in our online community on The Student Room, almost 90% of students said they’re worried that receiving TAGs will negatively impact their future. A lot of students feel like it might hamper their ability to get the spot they want at college or uni, and some students are talking about being seen as ‘lesser’ because of not sitting exams.

“I’m extremely worried about one grade that will impact my whole university place.”

Right now, there might be a lot of people encouraging you to be proud of what you’ve achieved during the pandemic. We hope you do feel proud because you’ve done amazing at a really hard time. But we also want to let you know that if you’re not feeling super beamingly proud, that’s okay too.

Here, we’re going to explore a few reasons why that might be, and suggest some ways to process those feelings.

I feel like an imposter

Recently on The Student Room forums, we’ve been seeing how this worry about receiving grades in a different way can sometimes translate into feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’. This is when a person doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Most people will experience feelings of imposter syndrome at some point in their life, and it can be helpful to be equipped with some tools to manage that – to help build your resilience during what is a stressful time.

One helpful tip is to look at the bigger picture. Could you draw up a list of your strengths and accomplishments outside of the classroom? Or make a plan to do some things that really matter to you and that you enjoy? It’s also a good idea to talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling – no doubt they’ve felt like an imposter at times too. This article contains some useful advice.

What if my grades end up being higher than I expected?

There are a lot of reasons why this might be great, but if you’re not entirely thrilled about it because of the way the results were given, that’s okay too. Sometimes imposter syndrome can creep in when it feels like you’ve been given a judgement or accolade that is of a higher standard than you expected. This might lead you to feeling worried that you might be ‘exposed’ or found out once you eventually start the next phase of your journey.

Why not get a sense check from your teachers or tutors, or even your friends and parents, about your doubts? They may have noticed you were working better and that the grades accurately reflect that hard work. You may have been comparing yourself to some idea of perfection, whereas in reality you were working hard and effectively.

What if my grades end up being lower than I expected?

This can be a really difficult time, especially if you feel you’ve not had a lot of control over your learning and assessments in the past two years as a result of the pandemic. If this is the case for you on results day, it’s important to bear in mind there are a lot of other options available to you.

If you’re keen on uni, you can explore some of those here, or if you’re worried there may have been an error with your grades, here’s some information about making an appeal. Sometimes not being recognised for your actual ability can lead to feeling like you have to ‘prove’ yourself, which can place a lot of pressure on your mental health.

Disappointment is difficult, but you might find it useful to think about why you wanted those grades in the first place. When thinking about the future, consider the things you’re truly passionate about and interested in, regardless of what the grades say. Even if your next step ends up looking slightly different to what you’d originally planned, following what makes you inspired can really help with feeling fulfilled and motivated in the next phase of your journey.

I feel like these results will determine my whole future

Every year around results day, we see the emotional toll it can take when it feels like your results will determine your whole future. This year, you might also be dealing with feelings of unfairness or frustration because of the impact of the pandemic (which are completely beyond your control).

It’s easy for people in their careers already to say, ‘don’t worry, results don’t define you.’ But it’s understandable that, right now, it may actually feel like they do.

Here are some comments from students on The Student Room to help you cope with results day...

“Even if you don't get the grades you expected, there will be so many opportunities for you and it doesn't mean doors have closed!”

“Sometimes things don't work out and that isn't your fault - very few people actually get it right the first time round. Be open to opportunities, even if they aren't what you initially planned, and be ready to say 'yes' when they come your way.”

“I got rejected on results day. Now I have 2 degrees, and am a fully funded PhD student!”

“If things [don't] turn out the way you planned, then don't fret! There are still plenty of other doors and options out there for you to pursue. Take this from someone that completely bombed their A-levels and is still studying what they wanted to do.”

If you’re finishing your Year 13 studies, you can get advice and support on The Student Room from both fellow students and UCAS-trained Clearing and Applications Advisors over the results period. If you’ve just finished Year 11, you can chat with other students receiving their GCSE results here.

In the lead up to results day, we hope you find some time to reflect on the enormity of your achievements in the past two years particularly. As you take this next step in your journey, don’t forget to acknowledge the way you’ve grown as a whole human, not just a student.

A message from us

Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support your mental health, including free NHS-approved wellbeing apps, expert advice and podcasts. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed about results day, you might find the following useful:

Clear Fear (app)

Feeling angry or frustrated? Tips on managing your emotions and behaviour (article)

Feeling Good Teens (app)

Five ways to good mental wellbeing (article)

How to face uncertain times and focus on the positives (article)

Move Mood (app)

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