Results Day

In which The Author recalls failing exams

Yet again, the pass rate for A levels in England has risen – for the 27th year in a row. 97.5% of students achieved grades A–E, it was announced earlier today.
Keira, one of my young friends, isn’t amongst their number. She bombed completely, by the sound of things. Having seen her a few times over recent months, I don’t think she really applied herself to her work. She doesn’t want to resit, she’d rather join the police instead. Keira’s father’s already told me that his daughter will join the police over his dead body. This could be fun.
I can’t talk. I messed up spectacularly during my Pure Maths exam. My friend Chris B. and I made the same mistake – integrating a solid of revolution with respect to the wrong axis – and spent valuable minutes going up some weird topological orifice of our own making.
As we left the exam room, Chris looked at me in horror and said, ‘Hollow cups!’
We both knew what had happened, but when you’re working against the clock you can’t go back and start again. I also ignored a complex numbers question because I hadn’t revised it thoroughly enough, and thereby threw away 15 easy marks. I sat down later and pissed the question without any further revision.
I didn’t get the grades I needed for my first or second choice, and ended up at the mercies of the Clearing system. I settled for a place on a different course at a university I’d never heard of. Two academic terms and a work placement later, I quit and never went back. (I found a letter from my personal tutor a couple of weeks ago, telling me that if I ever changed my mind, they’d keep my place open. Twenty-four years on, they probably wouldn’t remember me.)
A girl I’m friendly with at the moment also left after one year. It’s something else we’ve got in common.
So I know how gutted Keira must be feeling this morning. But her life isn’t over. It’s time to regroup and rethink, but it’s not time to throw your hands up and surrender. I know plenty of unemployed graduates; I also know plenty of people who left school with bugger all by way of qualifications, and who are now earning good money through their business acumen or practical skills.
I still remember the day we picked up our O level results, back in 1982. My pal Mike H. had screwed up badly, and in three consecutive subjects he’d scored a D, a U and a D.
‘Oh wow, I got a DUD!’ Mike exclaimed as a gang of us compared our printouts. We all laughed, but it wasn’t funny. Mike had been an academic high-flyer until he started to go off the rails, and we all knew his family would make his life hell.
But he went on to make a decent living as a long-distance driver, until he died suddenly a couple of years ago. It wasn’t the end of the world for Mike, and it won’t be the end of the world for Keira (although she’ll probably be grounded for several years when her mother finds out!)
It’s kids like Shanara’s cousin Seema, who’s a top-flight student and who was featured in the local paper last year, who’ll really feel the pressure from their families if they balls things up. And, having known Keira since she was born, I’m quite sure that she wouldn’t want to be part of the majority anyway.

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