Exam Stress

I know a lot of people who are doing (or have already done) exams this summer. In our house, both me and my younger sister have been doing exams, GCSEs for her, and A-Levels for me. When I started A-Levels, I was warned by practically every student I knew that ‘the jump’ between GCSEs and A-Levels was a big one, but I never really anticipated quite how high or far I’d have to jump.

I study for my A-Levels at college, which has been fantastic for me as I’m allowed to be very independent in my studies and I don’t really have anyone chasing me to get pointless work done. It’s also very good for me as I’m used to working independently due to the fact I was home-schooled and attended a medical education unit throughout my GCSEs. On the whole, my college have been fine in meeting my needs. My attendance is quite low in comparison to your average person due to appointments, fatigue, illness and pain (basically chronic illness life), but I’m lucky in that my teachers are very understanding of me having to have time off; plus my punctuality is 100% so they can’t complain too much. However, the biggest issue with my college is that they NEVER send me any of the work I’ve missed, and this often leads to me being beyond frustrated, and also explains my huge collection of revision guides, textbooks and print outs that I’ve sourced from the depths of the internet. You’d probably not be suprised after reading this to learn that we are the last year of sixth form at my college as it’s being shut down.


The fact is, exams are hard. REALLY HARD. When you’re chronically ill, you can easily multiply this difficulty by five. My first exam is on the 15th of June and I’ve been revising now since February half term. Do I feel prepared? Not at all.

For me, the main difference between revision when you’re chronically ill and when you’re “normal” is that frankly, it is IMPOSSIBLE to follow a revision time table. Several of my friends follow a revision time table, and I’ve tried- and failed. My pain and energy levels change all the time, so me saying to myself that “I’ll do four hours of this today, work all day tomorrow, and then five hours the day after” is pointless as it will NEVER work out that way. There’s no way of me guessing how much pain I’m going to wake up in the next morning, or what quality of sleep I’ll have had. Generally the best revision schedule for me is to sleep until I naturally wake up (normally around 11), have something to eat, and then revise solidly (on the floor) until I get so fatigued that I fall asleep on my books and/or my laptop. Not exactly the most standard way of revising that’s for sure, but it’s the only way I’ve found that works for me.

I feel like this year has the most riding on it, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m struggling do much with the exams this year. Normally, I much prefer exams to coursework, but this time it’s definitely a close call. GCSEs were important of course, as they’re essentially the building blocks to a career, but AS levels didn’t count for much really apart from bumping up my UCAS points slightly. This year, my university place rests on the grades I get, and I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go to university. The university I’m applying to don’t specifically ask for grades, instead they ask for 280 UCAS points. I’m just hoping and praying I get those points. For most people, once exams are over they start sleeping through the night again, they can finally relax and life goes back to normal. Not for me though- that’s when all of that starts. I sleep fine through exams generally because my brain is basically mush, but as soon as that two and a half month wait for the results begin, I can’t sleep and my anxiety is through the roof. So when these exams are finally over and done with, I have all of that to look forward to!

I also have exam access arrangements that put me on a level playing field to everyone else, although I had to practically fight to the death to get the right ones! This year I have a word processor, separate room (to stop myself being killed by other students when I’m tapping away), rest breaks (five minutes every half an hour), and then the new addition for the this year- 25% extra time. I had to appeal to the exam boards eventually as my “Support for Success” worker wasn’t getting me anywhere, and after looking up my legal rights I was that annoying person that was on to everyone until I got what I needed.

Anyway, good luck to anyone who is in the midst of or are about to start exams, and well done to those who have already finished them! Remember that grades do not determine your self worth.


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