The annual pantomime of exam results returns tomorrow. This magnifying pressure also brings the predictable elements. We sensationalise the pass or fail narrative. We follow the “have you made it to university?” stories. We measure pass rates and essentially form league tables.
I remember being a wreck awaiting my results, staring down the street to spot the postman. Fast-forward to today, and I still witness, year after year, the monopolisation of young people’s worries. "Have I messed it all up?" "Will I get the marks I need?" "Have I let my family down?" "Is my career already over?" "Did I do as well as my friends?" "What’s next for me in life?"
It will be “Oh no, you didn't!” for some, and “Oh yes, you did!” for others. However, my message to young people when it comes to the exam-results panto is “It’s behind you!”
Here are my four tips for moving on from results day:
1. Don't dwell – just go and excel
What’s done is done and you cannot change it now. You can maintain being positive in life and ultimately successful by focusing on the things that you can control. Every minute and every day that goes by from this point on takes you further from the results. They go from today’s headlines to a footnote in your past. Yes, exams can be very important, but please remember “ABC 1” – Always Be Confident. As with any muscle, the more you use this mantra, the stronger it will get.
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2. You are more than your results
When you accept that you are more than your exam results, you enable them to refine you, and not define you. What matters is you asking how you are good, not merely how good you are. We all have individual identities, talents, skills, goals and passions. Those won’t change this week, and you won’t magically become any more or less smart. So keep your awesomeness in your own mind and be caring to yourself and others. “ABC 2”, then, is Always Be Caring (to yourself). Don't be hard on yourself, no matter how ambitious you are.
3. A no-failure mindset matters
If we all defined ourselves by our early perceived failures, so much greatness would never have happened. From Oprah Winfrey and Mo Farah to Walt Disney or JK Rowling, setbacks have an impact on all of us. But mindset matters. Take every knockback as a lesson. Let it make you stronger, become more determined and never let anything or anyone hold you back. Ignore the doubters and focus on the things that make you shine. If results day doesn't your way, you’ll still find your path and it will be fine. If it all goes the way you hoped, then amazing. But life so often doesn't work like that.
We sometimes cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you react. Remember “ABC 3”. Always Be Changing. Embrace a change of plan and be willing to try new things out and avoid getting stuck in your ways.
4. Get active in the community
Lots of the things that will make you employable or productive or effective lie outside of results day measurements. Confidence. Self-awareness. Passion. Work ethic. Decision-making. Life experience. Sound values. Communication skills. Empathy. These are all fundamental and are developed far from the exam hall. If you can fine-tune these factors – factors that employers look for – it can be a big boost for you. Often it is community-based, non-formal, youth work programmes or sports clubs or volunteering that develops these assets.
Being active in your community and joining youth programmes can be truly life-changing. Focus on a youth forum, stand for the Youth Parliament, run a blog, coach at the football team or volunteers to help others. These are great ways to lead and get experience. You meet new friends, learn about yourself and, importantly, it gives you a purpose (and distraction), no matter what’s happening with schools and exams. So, finally, remember “ABC4” – Always Be Community.
John Loughton is CEO of the Dare2Lead social enterprise and founder of Scran Academy, a catering social enterprise. He was previously chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament and head of public affairs for The Prince’s Trust. He tweets @JohnLoughton
*Tes Scotland will be live blogging on exam results day, Tuesday 6 August. See updates on Twitter @TesScotland