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Burned out by AS-level stress

The ordeal of one bright candidate who collapsed last week, emotionally and physically exhausted, has fuelled growing protests over exam overload. Julie Henry reports.

ARIAN Waran had her sights set on Oxbridge and a career in medicine, but she had not accounted for the punishing demands of the new AS exams.

The bright, hard-working 16-year-old collapsed last week in the middle of a 36-hour period in which she was to take three papers.

This came during a fortnight of exams in which she was expected to sit 11 papers.

Now she says her hopes of getting into a top university have been dashed.

"The night before I was shaking and could not eat properly. I knew I was in trouble," said Arian, who attends a private school.

"I had a panic attack in the first exam and had to be let out to get some fresh air. The same thing happened in the second exam and I could not complete the paper. I missed the third one completely, and two the next day, because I felt so ill."

"I got 10 very good GCSEs but we had two years to do the course, time to revise and well-spaced exams. The AS system is just too overloaded.

"I consider myself to be a igh-achiever but I am devastated that the university I want might not take me now."

The teenager from West Sussex said that most of the things she enjoyed doing like playing the violin in an orchestra, volunteer work and debating have fallen by the wayside because of the pressure of school work.

Arian's mother Jane, a primary school teacher, said her daughter was suffering from emotional and physical exhaustion.

"The school, staff and pupils alike, together with our GP, have all been very supportive. However it is too late for my daughter who is heart-broken that her lower-sixth year, which promised so much, ended in tears."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said students of Arian's age had been guinea-pigs since the age of seven taking a whole raft of new Government tests and exams.

"They are finding there is no time left to do anything else and the major complexitities of the A-level reforms are taking their toll."

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, claimed that pupils were increasingly facing "burn-out" as a result of exam pressure.

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