‘Exam results won’t matter at all a decade from now’

With SQA results day approaching, one 16-year-old student offers a reminder that exam grades ‘don’t define us as people’

Harriet Sweatman

SQA results day: One student anxiously awaiting her exam grades offers her perspective

Summer is here, exams are over for the year, and it’s almost time for the moment I’ve been waiting for since May – my birthday. I turn 17 on Monday, the day before my exam results, which means I will either have a lovely belated birthday present, or my celebrations will end rather abruptly.

I’ve been taking music exams for over a decade so I am used to the adrenaline rush, the shaking, and I know how much work it takes for me to feel ready. I am used to the anxiety surrounding the results envelope. Sometimes I even have to get my mum to open them for me. However, it is a totally different experience with SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) exams. Last year I set an alarm for exactly 7:59am so that I would have a minute to prepare myself and rub the sleep out of my eyes before checking my phone to see my National 5 exam results arrive by text.

If I’m being honest, I’ve tried to avoid thinking about results day this year, which is on Tuesday. I walked out of most of my exams feeling confident that I had done all I could – while also thinking that if they make the science papers any longer, they are going to have to factor in bathroom breaks. Overall, I do feel a bit mixed about my Highers. I have done everything my teachers programmed me to do, and if it doesn’t get me the grades I need I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’ve ticked all the boxes I was told to, tried to remember model answers word for word, and sacrificed any creativity in favour of following the marking scheme. I’ve learned that that is what exams are about; there are no prizes for novelty.

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Last year I left all my revision until the start of my exam leave. Bad idea. That led to a week of past-paper marathons fuelled by full-sugar lemonade and stress. This year, I gave myself more time, which meant I could sit in the sun with plenty of Ribena, my go-to study drink of the year. I also sat with friends in school where we could motivate each other with kind words and chocolate. I know that this time next year, studying for exams will be one of the last memories I have of certain people before we all go our separate ways.

SQA results day: 'The weight of huge expectations' 

This year my results do feel more important than ever before. These results will decide which universities I apply for. With the right results, I face entrance exams and trying to write a personal statement that makes me sound more confident and interesting than I feel. Sometimes I really can’t believe my future could be dependent on how I performed on one day in one exam in a subject I will leave behind after this year. One bad day could change everything. If I do get the results I am expected to, I will feel relieved and nothing more. But I am constantly worried that I have peaked too early and that this is the best I’ll ever be. I shouldn’t be scared that it’s all downhill from here.

In the end, I think everyone is nervous for results day. Maybe, like me, they feel the weight of huge expectations, or maybe they just really don’t want to find out that they have to retake maths again. These will be the results that mean they get to study medicine at Cambridge, or they will mean they suddenly have to rethink everything. Whatever happens, I hope we can all remember that these exam results won’t matter at all a decade from now and don’t define us as people.

Harriet Sweatman turns 17 on Monday and goes to school in Edinburgh

*Tes Scotland will be live blogging on exam results day on Tuesday, 6 August.


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Harriet Sweatman

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