Opening that envelope can cause joy or pain for students and staff, as two years of hard work come to a conclusion for better or worse. Helen Amass talks to former A-level pupils about this life-changing day – and to the teachers who guided them through it...
Jefferson Bosela, 20
I was extremely naughty when I first started secondary school. Part of the problem was that I was involved in gang culture. At one point, I was almost permanently excluded from school. The only reason they let me stay was because one teacher put herself on the line for me.
One day, I witnessed a boy being beaten up in the street. I wasn't involved in the attack, but I also didn't step in to help. The next day at school, I saw my teacher crying. She told me that her son had been attacked the night before and had to be taken to hospital. It was the same teacher who had saved me from exclusion. That was the point when I knew things had to change, because there was only so far that the life I was leading could take me.
I was sceptical about A levels at first because people told me how difficult they were. But I pulled up my pants and started to work so hard. I was constantly studying and the teachers were great.
A-level results day was such a relief. I got my grades online first, when I was at home with my mum. She's a really strong woman and she's my motivation. It was a good feeling to be able to give back for all the help she has given me.
At school, my teachers were joking with me and pretending they didn't know my results. But I knew they were proud of me because they asked me to speak to some of the Year 12s, to inspire them and let them know that they could do it too.
I didn't expect to get the grades I did. People who are supposed to be smarter than I am didn't do as well as me. I felt really humbled.
I'm now studying international politics at the University of Surrey. I want to be prime minister. It will be a lot of hard work, but I'm used to that now.
Jefferson's teacher: Izzy Boggild Jones, English and politics teacher, Croydon
The environment at the school was definitely challenging. There were quite a few behavioural issues, many of the kids needed a lot of support and there was high teacher turnover.
Many of the students I taught were the first in their families to go to university, which can be really daunting. Of the five boys who I taught in A2 politics, there was one who had sky-high aspirations. Jefferson was a really popular pupil and loved being the centre of attention. Not all his friends were as focused on studying as he was, so I imagine it was very difficult for him not to get distracted.
But Jefferson didn't lose sight of his goal: to get to university and have a great career. He was always asking about the jobs of people I knew, what those jobs were like and how much they paid.
Jefferson didn't need any encouragement to write extra practice essays. He would bring them to me in the office, standing by as I marked them. If he had missed a mark, he'd want to know why, or he'd try to demonstrate that his work deserved a higher grade.
I knew that he could do the work, but I had doubts that my lessons had prepared him well enough. After each exam I waited nervously to ask the boys: "How did it go? What questions came up? What did you argue?"
The morning of results day was really busy. Jefferson was delighted with his grades and was grateful for all the work his teachers had put in. Even in the chaos of results day, he made sure that he took the time to thank us.
I was thrilled when Jefferson achieved the A grade he had worked so hard for. I felt like a proud parent.
Anya Eastman, 19
My memories of results day are awful. When you haven't been accepted on to the course you want because you missed a grade, nothing else seems good enough. All my friends had been accepted to their first choices and my boyfriend was going to read medicine at Oxford. I didn't want to be the only one who compromised.
I had an alternative offer from my first-choice university, Royal Holloway, to study a different course. But I spent results day calling around clearing and didn't make up my mind to accept the alternative offer until the next day. Then, as I clicked the button to accept my offer online, an email came through telling me that the course was now full.
Luckily, I was on the phone to Mrs Ludlam at the time. She calmed me down and told me to call the university. The woman I spoke to said that if I had clicked that button five seconds later, the place would have gone to somebody in clearing. As it was, I had accepted just in time.
If I hadn't had such encouragement from teachers I really trusted, things could have worked out very differently.
Anya's teacher: Belinda Ludlam, director of sixth-form learning, Hampshire
A-level results day is much easier for heads of sixth-form than it used to be. In previous decades, the day passed in a series of tense negotiations on the phone with admissions tutors. We were the first to know whether a student had significantly overachieved or underachieved, and we were ready to fight their corner.
These days, students arrive at school with a grin to pick up their results, already knowing that they have a place at their chosen university (whereas we have fretted for 18 hours over the fact that they have missed a grade). Last year was no different, until Anya arrived.
She had been ambitious throughout sixth-form. Her attendance was excellent and her work ethic was strong. We knew she had missed the top grade she needed for her first-choice offer to read English literature at Royal Holloway, but that she was likely to be offered a place at her insurance university to read the same subject.
But when we spoke to her, we found out that Royal Holloway had made Anya an alternative offer for a related literature course. She was paralysed with indecision.
It seemed an easy choice to us, but Anya turned things over and over and did not see the urgency of her situation. She talked about gaining a degree in a subject she did not really value and the fees she would owe for the privilege.
Having seen how rapidly things can change on results day in terms of places being filled, we knew the decision might be taken from her if she didn't act fast. We urged her to take the place at Royal Holloway and try to switch courses once she was there.
After lengthy persuasion, Anya accepted the new offer in the nick of time. Within a month she had been offered a place on the course she originally wanted as someone had dropped out. She was overjoyed, but her hesitation almost made her miss out completely.
Beth Hall, 20
Results day was overwhelming for me. I had been expecting a C to be my highest grade, so I was chuffed when I found out I had achieved ABC. I was just a few marks off another B, so I almost did even better.
My grades exceeded the offer of BCC that I had from the University of Preston, but I wanted to go there anyway so that I could live at home and commute.
I tend to do better in smaller places. When I started my A levels, I went to a college in Blackburn for two months. It was too big and I wasn't used to being in large classes after always being in smaller, bottom-set groups. Luckily, I was able to transfer back to my old school and my grades began to improve significantly.
My degree is the most challenging thing I've ever done, but I'm loving it and am on track for a first. It's my ambition to become an art therapist.
My advice to those receiving their results this year is to remember that it's not the end of the road, no matter what you get.
Beth's teacher: Lauren Davey, second in RE and assistant head of year 11, Lancashire
On paper, Beth was not the kind of pupil who would have been able to access A levels at all – she was predicted to get D and E grades. But she had things that many students do not: a positive attitude and a strong work ethic.
I first taught her when she was in Year 11. The class was a bottom set and there were a number of behaviour problems, but Beth was a calming influence on the group. She would work with anyone and offer help wherever it was needed.
That year, we were raising money for a school trip to India to visit an orphanage supported by the charity Shining Faces. Although Beth had exams to think about, she became involved in fundraising by helping to run church quizzes and a band night.
On the trip, Beth's giving nature shone through in the way she interacted with the orphans. Being able to handle your emotions and still be able to help others is a rare skill.
I was already proud of Beth, but her final grades were a surprise to us all. On results day, the girl who had been predicted Ds and Es received grades of ABC. What's more, she earned herself a place to study mental health nursing at the University of Preston. I was so pleased for her, because she really got what she deserved for all the hard work she had put in.
Christian Riley, 20
I was frustrated and angry when I opened my results and saw that I had a B in geography – I felt I had worked hard enough to get at least an A. But then I realised that something had to be wrong, because I had zero marks for one of the papers.
My plan was to go to King's College London to read human geography. The grade requirements were AAB, but I only had ABB and an A* in general studies, which was excluded from my offer.
The school was excellent. Before I had even arrived it had sent my paper off for a re-mark. Mr Parker assured me that the mark would change and told me it was the strangest result he had ever seen.
Things turned out fine in the end: the university accepted me regardless and I found out a week later that my grade had changed to an A. But at the time, it really made me doubt my abilities in terms of geography. I may have been tempted to change course to history, had the mark not been corrected so quickly and had Mr Parker not been so reassuring and supportive on results day.
Christian's teacher: Tim Parker, geography and boys' games teacher, Stockton-on-Tees
It was a shock when we realised that one of our most promising geographers had scored zero out of a possible 80 marks on a paper. I mean, as long as you write something down you will probably score more than zero, and this was a hard-working student who had a real interest in geography and planned to study the subject at university. What's more, he had come out of his exams feeling positive and confident that he had gained the grades he wanted. The result did not make sense.
In the initial hours after we received Chris' results, we contacted the exam board and it agreed to re-mark the paper. I was 99 per cent sure that the mark was a mistake, but there was nothing more I could do.
When Chris arrived at school, he was scared that the mark would affect his chances to study the subject he loved and was confused about what had gone wrong. He was losing confidence, and our job was to reassure and support him.
After the re-mark, Chris' paper was returned with a score of 64, taking his final grade to a high A and allowing him to meet the requirements of his initial offer. It's heartwrenching when a student doesn't get the grades they want, especially when they have put in the effort. Thankfully, Chris was accepted to university with the grade he received on results day, but it could so easily have turned out another way.
For full access to all our A-level coverage, click here, and for GCSEs, here
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