Even if I get 12 A*s will anyone care?

27th August 2004 at 01:00
Matthew Holehouse, 16, on his exam experiences and feelings about GCSEs

No one is meant to look forward to results day, and yet I was impatient for it to arrive, so I could call time on a strange summer. The past eight weeks caught me off guard; I hadn't realised how much time there'd be to fill when no more notebooks were to be digested and dark, exam-shaped clouds no longer loomed. Two years' worth of grinding pressure does take its toll. Then there are the mistakes in the exam hall: missing out the units on the physics question and rambling in the English essays blot out all other memories of the papers.

Yet, in a few months' time, providing I get the minimum five Cs to get into sixth form, the results will be rendered pretty much obsolete by AS-levels.

Beyond that, what does it matter whether I get 12 As or 12 A*s?

However, these 12 grades, the sum of two years' study, two-dozen pieces of coursework, months of revision and 35 hours of exams, are made to matter. I was told to aim for straight A*s. If I get five, or two, or none at all, the implication is that I've failed. School reports saying that "if you miss out on the top grade then we should both be very disappointed" make it seem as if schools actively seek to stress students. I wonder whether schools are creating a false competition to get as many of us gaining as many GCSEs as possible. This turns exams from a measure of ability into some horrendous academic marathon, with extra miles added each year to see how far we can run before we collapse.

I've seen this happen in my timetable over the past two years, as a statistics GCSE was squeezed into the maths syllabus and double-award science became triple. I've coped - and perhaps learnt something valuable doing this extra material. But, given that in six months' time no one will care, what's the point?

Matthew Holehouse is a pupil at Harrogate grammar school. He took 12 GCSEs

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