Anxiety surrounding exam results and university – how do I manage?

Anxiety surrounding exam resultsAt this time of the year, thousands of young people are experiencing anxiety surrounding exam results, in particular A-Levels, waiting to see if they will be accepted at their first choice of university. It is nerve-wracking to have to wait to find out if your future is going to be what you plan and hope it will be. It is potentially devastating to find out that the preferred plan, also called “Plan A”, is not an option due to poorer than expected grades. With grade boundaries decided per cohort and with exam papers not always marked consistently, it can be impossible to predict accurately what the outcome may be. This leaves a lot of young people being uncertain and we all know that uncertainty is a major cause of stress.

However, there is an easy way to manage this stress ahead of time. The idea is simple. Instead of just thinking about Plan A, it is important to also consider Plan B and even Plan C. For example, if Plan A is to go to university, Plan B may be to go to College and Plan C may be to get an apprenticeship. Many employers want hands-on experience which can be difficult to get with lots of graduates flooding the market, so it makes sense to think more broadly. Also, a young person who is not academically inclined, or does not wish to study, may do much better in a practical course. There are many ways to future financial security and university is just one of them. It is important that parents convey this massage clearly to their children, as anxiety surrounding exam results has led to suicides in young people who felt that if Plan A was not possible, Plan B was death.

Parents can help by saying to their children that in life it is important to plan for all eventualities, so that no matter what life throws at us, we are prepared. Framing it as Plan A, Plan B and Plan C makes it easily understandable. It is important to convey to young people that it is not about a lack of trust in them, but rather due to the inherent uncertainty in national exam grade boundaries. It is also important to remember that the plans need to be in the order of what each young person prefers. As a parent, you can advise, but the final decision needs to be the that of the young person.

To summarise, if you are young person experiencing anxiety surrounding exam results, don’t worry. There are many ways to achieve success and happiness in life. The direct route of Plan A may get you there faster, but the scenic detour of other plans may enable you to gain broader life experiences. Either way, you will get where you want to be. Just keep going.

– Dr Annie Swanepoel, Elysium CAMHS Clinical Director and Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

Elysium specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health services are focused on helping children and young people aged 8-18 who are experiencing a range of difficulties that are impacting on their mental health and emotional wellbeing.

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