STUDENT BLOG: Rising to the challenges of a particularly tough year

AMY BURGESS reflects on coping with the pressures of student life during what has been a particularly difficult year

AS a sixth form student at a selective grammar school in the North, the pressure to succeed and live up to the expectations of those around you can become overwhelming.

However, no matter the school or the subjects you are studying, at all ages in secondary school there are constant questions thrown at you, from ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ to ‘Which university do you want to attend?’.

We are always faced with choices. As we grow up, these choices become more important, as they narrow down our future paths and send us in a certain direction. They’re almost a milestone, marking how far you are along your education, as the GCSE choices turn into A-level choices, which turn into post-18 choices. When these decisions come about, the pressure that you can feel to please those around you and do what you think you ‘should’ be doing can change the way you act and the future you pursue.

You might be told that GCSE art isn’t going to help you become a lawyer, so it’s pointless, even if it’s something you enjoy. So then, do you choose something that you enjoy, or something that will strengthen your prospects?

At these moments, its crucial to consider balance. We should always be thinking about our future in a certain way, but not to the extent where we lose the present. Having a balance between the time you spend studying and the time you spend doing what makes you happy is key to reaching your goals and feeling fulfilment.

It’s also important to remember that you aren’t limited to one path. If the idea of choosing one career and sticking to it for your entire life scares you as much as it scares me, be aware that you can always change what you want to do. If you pursue a career as an accountant and realise five years in that it isn’t what you want to do, you can retrain to become a nurse.

It’s never too late to change your mind, and you have at least the next 40 years to do so.

An apt example is Jane Eyre author Charlotte Bronte. Her old school report states she ‘writes indifferently’ and ‘knows nothing of grammar, geography, history or accomplishments’. Of course, we now know these comments didn’t reflect Bronte and her ability to write as 20 years later, in 1847, her famous novel Jane Eyre was published. It was immediately recognised as an incredible piece of writing and was the first of many novels challenging the way in which society ran at the time. This situation is not uncommon, as many other world-renowned celebrities and scholars, from Albert Einstein to Steven Spielberg, did not excel in their studies, and became famous in their fields. This is just an example of how the typical examination system, and the education system, can fail those who are not demonstrably academic.

Examinations are flawed. They test a candidate’s academic ability, and so those with strengths in other areas can go completely misrepresented by the grades on their CV.

The information you learn to pass your maths A-level will most likely never be needed in your everyday life in ten years’ time - so doesn’t it seem ridiculous that the quadratics you struggle to understand could affect your grades, and so your future? It is rather ridiculous, but the purpose of the quadratics and the triangles is not so you remember it for the rest of your life, it is there so that in the exam you can demonstrate your ability to recall that information and adapt it to the question that sits in front of you.

Do not let a bad grade take control of your day or your week. It’s one grade, and even if it’s an important one, it is not the end of the world, and things will soon get back on track. You just must remember to keep going and try your best, because as long as you try your best you have done all you can do.

The last thing that I’d like to touch on, with regards to students and their studies, is that there is feeling of always underachieving. With those around you gaining places on prestigious sports teams or entering essay competitions, it is easy to feel like you aren’t good enough and that you should be doing more. In some cases, this can be a sign that maybe you could do a little more, but this can simply be reading a book about your chosen degree or attending a virtual talk.

But it is important to not stretch yourself too far. If. The feeling of hopelessness when you look at the work piling up around you can ruin your week. Personally, this has happened to me a few times, especially during the transition to sixth form from now being in school since March, and the transition back into school after lockdown in Easter. At these times you need to consider if what you are doing is what is best for you and your wellbeing.

Two weeks after coming back to school in April, I received my worst mark yet in my chemistry exam. I came home and broke down, as the pressure I had placed upon myself to do well had consumed me, to the point where I felt as though I should change what I’m considering doing at university. But this time, I sat down, and looked at the situation I was in. My chemistry exam result wasn’t due to my lack of understanding of the content, but rather the little amount of time I had to revise due to the homework from other subjects.

I was taking four A-levels at the time, so I decided to only continue my fourth A-level to AS-level and drop it after this year. When I was making this decision, I felt like I was letting myself and others down. I saw how other people were managing to study four A-levels and achieve highly in all of them.

However, I came to the realisation that everyone is different and that I needed to do what was best for me. I think this is an extremely important thing for all students to remember. You need to consider what is best for you, and if that means not living up to the expectations of those around you, remember that it is YOUR life. You must do what is best for you. If you want to undertake an apprenticeship instead of attending university, and those around you disagree, you should still pursue the apprenticeship. Listening to those around you can be helpful when making important decisions, but ultimately it is your decision.

Finally, I would like to address parents. As a student in lower sixth who has often felt pressure to do well and meet the expectations of those around me, I am asking you to consider how your child is doing at school. Not with regards to their grades, but how they are feeling.

Throughout secondary school, but mainly in the older years, pressure comes from all angles. It comes from school, and although we do learn in a supportive environment, the nature of the education system pits us against our classmates in a competition to see who can achieve the most.

It comes from friends, because when more time is spent studying, less time is spent trying to maintain good relationships with close friends and those around you, meaning pressure to fit into groups and do what is popular can be immense.

It comes from home, trying to do as well as everyone expects you to and impress those who are important to you. Please consider that your child is trying their best, and although they seem fine, they might be struggling. Ask them how they are. Ask them if there is anything you can help them with. I’m sure most of you do this anyway but knowing that there is someone willing to support you and help you when you need it can help when everything seems too much.

We have all had a hard time over the past year, some more than others, but we have gotten ourselves through it and that itself is an achievement to be celebrated by all.