Friday, 14 August 2015

Exams do not mean shit (and other excuses for any existing student)

In Britain today every 17/18 year old will be receiving their results for their A Levels. For many it is a relatively crap day. You wake up with nerves jangling - if you were even lucky enough to get a good night's sleep - and you anticipate the worst no matter who you are. You have waited around three months for this day, and now it is here and you must face a sort of future. University, retakes, choices and even going back to school at all are all the stakes in line here.

However, if you have worked hard you will most likely do well. Whether this means a stellar results sheet or whatever is required to get you into the university of choice the effort you put in is almost always reflected in what you get. 
Unless, of course, we take into account the fact that the exam paper may have been especially hard, or completely unexpected, or you felt really quite ill on the day. In those cases no matter how clever or hard working or passionate you are something will go wrong for you. An entire future can be based upon a tiny letter written on a piece of paper and if that hour and a half in the exam room was not your finest then needless to say you will face disappointment. I also say entire future because I would like one adult to honestly tell me the other valid and successful options to begin my grown up life other than going to a good university. Society and government are obsessed with attending higher education like never before and so undeveloped, hormone ridden teenagers must push themselves under a mountain of undesired pressure to reach the holy grail of education so that their step by step life can begin and we can all hope to contribute taxes in the next few years. Hurrah. 

It is almost universally assumed at my grammar school that not going to university can cause some deep and regrettable dissatisfaction with life because anything else must be totally awful. We were literally told by a guest speaker one afternoon that "People who attend university have greater satisfaction with life". I would like to know who vomited that out as a 'fact'. I can hardly believe it to be at all true. 

This morning when I went to collect my own results I was being rather harsh on myself for not doing as well as I'd hoped in one subject. I was actually crying. It probably looked pathetic. I can still go to a fantastic university with this result. I am not entirely sure what my problem is. I suppose the inescapable self comparison with my fellow classmates is part of the issue. And then the fact that I am a self diagnosed perfectionist who secretly hopes for good fortune to be handed to her on a plate doesn't aid the situation at all. Perhaps it is because now I cannot apply to a university I had hoped to go to since I was very young. As a disclosure I should say that I didn't actually like it too well when i visited. But I guess it's the not being able to say "I told you so" to all those who said "Ooh that's ambitious" when I told them where I wanted to be. Either way I was upset. I was under the impression for a short while that this result was important. I kept forgetting it didn't actually degrade my quality of life in any sort of way. 

And then on the way home whilst I quietly sobbed to myself about the slightly disappointing outcome of a single exam I noticed the bin lorry on its round of the local houses. Inside the lorry one of the bin men was dancing. He had a smile on his face. He looked happy. And then I came back to reality.
I didn't know whether any of these men had been to university or what they'd done at school or how well they'd done but I did know that they weren't slitting their wrists at the side of the road because they hadn't gone through an uninspired system just to get into an essentially worthless office job. They were doing something useful and beneficial to everyone in the surrounding area. That seems extremely satisfying. I have always heard people joke that if their exam results didn't go well they'd just become a bin man. "It's okay it's always been my preferred profession anyway." they'd say sarcastically, inside they were hoping that it would never become an ironic reality. But really I don't see how they would be any less content with a job as a bin man than with any other career. They would still be loved, still be capable of loving others, still be able to read, still be able to discuss and debate, still be able to dance and drink and eat. 

I think that it is rather difficult to remember that one's life and quality of life does not hang by a thin thread off the edge of whatever results one receives from doing A Levels. I even think that people often forget there is always a solution. Even if you've done very well it is easy to feel a pang of disappointment if it still wasn't what you expected. It is easy to forget that in the grand scheme of things, in the great bowl of happiness and joy that should be your life, exams really don't mean shit. They will not bring you unyielding pleasure, they will not bring you your family, or your friends, they will not bring you the ability to enjoy living. 

Even if you are the world's biggest perfectionist and your marks are not in fact perfection please refrain from berating yourself. Exam results do not accurately measure your intelligence, or even your commitment to hard work, nor do they measure how much you enjoy the subjects you take. Exam results will never be able to affect the brilliance of your life effectively. Life is good still. Life is always good. Exams do not mean shit.