How to deal with exam results

emoticons1The exam period seems to start and finish earlier every year. Before you can say ‘gap year’, it will be August and results’ day will be upon us.

The very public nature of the results can be hard to deal with and this applies both to good and disappointing news. So many people, close and distant family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances, seem to see your young person’s exam performance as something that they are allowed, even expected, to ask about and comment on. You can’t do anything about this but you can prepare how you will respond. Think about shaping the way you present the results and how you deal with enquiries and opinions.

Use phrases showing support and sensitivity

Find words and phrases which demonstrate support for your young person and awareness of and sensitivity to other people’s situations.

If the results aren’t as good as expected or hoped for, you may feel disappointed or angry or frustrated. Your YP may be experiencing the same emotions. Acknowledge these feelings to yourself. Share them with a trusted person.

You might decide not to share those feeling with your YP or with the outside world. Your feelings are not going to change the situation or make your YP feel any better. Instead of focusing on what has happened, move quickly on to the future.

Don’t feel obliged to give details

You don’t have to give details if you don’t want to, not to everyone who asks. Sometimes we worry most about facing the people who matter least.

‘How did your YP do in their entrance exam/GCSEs/A levels?’

‘Pretty much as expected, thanks for asking. They’re really looking forward to starting Waterloo Road/the sixth form/beginning a career/sorting out a university/.’

Don’t apologise for your YP, or make a joke about them, or put them down.

The parents (probably apocryphal) who threatened to have the child’s kitten put down or the one who (anecdotal only, I hope) sent his daughter’s pony to the abattoir because of disappointing exam results were no doubt beyond the reach of sense and reason. Thankfully, you are not.

How to manage the grade news

If the person is dying to tell you about their success, flip up an imaginary shield between you so the words don’t get to you. Smile and say how wonderful. Know, but don’t say, that in next to no time, as life goes on, the list of subjects and grades will be very old news and no one will be interested. You just need to manage this short period.

What if the results are brilliant? Say so, to the right people in the right contexts. Enjoy every minute and celebrate to the full. Telling the world in general can be tricky. You don’t want to sound smug but neither do you want to diminish your YP’s achievement and you want to avoid the humble-brag: ‘Oh, not bad, four A stars but only an A for astrophysics…’

Again, focus on the future. ‘She did really well, and we’re all delighted that she can move on to…’

Relate results to real life

In the end, as we all know, exams serve a number of functions and provide a modicum of information. They do not measure a person’s worth or say anything of real importance or significance.

If your YP finds this hard to accept at this point, ask them to think about people who they like and admire, those in their real life, not public figures or celebrities who sometimes make thing about having done well at school. Focus on people a bit older, those who have finished formal education. Could they recite the early exam results gained by their sports coach, or their uncle, or their favourite teacher, or their terrific boss? Probably not.

The process of taking exams teaches us more than the subject matter we study. It teaches us about ourselves. We are not defined by results, good or bad. One day your YP will know this. In the meantime, as T S Eliot said in The Love-Song of J Alfred Prufrock, ‘Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.’

Eliot’s exam results? Who cares?