Making the Grade: why we are more than what exams say…

16th May 2019

Realistically, nobody likes doing exams - whether it’s at school, university or work - but we all have to do them at some point. They are ideally used to build knowledge, confidence and skills whilst demonstrating ability at something. But, we are living in a time where in discussing the culture surrounding exams, university and targets, is showing the increasingly tough pressures that are becoming a cost to our mental health.

In my own experience, at school there was unhelpful language in the discussion of test marks. Labels such as a grade ‘B’ for ‘Bad’ and the notion that a grade outside of an ‘A’ standard was ‘not good enough’ - circled around. University was also presented as the only viable option from leaving school.

Yet looking back, one can see how damaging and untrue this type of pressure and expectation is.

There are so many things that one can do, such as college, work, apprenticeships,volunteering and more. What matters most is not grades and gain, but health and happiness. And this awareness is exactly what I’m grateful to emphasise.

I have actually finished school and despite coping with severe anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) throughout my exam years, I managed to succeed in my exams.

Being hospitalised by my condition after leaving school was not what I’d imagined happening to me, but my experiences and recovery have taught me more than any subject ever could. There is so much more to life than exam stress, and so my advice for those struggling with revision or to meet targets - is to just know, it’s okay, you are doing the best you can, and there is always help there, even if you don’t see it yet. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, for it’s the bravest and best thing you will ever do.

Furthermore, this is a call for people to focus on building up young people, with more mental health education and solution-focus based skills. Starting this at a young age is so beneficial in increasing the awareness for children about mental health and being able to carry these valuable ideas with them in their life, as they progress into exams and becoming adults in the real world.

There is still far too much emphasis on putting young people into margins, grading an individual’s potential by numbers, and the recording of pupils moving on to university being at the forefront of a school’s priorities, without taking into account our young people’s mental health. Which is why being able to educate and prepare them to thrive, no matter what they decide to do in the future, is what we must talk about at all levels of our society.

Any setting where we study or work, must try to build on improving the existing mental health culture. It’s realistic to have targets and aims as a place of education or a business, but it’s more realistic - in order to achieve success with this - to look after our minds.

Jess, the recovery ninja Xx