You Are More Than Your Exam Results

A Level results day 2018.

The day I ended my mini summer digital detox and reconnected with the outside world.

You see although I was on my summer holidays in France, and indeed on a career break, my thoughts were still in school.  My thoughts were with the students, who until recently, I had spent more than half my working week with.

I knew my niece had done superbly,  I knew the department’s stats were impressive – colleagues had texted me to let me know the data.  But what about the individuals behind these figures?  Did everyone get the grades their hard work deserved?  Did they meet the requirements to go to the university they wished to? Were they pleased with how they’d done?  Sad? Disappointed? Happy?

Rows of wooden chairs

Every year there are many teens who peak at the right time – during the exam weeks.  They get the questions they want on the exam papers, do as well as they wanted, if not better.  They exceed expectations.  The stars align for them.

And sometimes there are those who, for whatever reason, the stars don’t align for.  Their potential is obvious to all around them but it does not come across on those pieces of paper they hand in at the end of the exam.

They have a bad day.  Maybe they’re just not quite on form, maybe the questions don’t quite work out for them, maybe they make a mistake due to the pressure.

For whatever reason they don’t quite pull it off.  They don’t achieve the results that they so very much deserve.

On these occasions I am reminded of my own A Level results day.

Another student had been the standout historian for two years.

He was better read than the rest of us.

He made consistently more intelligent contributions to discussions than the rest of us.

He was more knowledgeable than the rest of us.

His essays were better than ours.

And yet he achieved a B grade when some of us scraped the top grade.  His work over the two years was clearly at an A grade standard (these were the days before A*s) and yet, for whatever reason, he couldn’t show this during the exams.

This happens more often than it should.

The exam system is a blunt instrument and we all do well, parents, teachers and young people, to remember this.

That’s not to take away from all those student who have done well.  But it is a recognition that sometimes, those who make the most nuanced and perceptive contributions to class discussions don’t always get the grade that they deserve.

Rightly or wrongly parents and teachers put so much emphasis on examination results these days that it can feel like the ‘be all and end all’.

However, it is important to remember that we are all more than the collection of letters (or indeed numbers from this summer onwards for GCSEs) which we are given at the end of our school career.

After all, as I was reminded recently, it is the experience of learning that is much more important than the outcome on one given day.  It is someone’s characteristics – their kindness, commitment, dedication, honesty, integrity, outlook on life, and spirit which marks them out as exceptional human beings, NOT their grades.

So maybe last week someone you know didn’t quite achieve the grades they hoped for, or maybe this may be the case this week with GCSE results day looming.

If so, please do remind them that we are all much more than our exam results.


handwritten Hayley





  1. September 8, 2018 / 7:23 am

    I’m a strong believer in your last line. I know so many people who were told they wouldn’t achieve anything because they got poor exam results. Some of those gave up right there and then and that makes me angry. Then there are those who knew that exam results didn’t define them and worked their asses of to prove the doubters wrong. Exams can be such a false environment it’s not surprising that some people don’t do as well as they maybe expected. Just tell me something is a test and suddenly I appear to lose at least 20% of my brain power! #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 6:09 pm

      Yes exactly! Some time the flight/fight/freeze mode kicks in and we just can’t perform as well as we’d like. Thanks for the comment xx

  2. September 8, 2018 / 8:05 am

    Really true. I think we put too much emphasis on the academic performance of our kids today and it’s rarely a good thing for them. But it’s diffcult not to when tiny children get tested every few weeks.

    In a Swedish school a saw they did test kids on there performance, but the did grade them on their motivation to learn and curiosity. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it does emphasis to the kids that sometimes how you approach and try things in life can be better than pinning all your hopes on an exam grade. #satsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 6:08 pm

      Oooh yes I love the idea of somehow putting emphasis on motivation and intellectual curiosity in a standardised way. I think we can take a lot from the Scandanavian’s views on education. Thanks for the comment. xx

  3. September 8, 2018 / 9:49 am

    Totally agree with everything you say. There is way too much emphasis on academic achievement! #thesatsesh

  4. September 8, 2018 / 9:55 am

    Totally agree with you. There is way too much emphasis on academic achievement! #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 6:03 pm

      Thank you lovely xx

  5. Mummy Thomas' Blog
    September 8, 2018 / 9:57 am

    This is a great post, there is so much pressure on kids today. #thesatsesh xx Thanks for sharing.

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 6:03 pm

      Exactly – thank you xx

  6. September 8, 2018 / 11:03 am

    I sense, however, from by the whole framing of your piece that you also are too caught up in the academic rat race. It’s like having it both ways. No you are not your exam results goes further than that … kids are being coralled into things they are not suited too because the options are limited, and those options are accessible only via the exam machine. Good for the precious few who find their metier at a ridiculously young age, but what about those who only discover it later? Or maybe just discover the desire that bit later?

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 6:02 pm

      I think you raise interesting ideas that certainly go beyond this piece. I was thinking of some of my own students too when I wrote this and not just my peer. This is about the limits of linear courses (examining students at the end of 2 years on 2 or 3 different sittings) and not having coursework (though of course I admit coursework had its issues). Thanks for commenting.

      • September 10, 2018 / 11:06 am

        I was limiting the discourse a bit … you make some great points, as always

        • onamindfulmummymission
          September 10, 2018 / 8:12 pm

          Thank you 🙂

  7. September 8, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    I agree with this, I think that when the sole focus is on exam results it can be very damaging for a student’s self-esteem when they don’t do well even though they have tried their best. Value also needs to be placed on other skills. #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 5:56 pm

      Yes to valuing other skills and characteristics! Thanks so much for commenting xx

  8. September 8, 2018 / 2:43 pm

    Great post – I failed my A-levels which was unpleasant at the time but turned out to be the making of me!

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 5:55 pm

      That’s so good that you turned a negative into a postive. A levels certainly aren’t the be all and end all. Thanks for commenting.

  9. September 8, 2018 / 6:07 pm

    Too much stress. I think big exams get a snapshot of that kid on that day for that test. #thatsatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 5:53 pm

      You are so right. I wish the dept of Education in the UK understood this. Xx

  10. September 8, 2018 / 9:15 pm

    Such a valuable post to read. I think the reason exams go badly sometimes is purely because we realise that this one exam sums up all of your work over the past year or however long. The pressure is the hardest thing. Without the time pressure and pressure of the consequences we’d probably come out with much better grades. #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 5:52 pm

      I completely agree. Some people (often the most thoughtful and hardworking) find that pressure too much. Thanks for commenting xx

  11. September 9, 2018 / 4:23 pm

    This is lovely and very true. I grew up in a different system where your work across the year figured into your grade and the exam was not the end-all, be-all. It sounds like that way is better to me. It’s hard putting so much pressure into one event, especially for a young person. It’s good to remember that while we might not be able to change the system, we can recognise it’s limitations and not let them limit us. x #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 9, 2018 / 5:50 pm

      That is an excellent way of putting it – thanks Nicole Xx

  12. thesingleswan
    September 9, 2018 / 8:04 pm

    Oh my goodness, it is soooo not about grades. In the workplace, your grades are irrelevant. I often feel that we are testing the wrong thing. What matters is your ability to get along with other people, to work as part of a team, to get others to want to do things, to motivate and inspire. These things, which are the key to success in my office (and I accept that other people have different careers) are not in any syllabus. Pen x #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 10, 2018 / 8:15 pm

      Exactly! And I used to be able to weave these things easily into my lessons but now the curriculum is so dense I was finding it more and more difficult to which seems ludicrous when they are becoming more and more important – arghhhh. I still feel passionately about it even though I’ve stepped away from the traditional classroom for a while. Thanks for commenting xx

  13. September 10, 2018 / 7:47 pm

    #thesatsesh the individual, the stars don’t align…the doors don’t open, the story is too familiar to my heart and yet I can’t help but think ‘we’ the system (well the cogs) are the real failure.

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 10, 2018 / 8:12 pm

      Yep it is certainly the system that is failing. Thanks hon xx

  14. September 13, 2018 / 10:41 pm

    Totally agree. Exam results are helpful and they are one path to the future but they do not guarantee success. And poor exam results don’t prevent someone from succeeding either. I’m often envious of those who thrive in vocational jobs or trades. Ultimately success is not defined by a set of lettered grades but by whether you do a job that is fulfilling and rewarding. But the way our education system conditions people often makes it feel like exam results are the be-all and end-all of life. They’re not #saturdaysesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 14, 2018 / 4:58 pm

      Thanks Tim – yes very true.

  15. September 14, 2018 / 7:13 pm

    Very true of course, Hayley, yet it can be so difficult to accept at that time, if you’ve put a lot of hours and effort into it and still fail… I’ve pretty much always done well at school, and at uni too. But I eventually realised, some years after I’d finished my education, that I would in fact probably have done ‘better’ in life (however that is measured?!) if I hadn’t focused so firmly on my academic results. I discovered that the ones who seemed to be getting somewhere in life, generally, were those who’d put as much (if not more) into being social. Their grades weren’t as great as mine, but they had friends, connections, and knew more than I did about ‘the real world’ outside the books…
    So yes, you’re certainly more than your exam results, and getting top grades doesn’t automatically mean that a top life will follow xx #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      September 18, 2018 / 8:05 pm

      This is soooo very true. I am actually reading a book by Susan Cain at the moment called Quiet and it touches on how the extroverts who are less ‘studious’ tend to be more celebrated by today’s society – I feel you would find this interesting! Thanks for the very thoughtful comment xx

      • September 20, 2018 / 8:04 pm

        Thank you Hayley, that sounds like an interesting read indeed xx

Leave a Reply