How to stay calm while you wait for your A Level results

You will survive, no matter what happens

A levels. Those two words strike fear into the heart of many a sixth former and it is easy to see why. When it feels like you’re entire future is riding on the outcome of six weeks exams in May and June one cannot be blamed for indulging in the odd existential crisis in regards to the future and joining the adult world.

How to avoid ending up a stressed and confused mess come results day is not easy. I certainly didn’t achieve it. So I spoke to some experts who do know what to do – Clive Manning, a teacher from a typical inner city school in South London and Dr Louise Bamber, a trainee psychiatrist with multiple teenage children (who also happens to be my mother).

Dr Louise Bamber



If the worst-case scenario happens and you don’t get the grades you need, is a good university still on the cards?

Clive: Well if they don’t get the grades they need, they need to first of all reflect on why. If on consultation with the school or college they can ask for a remark. If they have missed a grade by two or three marks, it is definitely worth having a remark.

If you know you’ve blown it, depending on the board you may be able to re-take the exam and cram in the required work that you didn’t cram in the first time around. However the Government has had major changes with the curriculum so re-takes are an increasingly unlikely scenario.

Louise: I would say that if this happens that you have two options. The first is to see this as a minor setback in getting you to university and continue to pursue higher education. The second is to re-evaluate whether university is the right path for you by exploring options like the possibility of retaking or an alternative route such as apprenticeships.

Also, it’s important to state that being able to deal with failure is a really crucial life skill; some of the most successful people in the world have had failure after failure before they had their big breakthrough. Success doesn’t just happen, it can take many false starts for you to get to where you want to go.

Clive Manning

What about clearing? How can do you successfully navigate clearing if you still want to go to a good university?

Clive: Always speak to the universities. Your first choice may still be within your reach as somebody else in the clearing system chooses to go somewhere else. If you don’t get the grades all is not lost but don’t wait- fire off a letter or email. A little passion or fire in the belly can go a long way.

A lot of universities are canvassing for students as many people realise that they can’t take the risk of the debts that going to uni entails. It really is an open market and one that is in your favour.

So if clearing isn’t an option, what do you do?

Clive: If you don’t get the grades you required, all is not lost! A lot of students have realised that going to University is an expensive commitment, and the government is no longer providing any grant for living expenses. You must seriously answer the question: Is Uni right for me? Have you considered the vocational or apprentice route?

If university fees are now £9K a year and you have to eat and sleep somewhere, you could be leaving in debt to the tune of £50K. Fine if you are going into Medicine, Law, Science or Engineering – not so fine if you are pursuing a career in the Arts or Media.

Any last ditch attempts at calming everyone down?

Louise: Even if you do not achieve the results you had hoped for, there are still plenty of options you can pursue.

Clive: Be very clear in your head that university is for you.

What would you say a GCSE student who is about the start their A levels in terms of keeping on track and managing their workload and stress?

Louise: As far as stress is concerned, one of the most important things I would advise them to do is to practice sleep hygiene. A levels are a big commitment, and maintaining a normal sleeping pattern (by ensuring that you don’t stay up too late or nap too regularly, avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed) and having a regular routine with your sleep is really important. Breathing techniques are an excellent short-term method of dealing with this kind of pressure, so before an exam, or before receiving results for example. Mindfulness is also an extremely useful way of managing any issues anxiety which you may be experiencing. However, if you are experiencing serious mental health problems that prevent you from effectively working and learning, seek medical help, which may potentially mean medication.

As for managing with workload, having a good handle on time management is crucial for success. Establish a routine early on as it will make it easier for you to revise further down the line. This will give you less of an excuse to procrastinate, which will only make you more anxious. Work out your priorities in terms of academics and work them into your routine. This will help you keep on top of deadlines, which in turn allows you to feel more in control of your goals (meaning that you won’t feel like you have an elephant sized mountain of work to do). However, it is equally important to have an outlet (this is very personal and varies from person to person) worked into your routine, as well as breaks on a regular basis once you are revising.

Any tips for what to do once it comes to actually revising?

Clive: There are three big barriers to effective revision: Social media, sleep deprivation, and stress.

The world will still be turning when you check your Facebook, WhatsApp or Tinder. Inform your friends that you are studying and will not be returning to Facebook land until after your exams. Try and wean yourself off of social media or plan it within your timetable at no more than 60 minutes per day.

Making a timetable is crucial and also planning breaks. Get out of the house and go for a walk or for a coffee. Don’t use this as an excuse to play Pokemon Go. A drink with friends (a drink; not several) with friends so you can swap notes is a good thing, as is spending time in the library together.

Find things that help you relax. If you smoke and it helps you relax, trying to quit during exams is not a good idea. If you really want to, e-cigarettes and vaping are a good alternative and will help you to wean off the nicotine. If you are on soft drugs, the research is ambiguous as to how it affects study but it can certainly affect lifestyle and your choices.

Illegal highs of course have their own consequences. I know there is research that shows that a healthy sex life helps to keep you relaxed at a stressful time, but that’s totally your call.