Memoirs of an A Level Student

It has been a year since my school cohort sat their A Level exams. These are my memoirs of my darkest moments:

Watch out kids, it’s a scary time of year. Teenagers are retreating into their caves. They’re losing colour in their cheeks and their bodies are hiding under the thousands of meaningless WHSmith flashcards. This unknown but common creature is an A Level student.

A few nights ago, my parents found me asleep with my clothes on at the dining room table. A history textbook for a pillow, English essay plans for a blanket and nightmares of my French oral plaguing my subconscious. Were you drunk last night? You forgot to turn off the lights. Did something happen? You forgot to turn on the alarm. Did you get back late last night? You were asleep in your clothes? As much as I appreciate that their suspicions imply that I have any kind of social life, it’s simply not the case. Frankly, it’s not drugs or alcohol or boys or girls you should be afraid of; it’s something much scarier. It’s the British education system. 

Let me get something straight: I understand how lucky I am to be living in a society where my gender doesn’t prevent me from an education. I understand how lucky I am to go to a school filled with teachers who passionately help us develop as much as we can within the realms of the education system. But the system is broken.

An English Literature A Level should not be about spending hours memorising Chaucerian English for a closed book exam. Or learning more about the assessment objectives than the texts themselves. Or memorising quotes from critics, performances or other literary evaluations in the hope that a question which suits our memorised knowledge comes up. The education system does not help us develop a love of learning or deepen our passion for the subject. Instead, it measures us based on our ability to memorise and to respond to a bland exam specification.

This worsens during exam season. A time where we are supposed to cram the whole course content from the past two years in the hope of making our university offers. A time where the prospect of a party seems like a joke. It’s the time where our sense of normality completely shifts. Having friends with panic attacks is no longer a mental health concern; it is a given. Having friends giving up lunch for the library becomes justified. Having friends give up on you because of the amount of work they have to do does not even hurt anymore; it’s normal. The education system has made us numb to human compassion, teenage joys and appreciating the last few months we have at home before another three years of studying. A Levels may get us to an advanced level in the subjects we once enjoyed but they can also drastically worsen a student’s mental health and hinder their growth as well-rounded people.

The education system does not teach us life skills; it teaches us mark schemes. It doesn’t teach us happiness; it teaches us fear of failure. It doesn’t teach us how to work together. Instead, it encourages independence to a level where we no longer care about helping friends because at the end of the day we all know it is you versus the system. You’re alone in this. 

So please, from a teenager in the thick of it, change the education system before the system ruins our chances of wanting to be educated. I’d write more but that’s the end of my revision break.

Photo courtesy of Tim Mossholder

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