Last week, thousands of Y11s across the country sat down and opened the pages of their first exam; we’ll have to spend the next two months writing paper after paper, fiddling with calculators and trying to figure out how to use a compass for the hundredth time. As I was sitting in the exam hall I couldn't help but think: why am I doing this? We’ve all been told that GCSEs are important; they can help us get good jobs - or at least craft good applications - but how important are they really? And are they worth all that stress?
I think we can all agree that GCSEs are crucial to applying to uni: almost all offers require a pass in English and Maths; they’re also pretty handy when it comes to creating a CV or job application. But something about that seems quite superficial; go and get gcses then go to uni then get a job. It all feels very repetitive - how can something so important, so central to everything we do - feel so disconnected and far off. Oftentimes, we don’t understand why we’re doing what we do and it's easy to get caught up in thinking too much about the future: what degree am I going to get? What uni will I go to? What am I going to do with my life?
The truth is you may never know the answers to all of those questions. It's impossible to predict the future and people change their minds everyday. Living in the now can be really beneficial and impacts all areas of your life - including your perception on exams.
I like to try and think of GCSEs as a challenge - an opportunity for me to stretch myself, to throw myself into something and to push myself. Revising effectively means you’ll have to manage your time, develop a strong sense of discipline and have the strength to overcome distractions. The experience of GCSEs teaches us how to manage stress - what it's like to actually be stressed - how to cope with being under pressure, sacrificing time spent with friends in order to crack down on work. It makes us aware of our weaknesses and strengths - you have to filter between the topics you’re sound on and those you can hardly remember. GCSEs are an opportunity to develop a good work ethic and this is something that will stay with you for life.
But I don't care about the battle of Hastings or trigonometry? And I’m terrible at Maths…
Much of the content we learn at GCSE level seems uninteresting or boring, especially when it doesn’t relate to your life or excite you. The thing is - many things in life won’t excite you - but that doesn’t make them unimportant or irrelevant. The beauty of finding things boring, is that it develops a sense of discipline. You have to fight that feeling of being unmotivated; you have to force yourself to get past it.
And on the flipside - it’s important to remember not to overexert yourself over a grade. In the long run, an 8 or a 9 probably won’t matter - you’ll hardly be able to remember it 20 years from now. That isn’t to say don’t work hard (who doesn’t want good grades!?) but it’s all about perspective.
Everyone is talented in different ways - no two people are the same. You might be good at sport but terrible at physics or you could be an English whiz or a math genius who wouldn’t know what to do with a piano. GCSEs aren’t always reflective of our various abilities and talents so remembering that is important. Try to focus on your hobbies and spend time doing the things you love alongside revision, because ultimately it’s those things that set you apart - not your grade.
Tiffany Igharoro is a student in Y11 preparing to take her GCSE's. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She is studying art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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