The insignificance of A-levels

It’s A-level results day! Cue mass hysteria, joy and disappointment. They say the exams are getting easier but if they are then it’s only in proportion to the increased stress young people find themselves under. At my school (Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, since you asked) we had two options when it came to further education; go to University or don’t. They assure me times have changed but I know that a lot of selective schools seem to push academia as the only choice for pupils coming out of their GCSE’s. Anyway, that’s a topic for another time.

First, an anecdote. I received my A-level grades this time eight years ago. My marks were BBB; I thought I would get AAA. For around a week I didn’t speak to anyone – I pretty much thought I’d failed, if not absolutely then certainly relative to my own and other peoples’ expectations. Time passed and the irrational pain subsided. I hadn’t made the grade for any of the universities I wanted to attend but I already had a permanent job working in a warehouse for Office Depot (you know, the Niceday stationary people with that cute doggy that looks like Brian out of Family Guy). I went to work, saving up for six months before jetting off to spend a year abroad in Malaysia. I came back, worked for a bit more to save up money to pay for university, and ended up (by chance, not choice) at the University of Southampton on a Geography BSc course. Long story short, I’ve now been here for nearly six years having graduated with a 1st class degree and I’m a few weeks away from submitting my PhD thesis.

There are two points to take from this. Firstly, whatever grades you get, however happy or unhappy you are right now, you will manage, for better or for worse, and live a life that can still be everything you want it to be and more. Secondly, your drive, determination, stubbornness, work ethic and passion are infinitely more valuable to you than your perceived intelligence (as supposedly indicated by A-level results).

I think of my university experience as a great example of this. The people who got 1st class degrees weren’t the ones who had triple A’s at A-level. It was the grafters, the hard-workers, the well-organised and the enthusiastic. Heck, the guy who got the highest ever mark in Geography (BA) at the University of Southampton was in my year, hadn’t done A-levels prior to coming to the university and is now living in Toulouse, working for Airbus and earning megabucks. Then there’s doing a PhD, which is almost entirely about your focus and motivation rather than your IQ. Sure, there are always those swots that seemingly make it to where they want to be with minimal effort and no shortage of luck, but generally you have to work.

The upshot of all this and the take home point is not to worry. Life invariably goes on and if for whatever reason you haven’t achieved what you wanted to then it’s not the end. Your opportunities to impress and make your mark never end, and certainly not when you’re only 18.

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One comment

  1. good article trev – most people make the mistake that their fantastic a-level results will get them an instant first at uni

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