A-level Results Day: How one day can change your whole life, but not how you think

Just one mark and I would have got the grades I needed to keep my life on track. On results day, I opened my envelope to find that I was a mark away from the grade I needed to get in to the university I wanted to go to, on the course I wanted. My teacher basically laughed and said ‘no way you didn’t get the grade - I’ll send it for a remark’. A few days later, the results came back and the examiners couldn’t find that one measly mark that would change my life.

Best friend in tow, I went straight over to the university, looked for the admissions person, and found a caricature of a professor, with a chequered waistcoat, crazy white hair shooting straight up into the sky, an unidentifiable yet scary expression, and absolutely no patience for the idiot A-level students standing before him.

I made up a story about why he needed to make an exception, and let me in. I think there was something about a family member being unwell, perhaps a dying pet, but nothing close to the truth.

The truth was something I never thought I’d share with anyone. What really happened, was that I had my first panic attack during an exam, but I didn’t know it at the time.

There I was, 17 years old, standing in the line up to get to my desk in the exam hall. I felt a little hot, and I thought I’d take some Paracetamol in case I was coming down with something. In my experience, most girls carry Paracetamol (we have to contend with period cramps as well as exam stress, yay!), so I took some and thought nothing of it.

During the exam, at about question two out of four, everything changed. I suddenly felt really hot, dizzy, and panic took over. I tried my best to fight it and to get on with the questions in front of me. I found it hard to breathe. I checked the time. It was half an hour in, and I had one hour to go. I tried to read the next question, but I was too dizzy and felt like I couldn’t see. Check the time again: half an hour to go. WHAT?! Where did the time go? I’m still on question two out of four. I can’t really remember the rest of the exam, apart from when the examiner said ‘pens down’, and I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to run to the bathroom and cry. I had no idea what had happened. All I knew is that if I had taken the exam an hour earlier, I would have aced it. Something had happened to me during that exam, and I had messed up.

The result of the anxiety that had landed in my life that day was that I ended up having to look at a university with a lower grade offer, and to change my course. I looked through the catalogue of courses, called my university-to-be, and hoped for the best. They were wonderful on the phone and accepted me straight away.

I started at King's College London in September, and quickly drowned in the pressures of university life. Commuting was hard (why doesn’t anyone smile back at me on the tube? How do you remember what the end station is on each line to make sure that you’re going the right way?), university was hard (why were there only a handful of girls on the maths and computer science course? Are we now called ‘women’ and not ‘girls’? What is this fashion thing all about? Do I have to care?), the course was hard (half my course was maths, and it was literally Greek symbols all over a chalkboard. What is 3D-calculus?), boundaries were being thought about and set (my mate Ben hugged me one day and I had no idea what to do. Shaking hands is a whole other issue when you’ve not really thought about it before), and life was hard (everybody has issues). I scraped through my first year passing by exactly 1 mark. Irony, anybody?

I regularly spoke to a friend who went to the original university, and was even more shocked at how much she had to deal with. The academic side of things was so heavy, and her tutors didn’t seem to have any regard for students as human beings.

I realised that I would have drowned completely if I had been in the atmosphere of the university I wanted to go to at first. There was way too much of a focus on academia with no consideration for positive mental health. When I think about that one lost mark now, I’m grateful that I went to Kings, grateful that God somehow helped me end up where I needed to be, and even grateful that I had that panic attack. It turns out that the lost mark had actually helped my life stay on track, just not in the way I expected.

If you’re getting your results this week, remember that nothing is as important as your health, that ten years from now, this week will be insignificant, and that you are where you are meant to be.

Worried about exam results? You can reach out to Muslim Youth Helpline at 0808 808 2008, help@myh.org.uk or online at www.myh.org.uk/live-chat

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