18th March 2020, with the announcement of schools closing, GCSE and Alevel exams were cancelled. 


Nearly a year later, with the announcement of schools closing again, on January 6 2021 GCSE and Alevel exams were cancelled and replaced by teacher assessed grades. 


A year on the classes of 2020 and 2021 are now studying a levels, with the class of 2020 due to take their exams this spring. 


Of course, Alevels alone are challenging and a lot of hard work. They require more research, more revision and certainly a lot more commitment to learning than GCSEs. You almost find yourself becoming the subjects that you are taking, engrossed in learning around your subject, noticing every little similarity between the world around you and the subjects that you are studying. 


Yet for those of us that were due to sit exams in 2020 and 2021, Alevels now carry an extra stress: Actually sitting an exam. 


It appears a common feeling amongst today’s Alevel students that missing sitting our GCSE exams has knocked our confidence of our ability to sit exams that will ultimately determine our Alevel grade. When asking some of my fellow peers about how they feel about the actual process of sitting an Alevel exam, a sense of self doubt due to lack of exam sitting practice appeared prominent. 


“The last exams I properly had were the 11+ (secondary school entrance exams) and I don’t even remember them. At the end of Y11 all we all we did was sit constant exams that felt like they didn’t mean anything and we all lost motivation at that point” ~ Y12 student taking Alevel Biology, Chemistry and Politics  


For the class of 2020, GCSE exams were cancelled and school effectively finished early for the year. Teacher assessed grades were based on mock exams and previous exams and classwork. Most students began to start looking at what they wanted to do beyond secondary school. This year is now due to take their Alevel exams in the Spring and understandably, most are incredibly nervous. 


“I am more stressed (about taking Alevel exams) by a million times, I hardly got stressed at GCSE” ~ Y13 student taking Alevel Maths, Chemistry and Biology


It appears a common feeling amongst most Alevel students that I spoke to that there was never a true sense of closure with GCSEs. We built ourselves up to big exams that never happened. Now, we are building ourselves up to even bigger exams that will most likely happen and we all feel perhaps unprepared having missed our GCSE exams. 


Perhaps having teacher assessed grades rather than grades taken from final exams has knocked the confidence of many Alevel students in their own ability to perform well in an exam. For many of us, there was never that true sense of achievement at the end, despite many of us having worked incredibly hard to achieve our GCSE grades. 


“ I worked incredibly hard at GCSE and am very pleased with the grades that I achieved. But for some reason now I still feel like I don’t have that sense of achievement, I doubt my own ability and feel nervous at the prospect of sitting exams in case I do badly. I find myself constantly looking at predicted grades and university required grades and doubting myself. Of course, a lot of this is down to self-pressure but do think that missing my GCSEs and never having sat an exam of that formality contributes to my anxiety.” ~ Y12 student taking Alevel History, English Literature and Politics