This period of the year should be a happy one. Brimming with growing festivity, socialising and a huge welcome for rest and rehabilitation after not only an exhausting year, but also a momentous decade! However, I find myself, along with over 650 000 young people, gearing up for what promises to be an anxiety riddled, stress inducing slog from now till the summer, when these dire exams will be over. But I want out. The unprecedented amount of work that GCSE and a-level pupils are inundated with completely swamps every other aspect of their lives. The new 9-1 grading system that was first rolled out to the dismay of students sitting their exams in the summer of 2018, has proven to make what was already a tricky trialling even worse and has led to some seriously harmful consequences.

A survey taken by the Guardian in 2018 found students reporting sleep deprivation, panic attacks and in a few seriously damming cases, attempted suicide due to the sheer pressure they are put under to churn out A**’s to ‘set them apart from their peers’ and ‘do their parents proud’: just some of the disappointing responses I received when I quizzed my classmates as to why they were so focussed on reaching the new highest tier of results that is designed to identify those who achieve better than 96% of students who take the exam. Whilst it’s true that exam boards differ, there is a strong pattern across all testing, subjects, schools and pupils alike, that the workload expected is too much. The disgusting physical responses students feel due to the unhealthy stress they are put under is a stain on the education system.

My English teacher often tells us to be angry at (former education secretary who initiated these changes) Michael Gove, and whilst the banter is funny and shared feeling across the year-group that we are all in this together relieving, I can’t help but feel seriously imbittered and concerned that said English teacher had to take 3 weeks off at the beginning of the term. This was due to becoming ill because of the immense pressure she was put under as head of department in ensuring we all get the coveted 8’s and 9’s expected of us. It is understandable that changes needed to be made to the system. The old exams had become formulaic, predictable and easily trained for. It wasn’t really a test of mental ability, but more a task of revising the mark scheme off by heart and learning model answers. However, the new exams don’t really tackle this issue and mainly focus on (a lot) more of the same. Memorising the whole of Jane Eyre or random facts on electromagnetism that I haven’t really absorbed the meaning of (only that they are required for a certain type of question) is not testing my intelligence. It is not testing my creativity either. The GCSEs instead test my endurance and aptitude in hacking the system in as many ways possible.

Yet I am most angry at the devastating impact these exams are having on teachers and students. No child should have to sacrifice their sleep for revision. Every morning I scroll through social media and am disturbed but not surprised at the number of my friends who were up till the early hours of the morning tinkering away at their dt coursework or writing history essays or practicing maths papers. There really is no balance between our work, rest and social life. Moreover, the new addition to this impossible triangle is our online life, that like it or not has become impossible to avoid in our generation. We have grown up with technology and thus, social media has become another part of our daily routine - mental breakdowns should not be. We should not be normalising not being able to pursue actual interests, hobbies and passions because we have 30 exams looming that all require memorising pre-written answers and favours hitting the mark scheme over self-expression and self-development.

Blaming some invisible group of people who have designed these exams (without thinking about the way they will consume half a million teenagers’ lives for at least 8 months) might fill you with some kind of short-lived satisfaction but it is not enough. My friends and I joking about having to schedule in time to cry because we don’t have enough time otherwise, is a dark take on the fact that we are put under ridiculous circumstances and expected to thrive. Change needs to be made to accommodate pupils, as well as welcome creativity and the pursual of a student’s own interests to develop their budding passions.

And to think, I was almost about to not join up for this scheme because I thought I wouldn’t have enough time, what with mocks coming… By Amala Sangha.