14 Aug 2023

How to prepare for A-level results day

It’s that time of year again – very shortly, teenagers all over the country will be receiving their A level results, and families will be awash with a slew of emotions, ranging from delirious excitement to deepest despair. Handling results day is a challenge to adults and teenagers alike, but it can help to remember some basic polite precepts, which might defuse some of the rollercoaster emotions that are about to be unleashed.

For Parents

• Be attentive
In the run-up to the big day, keep a watchful eye on your teenagers. Make yourself available to them and – if they show any signs of wanting to talk –– make sure you’re accessible and not distracted by work, phones, social media updates and all the other myriad distractions of modern life.

• Offer distractions

The final few days can be purgatorial, so it’s never a bad idea to timetable plenty of activities and ensure that teenagers are out and about and busy. Some of them will find solace with their friends but be aware that some will enjoy being taken outside the hothouse atmosphere of dread and anticipation and will enjoy spending time with younger siblings or older relations. Make open suggestions and take their emotional temperature; don’t present them with a fait accompli.

• Address alternatives

While you don’t want to show any doubts about possible outcomes, which might shatter your teenager’s shaky equanimity, it is always a good idea to subtly raise the possibility that a plan B might be necessary. Try and do this in a positive way, indicating that there are many other possibilities out there and nobody should feel that their life has been irreparably ruined by a poor A level grade.

• Offer practical support

On the day itself, check out how your teenager wants to handle it and make yourself available. They may well have arranged to pick up their grades with their friends, but some teenagers will want to go through the ordeal on their own and may appreciate being given a lift to the school and knowing that you are outside, waiting for them. Make sure you’ve got time to give your teenager on this big day: it might not be necessary, but your emotional support might be vital.

• If it all goes wrong

If the results are disappointing, take it on the chin. Don’t immediately come up with a list of excuses (defective examiners, poor preparation by the school, exam day nerves etc). You really need to help your child to accept reality, and to address their situation in the real world. Immediately remind them about the range of alternatives: clearing, re-sits, apprenticeships, gap year, to name a few. Remember, you are not alone; the school itself is also a great source of support. If the school or course teacher is surprised by the results, then they may well suggest applying for a re-mark – and they can also help with getting in contact with the universities. Remain resolutely positive throughout: do not succumb to the temptation to articulate your own disappointment and never indulge in “I told you so” torment, eg “I told you not to go to that party – you obviously needed to do more revision”.

• Resist comparison
The last thing a disheartened teenager needs is a parent enquiring about how his or her friends fared. When you’re disappointed with your teenager’s results, and desperately casting around to find a way forward, it’s tempting to seek comparisons, and even to stoop to the expedient of finding contemporaries who are in a worse predicament as a way of boosting your own son or daughter. This is entirely counter-productive: teenagers must be encouraged to address their own situation and focus on their own life plans.

• When celebrations are in order
If your teenager has triumphed, you must give praise where praise is due. Be voluble in your congratulations, generous in your celebrations – presents, meals out, trips away are all in order. But never gloat. You will inevitably know other parents who are negotiating much more uncertain prospects, and the last thing they need to hear is smug self-congratulation. No matter how over-brimming with pride you feel, exercise tact and discretion.

For Teenagers

• Don’t bottle it all up

It’s completely normal to feel stressed and nervous in the run-up to results day. You are at a turning point in your life and it’s easy to feel overcome but try not to internalise your emotions too much. If you feel you can talk to your parents, it’s a good idea to do so; alternatively, you can share your anxiety with friends, or even record your feelings in a journal. Parents might come across as over-attentive and over-protective at this time, but remember it’s a big moment for them too, so if it’s all getting a bit much just politely tell them that you understand their concern but need a bit of time on your own.

• Make plans

Even if you’re reasonably confident that you will achieve the grades you need, it’s always a good idea to make back-up plans, to research alternatives beforehand, and to know what you will need to set in motion on results day. Just knowing you’ve addressed possible failure will make you much calmer and readier to face the music.

• Think about the rest of the day

You may well be part of a big friendship group and plans may already be afoot for parties and celebrations later in the day. This is fine if you’re feeling upbeat and optimistic, but it’s a good idea to line up an alternative in case you’re dealing with disappointment – make sure your parents and family are available in case you need a shoulder to cry on.

• Calm down

Everyone will be feeling hyped up and emotional as the big day approaches, so do your best to seek tranquillity in the immediate run-up to results. Try and get plenty of sleep, avoid caffeine, seek out solitude and, if you possibly can, steer clear of social media, which will be abuzz with infectious anticipation.

• Alone or Together?

Think carefully about how you want to handle getting your results. You might be someone who does everything in a big group and, if you’re confident that the group will bolster and help you, whatever your results, then that’s probably the best option for you. If you’re a more private person, who needs time to process emotions before you express them, then think about going on your own – if you do this, you might find it’s a good idea to have a parent or other sympathetic individual waiting outside.

• It’s not the end of the world
If you don’t get the exam results you need, do not panic. Take a few moments, breathe slowly and deeply, and repeat the mantra “I have alternatives”. Speak to a teacher, careers adviser or parent and make a systematic plan. Focus on your way forward and in the immediate aftermath of results you might find it a good idea to stay off social media, which will be inundated with excited, and overwhelming, chatter.

• Don’t gloat

If your results are all you ever wanted, restrain yourself. Jumping up and down, screaming with hysterical joy is hardly the most tactful response if you’re with a friend who is contemplating deep disappointment. Check out how the people you’re with have fared before you unleash uninhibited emotions and keep them well in check if necessary. Remember to offer polite congratulations to anyone who has achieved their target or above; be sympathetic and resolutely positive towards friends who are dealing with setbacks. There will be time enough later in the day to celebrate your own results.

If A-level results are not what you expected, contact our team at Debrett's Education for a free and impartial chat about next steps. Call us on +44 (0) 2038 489 201 or email sioban@debretts.co.uk for advice.


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