How to turn your A-level grades from CDE to ABB.


Recently the A-level grades for this year were published and although I now received mine 2 years ago and have been to university, this year was important because it was my little sister’s results.

Anyone who has sat A-level exams will totally understand the agonising, draining process that A-levels are. For most people they are the worst 2 years of a person’s life, full of stress and uncertainty. For me it was 3 years…

I coasted through my secondary school in the top sets disinterested by GCSE’s and unfazed. I was constantly told constantly nobody really cared about your GCSE grades anyway.

I now feel guilty for not trying since my parents were paying for my education and friends of mine were struggling to pass. I didn’t get amazing results in the end, I got a few A‘s, a few B‘s but mostly C‘s. My sister on the other hand has always been the perfect example of a student and she hit it out the park with her grades every time.

A-levels came around and I switched schools to a local state school, following my best-friend. The school didn’t offer the subjects I was actually interested in and the difference in the standard of teaching was noticeable when my new English Literature teacher didn’t show up half of the time. What did unfortunately follow me from my high-school was my lazy attitude; I was ready to coast through my A-levels.

My new headmaster had told me that it was expected they could help me achieve D‘s (which were passes). I turned my nose up at that knowing I wasn’t D standard and that D‘s would be no good to anyone. My sister’s grammar school on the other hand, kicked out half the students who didn’t pass all their AS exams and you can’t even get into her school unless you have all A‘s.

I spent the year going to house parties and socialising. I  halfheartedly looked at local universities and kept changing my mind on what job I wanted to do. My AS results finally came to bite me in the arse when I opened them outside the school gate and saw C – English Literature, D– Law, E– Art. I mean an E in art, how do you even get an E in the art? My dad was particularly upset about that grade because he actually painted me some pieces (but we’ll keep that between us). Anyway, I realised I’d messed up. I now had bad grades on my record, associated with my name, telling people this was my ability, this was how smart I was, CDE.

My parents knew I wasn’t going to be the next Bill Gates by this point and began suggesting I take a vocational course or leave school to get a job rather than waste another year.

I was totally lost because neither of those had ever been options in my mind. I played with the idea of both for a couple of days but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t picture myself doing either and that was because I knew I could have done a lot better. To drop my A-levels would have meant admitting defeat and admitting I just wasn’t smart enough to do them (that’s not to say if you haven’t done them, you’re not).

Like a naughty puppy I went back to them, tail between my legs and told them I wanted to redo the year and hit repeat. They were skeptical and reluctant to support me for a year with no evidence that I would really produce better results, other than my word.

My parents have always been super supportive when it comes to education so they caved and let me redo the year.

I moved schools again for a fresh start so I went to a college which was a lot further away and effort to get to. I put my head down that whole year, revised through my breaks, the evenings, the weekends, took on an extra study group, became student representative for the A-level department and never missed a class; I even went into college with a concussion. I’m still surprised how I got there…

My tutor found me wondering around the wrong building drenched, covered in mud from slipping over in the road on a rainy day; wearing a teddy bear hat asking where everyone was and why class hadn’t started yet. I was pretty batty for the next few days but I still went into college even though I kept scowling at people asking why we were in college on a Saturday.

I found out my college was actually cutting A-levels half way through my studies, so I was going to have to find yet another school to finish my A-levels because they didn’t get as much funding compared to vocational courses which students had to pay for.

My AS results once again came but this time I was actually nervous to open them. I knew I could do a lot better than my previous results but because I had never really pushed myself I didn’t know what I was really capable of. I’d always had the fear that if I did push myself and didn’t produce good results then everyone would know I’m not intelligent and I’d know.

I didn’t open my results with everyone else, they were all dying to know what I got because they’d seen me do nothing but work. I eventually opened the envelope and I can honestly say I have never felt a feeling like it. ABB! A– English Language, B– Psychology, B– Sociology. I actually didn’t expect it, I wanted it but to see an A was unreal. I kept rereading the breakdown and adding up the scores because I thought it may have been miscalculated or I was looking at the wrong thing but I had actually done it! I’d never heard of anyone turn their grades around like that.

I joined a new Sixth-form again to finish off my last year of A-levels and this time I looked for one with a good reputation and picked one in a different county.

It took me 3 hours to get there and 3 hours to get back everyday via bus until I passed my driving test. I got up at 5am every morning and continued to work my arse off. I was talking to a boy who lived on the other side of the world at the time and he told me about the group of top universities in the UK called Russell Group Universities and that became my next goal.

That’s all anyone would hear me say “I’m going to a Russell Group University”, “Is it a Russel Group University?”, “Russelll Group Unaaaayyy“. I was obsessed, I knew all the entry requirements, I could flick to specific sections of prospectuses blindfolded and I knew what great minds had walked down those halls, Priministers, Philosophers and Revolutionaries. I had decided I was going to studying English Language and that I wanted to be an English Teacher at the time. I knew I wanted to travel the world so I wanted to go to a University far away but still in the UK (I don’t have £££££’s to blow).

I went to visit Glasgow University and I fell in love. It looked like Hogwarts, the library went into the clouds and it was one of the best Universities for English Language in the UK. The boy on the other side of the world I was talking to told me he wanted to go to Edinburgh University and I was determined to meet him.

My A2 year was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. My family was falling apart, and fostering 4 children under 6 years old at the same time. I had a job and I helped look after the children by myself at 18 years old. I drove them to school and picked them up, cooked for them, changed nappies and then when my parents took over I’d try to revise through their screaming and crying, sometimes with the baby on my lap.

My parents got individual health problems that were difficult to handle and were having frequent breakdowns and I felt like I was trying to prop everyone up, whilst shielding my little sister from everything at the same time.

After everything the worst happened grade-wise. I missed my final English Language exam. I felt like shooting myself in the head!

After everything, I stumbled at the last hurdle and everything was lost. I’d had a shitty calendar with thin lines to write things down and I’d wrote the English exam down half way between a line so I had thought it was a day later.

Not being a social butterfly that year unsurprisingly I hadn’t had friends talking about the exam and reminding me so I didn’t know until the school called me and told me I’d missed it.

I needed ABB to get into Glasgow so that wasn’t going to happen. All that I had worked for was now out of reach and in a moment gone. This unfortunately wasn’t my last exam, so I had to sit the rest of my exams knowing I wasn’t getting into any of the universities I wanted to go to because a missed exam = 0 points and grade U – ungradable.

After I sat my final exam I drew the blinds in my room, got into my bed and cried for a week.

Then I started applying for jobs planning to resit the exam next year (still not giving up). I emailed universities, staff in the sixth-form did too as they were gutted for me seeing me in the common room everyday revising through all my breaks and lunchtimes.

I got my grades for my final A-level grades and I had got the B’s, but my English was at a C. It levelled as a C because I’d had high A’s and A*’s in my other modules. I was on the phone to Glasgow University instantly for Clearing and after an hour of trying to get through a Scottish lady answered and I explained my situation and that I had had a conditional offer . She put me on hold, whilst I smacked my forehead with the phone, until the angel came back to me and told me they would offer me a place!

So my dream came true!

I’m now going into my third year at Glasgow University, I have great friends, I have a new studio apartment, I’m averaging a 2:1 with two more years to go, oh and that boy on the other side of the world has been my boyfriend for 2 years now and he was 100% worth the wait. I went back to that sixth-form after my first year and thanked the staff for how much they supported me. Although, I didn’t need to I re-sat that exam I missed and aced it (finally)!

The reason I wanted to tell my story was because I want people to know that when life seems to be telling you something isn’t for you, you need to tell life it bloody is and to shut the hell up because you’re going to do it anyway.

I went to 4 different schools in 4 years, had to care for 4 children, deal with family issues, work a job and study all at the same time. If you let life decide where you go then I can guarantee you it’s not going to just float you to the top.

My little sister is one of the hardest workers I know and although she didn’t get the exact results she wanted this time, she’s still aiming for a Russell Group University to study Chemistry and I know she’s felt some of that earth shattering devastation that seems to accompany A-levels.

Her results were not bad by the way, they were nothing like mine. I won’t share her grades though because that’s her business. She’s had to cope with a lot of things this year as well but I know she’s strong like her big sister and will bounce back from the ring with more fight than she had when she entered it. My little sister knows my story because she watched me live through it but if there is another person out there who is experiencing anything like this at the moment and takes some positivity from my story then it was worth all this time writing it.

Dedicated to Baby G.


Update: I got the 2:1, still with the boy and we now have a dog!

My sister is studying English Lit at Cardiff University!

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