June 2017 saw the first round of A-Level exams with two years’ worth of content to revise, rather than just one. This new way of examining students means that school is becoming less about learning about a subject and more about passing it.
Under the new ‘linear’ system, a student’s future is decided by eight or nine exams, over two weeks of a two-year course. Two years of work all reduced down to exam papers. Obviously exams are needed to assess progress and award grades. However, the emphasis placed on them means that students spend their final two years of school being force-fed facts to regurgitate in a sweaty school hall all in the name of a grade.
Students are slowly but surely becoming exam machines. Exam machines that are kicked to the curb if they don’t meet the school’s standards.
The extensive pressure that’s placed on such a small amount of time in a course is putting students under dangerous levels of stress. Add this to an already minimal support system for mental health issues, and young people’s mental health in higher education becomes a ticking time bomb.
The decline of young people’s mental health in schools can be most clearly be seen away from the classroom, on social media platforms such as Twitter. There are whole accounts dedicated to making light of the stress and pressure students are under, such as this tweet where the author writes about how they might have a ‘mental breakdown’ over A-Levels. This is not one person being dramatic. The account that tweeted this has well over 2000 followers. Followers who are most likely other sixth-form students, looking for reassurance that they are not the only ones struggling to cope.
If something isn’t done, and young people are left to write endless notes for topics that may not even appear in the exam, their stress levels will get worse. Either increase the amount of mental health support available to students in schools, or reintroduce more coursework into A-Levels so an entire grade isn’t resting on one exam. Otherwise, the only thing students will take from their time in education is how to write an essay the way examiners want. And an anxiety disorder.