The 5 Stages Of Exam Grief

My A-Levels are in 2 months, and I just got a U in my maths mock. Here’s what happened next.


People say there are 5 stages of grief. I think this sort of process is applicable to all realisation moments, or moments of acceptance. This is the sort of thing that played out in the wake of getting that result.


Denial: I saw my paper, saw the ‘U’, and walked out of the classroom. It was the end of the lesson, so it wasn’t an act of rebellion, but I just walked out and pretended like it didn’t happen. That lasted all of the 30 seconds it took to walk down the stairs from the third floor. Because next came…


Anger: (a brief recreation of the words most of the road heard) Fuck Maths. Just fuck it. Do I give a crap about John and how he wants to flip some bloody coins to find out if he can get a ball into a jar at a fair ground game? No. Jesus Christ John, just go to a fair and get ripped off like the rest of us, dammit! I hate all the teachers that said I had to do 2 facilitating subjects for universities to think I’m good enough. I hate all the universities that think that some subjects are more commendable than others. You try bloody playing the flute for your music exam, or doing naturalistic scenes in a drama exam, or trying to create a collection of products in a day for a graphics exam, and you tell me that’s not commendable. I dare you to tell me that isn’t as stressful as a biology or chemistry exam. This kind of angry shouting was what my best friend had to endure for most of our walk to the tube station.


Bargaining: In this stage,for a brief period of time my mind spewed out a sort of collection of empty promises to myself, as a weird form of comfort. I’m gonna text my friend to please help me with maths in our frees. I’m gonna turn up at my maths class and beg for him to let me re-sit the exam.  I’m gonna go to all the revision sessions. I’ll prioritize maths as my main topic for revision… Yeah right.


Depression:Then I started to cry. I cried on the tube, I cried on the bus, I cried on my bed. I cried so much that I wasn’t even really sure why I was crying by the end of it. At first I thought I was crying because of the shame, because I want to do well in school. Then I thought it may just be because my ego was bruised, and maybe I don’t like to seem stupid. I thought it could just be angry tears; stupid maths with their stupid grades. And then I realised.


Acceptance/Realisation:No. I am so upset with maths and my grade and myself, because I had well and truly given up. I’m a person who does not in general form want to be a failure. I don’t like being weak, or giving up, and honestly I like people thinking I’m great. This isn’t just applicable to school stuff, frankly I care about approval for way more things above school stuff, but the sentiment still applies. So when I realised that I am not willing to fight for a good grade in maths anymore, it kind of broke my heart. Again, not because I care about maths, but because I care about being resilient.


I realised that if I got a U in either of my other two subjects, I would push myself to fix my problems, but for maths I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t push myself to keep fighting for something I hate anymore. I couldn’t angrily repeat doing the same questions again and again. I couldn’t keep spewing the same rant about how much I hate how STEM subjects seem to be the only validated ones. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t have the energy left within me for it. It made me feel worthless and pathetic to just not improve or do worse when I was trying really hard. And I don’t care enough for someone to say, ‘you weren’t really trying, you need to revise harder or differently’ and do something about it.


And this is where the hidden sixth stage comes in.


Reality: Because, as much as my realisation may have been 100% truthful, I have to be realistic. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person with promise of a good future, must be in want of good grades. I am not allowed to give up. For the next two months, the next two long painful months of my life, I am forced into becoming a puppet to the system that will pull me along by my strings to the miserable end. Even if it makes me wretched,  if I am to have any ambition for the future, I am not allowed to not care about my grade, and if I do, it is 100% at my own risk. Which sucks. It is rubbish that grades are so important, and the general machine of life cares more about academic achievement than your wellbeing sometimes, but I, and everyone else needs to get on with it. I’m sorry. Believe me, I wanted to get to the end of writing this post and have come to a profound conclusion, and I thought I might have, but it’s just not practical. I don’t believe grades are everything. I don’t believe that being smart is everything. but in an increasingly competitive world, unless luck is on your side, you need the support of grades under your name. And for that, I am truly sorry.


So you may be thinking, what’s the point in this post. It honestly was a bit of a rollercoaster of disappointment, but I think the thing is, although the reality section is important, I don’t think that should take away from the fact that you need to have the realisation moment. You need to realise what it is that is actually making you so angry or sad, and what it is that you really care about. Everything is going so fast, and so much information is being chucked at you, and you are being told what you are capable of and what is to be expected of you so often, that it becomes really easy to just lose track of what you want from yourself and your life. Because it is that, it is your life. Ultimately it is your choice to figure out what you want to do, and nothing and nobody else should sway that. I personally know that if I give up on maths, I’m going to regret it, and I am making my choice. Make yours with the complete knowledge of what you want from your life. Make your choices yourself.