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Exam cancellations add to student stress in Wales

Books recommended for students in Wales during lockdown. (Holly Hostettler-Davies/YJI)

Bridgend, South Wales, UK – With the covid-19 crisis claiming thousands of lives across the globe, the future is looking as uncertain as ever. But for Welsh students like me, there are specific worries about how the cancellation of examinations will affect our academic futures.

The Minister of Education for Wales last month cancelled all summer examinations with the Welsh exam board. That fundamentally changes the testing system for students here who are expecting to apply to university.

I am a Year 12 student and was preparing to sit my AS Level examinations this summer, with the scores in those due to be added together with my scores in next year’s examinations to give my overall A Level grades.

This Welsh examination system is different to the way exams are carried out in other parts of the UK. Instead of doing all the testing in one year, we test each of two years and combine the results, which takes some of the pressure off.

In England, for example, there are no AS Level examinations, with A Level grades being awarded solely on the performance of A Level examinations.

Therefore, the struggles that Year 12 students in Wales are facing right now, are different to the struggles that Year 12 students in England are dealing with.

Our AS grades are the grades that we use to apply to university, so they also take away some of the pressure on our A Level exams. As they are worth 40 percent of our overall A Level grades, when
sitting our A Level examinations, we know that we have already completed a large portion of our overall grade.

This system has worked well in Wales for many years, with the majority of students happy to split their A Level grades over the two years.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the cancellation of these examinations has caused enormous amounts of worry and uncertainty to these students who are already going through such a stressful time.

Sophia Staples, a Year 12 student in Wales who hopes to study medicine at university, has shared her views on the exam cancellations.

“Although it makes my future uncertain, it’s a small sacrifice if it helps to save lives, the importance of exams pales in comparison to protecting masses of people from being wiped out by this virus,” Staples said. “Everyone across the country are making sacrifices, unfortunately students also have to make sacrifices. However, everyone feels hard done by – we’re all in the same boat.”

Schoolwork that the author is completing during the quarantine. (Holly Hostettler-Davies/YJI)

However, with the ambition of studying medicine at university, Staples suffers even more uncertainty.

To successfully apply for medicine in the UK, work experience is vital, so is sitting the UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test), but with the future being so uncertain, Staples is worried she won’t be able to sit this test or get complete work experience.

“My work experience is cancelled which is worrying,” said Staples. “I’m hoping admission tutors will understand the lack of work experience in lots of candidates! As far as UCAT goes, I’m trying not to think too far ahead – hopefully it will be worked out in the end.”

It is true that admission tutors will have to allow for some gaps in applications, however it does mean that a lot of future medicine students will go into studying without having had the opportunity to get experience like previous medical students have had.

The effects of covid-19 will definitely have a lasting effect on many students. Teachers, too, face challenges with the onset of online lessons and trying to motivate students remotely, while trying to give fair and accurate grades.

With the whole face of education changing students are encouraged to pick up a book, get creative and keep a positive outlook, but that’s hard to do when our academic futures are looking increasingly unclear.

Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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