Many students across the UK have started receiving their 2021 exam results. However, there have been many concerns over whether these results will be taken seriously due to the circumstances in which these results have been decided. Similar to last year’s results, Covid-19 has stopped students from sitting formal examinations, and their final results are now based on assessments by their teachers.

Over the last 18 months, many students have felt more anxious than ever. They don’t feel fully in control of their achievements due to all of the disruption to learning. One student who received her A level results this year, Molly, aged 18, from Liverpool, told the BBC: “There have been times when I feel like it's better it happened this way, and there have been other times when I think, if I could, I would redo the whole two years. The anxiety comes in waves."

The inconsistency in how results were determined for the 2020 cohort has not filled students with much confidence. Last summer, thousands of A-level results were downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn. This year, the grades achieved in A Levels and GCSEs will be based only on what was taught during the pandemic due to the examinations being cancelled for the second year in a row. A combination of coursework, mock exams and essays have been used by teachers to decide grades. Many students have been worrying about how their grades will be calculated and whether or not these results will be good enough to secure their place at their desired university or apprenticeship.

GCSE and A-level grades reach record high, although many will be left disappointed

This year top A-level grades have reached a record high, with 44.8% getting A* or A grades. The percentage of pupils achieving A to C grades in their Highers was 87.3%, down slightly on 2020. Grade inflation was expected for this year’s GCSEs. Ian Bauckham, Chair of the exam watchdog Ofqual, gave the example of a class of 30 GCSE pupils in which five are capable of a top grade, 9. In a typical exam year, it is unlikely all five would achieve a '9' on the day, but with no exams taking place, the teacher cannot predict who would get the grade and who would miss out. In such circumstances, the teacher was entitled to 'submit a grade 9 for all of them'. The inflation of results may benefit some students and give them a better set of results than they were anticipating, however, there will be lots of students whose results will suffer, and these students will need increased support.

University admissions have been encouraged to give additional consideration to disadvantaged students. This disrupted learning has been more difficult for them to achieve their desired grades due to added stresses in their home lives. The same consideration should also be given to those lower-income students receiving their GCSE results, as they too have felt the added difficulty of the disrupted learning.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chair of the Sutton Trust and Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Since March 2020, our research has consistently shown how much harder state schools – particularly those in less affluent areas – have been hit by the pandemic. The pandemic has compounded existing inequalities and today’s results are a reflection of that. We're seeing growing gaps between independent and state schools at the top grades.”

Other factors that have impacted this year’s results are the limited access to mental health services and facilities. Further, some schools have been given more freedom than others, meaning students have had very different experiences this year, with some doing more tests than others. Those who can point to completing more work to determine their grade will more likely receive higher results than those who have less work.

Worrying about results and the general stresses of school leads to many young people experiencing issues with their mental health. Between April and June this year, Childline delivered 1,812 counselling sessions to young people with concerns relating to exams – compared to 861 sessions during the same period of last year. These statistics clearly show how exams affect student’s mental health and that students feel immense pressure to achieve the best set of results possible to secure a promising future.

There is plenty of help and guidance available to help young people cope with the stress of results day. There is often the possibility to re-sit exams if grades are not high enough, or there might be the opportunity to appeal their given grade. On results day, What Uni has provided a comprehensive plan for the day, which includes lots of practical tips to stay calm. If more in-depth advice is needed, a qualified careers advisor may be helpful.