Education: To B or not to B

Mistakes are made. If you're not happy with your grades make a fuss, says Dominic Long
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I went up the steps of our sixth-form centre on 14 August, 1997, I had already prepared myself for the worst. I needed two As and a B to get into my first choice, Oxford. Although I felt I'd done OK in the actual exams, the pessimist in me had taken over.

As it turned out, this was fortunate because when I opened the dreaded envelope I'd got ABB - I'd missed by one grade. I was disappointed but calm.

Another relatively fortunate aspect of the morning was that the breakdown of my grades was somewhat odd. In the two subjects in which I had got Bs, English and Economics, I had been given As in the core papers of both subjects but a D in my last English paper and an E in my last economics section (handy, given that I wanted to study economics!). Yet these two last papers were supposed to be my best, and they were the ones I was basing my "I'd done OK" feeling on.

A couple of days later my teachers sent my English paper to the examining board and, along with three other people's papers, my D went up to an A. However, I didn't hear this until a few weeks later after the results came in, by which time I had already been offered a place at my first choice. I'd decided to go to Oxford, personally, and ask whether they would consider me on the basis of my grades. They said yes.

Thus, apart from a long-term fear of exams, I had come out of the trauma of that Thursday morning relatively unscathed. In the end my English had gone up from a B to an A, giving me AAB overall - my economics did eventually get marked up, but not enough to change the overall grade.

But some of my friends weren't so lucky; one person I knew had his exam re-marked six months later and he went up two grades. By then, though, he had already been rejected by his first choice of university and had already settled down in his reserve choice.

If anyone finds themselves in the same position the best advice I could offer is: don't panic! While exam boards are never eager to admit that they can make mistakes, occasionally they do. But until that date - which can be a very long time after the initial results come in - do justice to the work you put in before the exams, and take the time to ring and hassle as many people (teachers, universities, advice lines etc) as you can to ensure that you get that university place.

The writer has just finished his second year, reading politics, philosophy and economics at Jesus College, Oxford