A-Level Results: Agony and ecstasy as students open the little buff envelopes

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THE ATHLETIC blond teenager strode into the school hall with all the confidence of a young man accustomed to getting his own way.

Seconds later his whole demeanour crumpled as he opened his envelope and slid down the wall on to his haunches, tears flowing freely in dismay. Around him triumphant students hugged each other with glee, apparently oblivious to his grief.

The scene at Long Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge yesterday was repeated across the country as A-level students collected their grades. Nelum Kodikara, 19, fingered her envelope nervously for 10 long minutes. She casually shrugged off any suggestion that she was worried, yet she refused to even peek at her results. Her friends followed suit. Huddled in a circle, they each put off the moment of truth.

The four girls had been tense and monosyllabic all morning. Sophie Garwood, 18, had a particularly difficult time. Her own mother, who was her history teacher, was about to hand her her results. "I was so worried I felt sick. My mum knew my results at 8am and when she didn't phone I thought I had failed," she said. In fact, Sophie had gained two As and a B in art, psychology and history. She erupted into loud screams of joy, as did Nelum and Cara Kotschy.

Charlotte Linzell was not so lucky. She was devastated - sobbing for half an hour - after slipping one grade below her expected 3 Cs to 2 Cs and a D. She consoled herself that intense work experience in her chosen field of media was likely to make up the difference. A high proportion of the students had taken vocationally inspired subjects and were bemused at the idea of doing anything else. Educational pyschologists, lobbyists, TV producers or IT consultants - they all had their careers clearly mapped out beyond university.

The headmaster, Andrew Thomson, was convinced that this plays a large part in their success and the college's 92.7 per cent pass rate, with 64 per cent at A to C grade.

"Everybody is getting better at taking exams. They are getting better teaching on how to study for them. They work their socks off and they are better prepared with a wider choice of subjects," he said. This year a dozen students have taken part in a national pilot project allowing them to see their marked exam papers and where they went wrong.

Kirsten Ross, 18, who hopes to be a lobbyist after reading political studies at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, said: "I will be able to look at my mistakes and learn from them."

Thomas Martindell, 18, who plans a career writing books on philosophy, said: "It will give us a better idea of how to improve our exam techniques for university."