Will they make the grade? The class of '05 waits to find out on A-level judgement day

Half a million students will get the most important results of their young lives on Thursday. Here are some of their hopes and fears
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"My entire family has done really well and I don't want to be seen as the lazy one," she says. "I feel that I'll flourish at Southampton and that I deserve to do well after all the work I put in. The prospect of not getting into university coaxed me into working really hard."

Southampton has a good nightlife, which is one reason that Hilary, a regular clubber, is particularly keen to go. If it does not work out this time round, she is tempted to take time out and try again. She says that the worst part of the experience will be the tense trip to nearby Woldingham School to hear the news. "Although I know I can't do anything about the results now, I keep drifting back to the exams and thinking 'what if I completely misunderstood the questions?'. But I guess you're always unsure whether you've done enough."

Medical work runs in the family - her father is a dentist and her sister is training to be a dentist, too.

"Exams have always been a real problem for me, and I spent a lot of my GCSE and AS years unwell. My careers adviser at school suggested midwifery as an alternative. It sounded as though it had everything I wanted from a degree in medicine, but with slightly less pressure."

Tessa Veevers, 18, is worried about getting the three C grades she needs for a place at Sheffield Hallam University. Tessa, who lives in Disley, Cheshire, describes herself as sick with nerves as she waits for Thursday.

"If I don't get the grades, then I'm not sure what I'll do. My second-choice university is asking for the same grades as Sheffield. Maybe I'll have a year out and go travelling."

At the moment, Tessa works in a hairdresser's on Saturdays to pay for her social life. But she is aiming for a career in management, which is why she chose Sheffield's business course.

"I worked so hard. I just hope my results reflect that."

Tessa studied at Poynton High School, a mixed comprehensive in nearby Stockport, where her subjects included two of the so-called "hard" A-levels, chemistry and maths, along with drama. "The exams were all tough; some went better than others," she says. "The bad probably outweighed the good."

Her parents are both teachers and Tessa's two older sisters have been to university. But she doesn't feel pressurised by her family. "My parents have never compared me to my older sisters, so I don't feel I have to compete.

"Some of my friends have higher standards to reach, so maybe they are feeling the pressure slightly more than me, but we all get that feeling of dread when we think about the day. We're just trying to do things to take our minds off it."

Jack Wellby will know his fate by the time he turns 18 on Friday. He hopes to follow in his father's footsteps and win a place at Oxford University. But for that he needs straight A grades in religious studies, maths and geography - his preferred degree subject.

"I don't like to make predictions, and I always find it difficult to judge how well I've done in exams, but I'm feeling reasonably confident about getting the grades," says Jack, who lives with his parents in Fulham, west London.

He does not share his dad's taste in career, however, and, rather than "boring" accountancy, is aiming for teaching or another profession working with people.

He attended the fee-paying St Paul's School for boys in west London, and feels he was well taught. "I worked fairly hard during the year and through my study leave, trying to pre-empt the questions, using the materials that my school gave me and looking at the specifications issued by the exam board."

He has a back-up offer from Nottingham University, but admits he would be disappointed if he missed out on the chance to go to Oxford. A solid performance in his AS-levels meant that he was in a strong position before this year's exams.

With his older brother at Durham University, Jack says: "I don't want to be the one who mucked it all up and didn't get into university. I get quite nervous at the prospect that there's nothing you can do but wait for the results - there's a lot riding on this Thursday."

Interviews by Andrew Dagnell