Despair, pride and unconfined joy at moment of truth: Fran Abrams reports on the mixed fortunes of some A-level candidates who learnt their fate yesterday

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Amanda Parr, who came top out of more than 18,000 A-level Humanities candidates yesterday, was turned down by Cambridge University earlier this year, writes Judith Judd.

Amanda, 18, who will receive a medal from the Associated Examining Board for her mark in the history section, also gained A grades in music and English.

Ross Avison, deputy head of the Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge, said: 'We are delighted and not surprised that Amanda has done so well. I hope someone in Cambridge is looking at her results.' The exam board gives medals to candidates who come top in each of the 10 main subject areas. The humanities include history, geography, religious studies and general studies.

Amanda, who will read English at Bristol University, said she owed her success to hard work and her grandmother. 'My nan has always been interested in folklore. She lives in Hastings and was the reason I chose smuggling for my 6,000-word project.'

Amanda travelled the country studying original sources and worked a 12-hour day before her exam. She said: 'One of the exam papers on English and European History was awful. It seemed as if they had deliberately chosen questions we would not have thought of.' In reply to the question, 'how useful are written sources to the historian?', she used her enthusiasm for literature. 'I talked about the value of contemporary novels, poetry and plays as well as parish and census records. I talked about how literature is a source of incidental information and a reflection of the society in which it's written and that Samuel Pepys, for instance, was writing for posterity and wanted to be seen in a favourable light.'

The exam board's top award for English went to Katherine Price, 30, who beat more than 39,000 other candidates after studying at home for just six months. Mrs Price, who has two children aged three and five, used a correspondence course and saw her tutor from High Peak College of Further Education in Buxton, Derbyshire, once every two weeks. 'I already have degrees in science and philosophy,' she said. 'But I want to do teacher-training and teach English and science.'

She attributed her success to the unconventional approach she and her tutor adopted. 'We related books like A Streetcar Named Desire to politics and topical issues.'