Tom Greene: Don't blame us for your O-level hangover

Today, when 600,000 of us get our results, we are damned whatever happens
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The Independent Online

Since the A-level results came out last Thursday, newspapers have been claiming that their reporters could pass the current A-levels in two weeks, and GCSEs in one. These attitudes get the teenage blood boiling, particularly coming at a time when even the staunchest of teens has been feeling the pressure of getting good results.

While I'm counting down the hours and minutes to when I can pick up my results, forget that I ever did maths and move on, everyone seems set to devalue and ridicule the exams that 600,000 of us have taken. What's worse is the condescension towards perceived "easy" GCSEs and A-levels, like media studies and psychology. The emergence of new A-level and GCSE subjects does not mean that every budding classicist is bundled into a van marked Media Studies, kept hostage and forced to watch Noel's House Party. If anything, it is refreshing that people who find conventional subjects too hard, boring or just not pertinent can find subjects that will stimulate them.

If the world has changed, then that is not our fault; the fact is all those moaning, teen-bashing journalists wouldn't be in a job if there wasn't any media demand - if there are more people studying "easier" GCSEs, or for that matter A-levels, it is because there is more demand for those subjects. Perhaps if the O-level "golden age" of yesteryear hadn't created a generation fraught with gossipy insecurities, there would be no need for any psychology or media studies students at all, let alone a rise in them. Do you think if the previous generation had been born now, they would have been recoiling at Heat magazine, deciding instead to skip to their Enid Blyton collection and retire to the tree house for the evening?

The fact is that I have never studied for an O-level and none of those vocal journalists have studied for a GCSE. Whether they are right or not is besides the point; if they are, then rather than berating the people who take the exams, perhaps they should look at conceivable improvements. GCSEs are not perfect, but we can only get what we are given.

I'm sorry if they don't give us one hour to restore a Taiwanese village (without a dictionary), like they did in your day, but sometimes having to sit "easy" exams isn't all that satisfying for us either. Firstly, you have two or three years of the most tedious and mind-numbing work ever. Instead of sending a bright hack to pass media studies A-level in two weeks, why don't the national newspapers see if he can stay awake for two years of GCSE maths?

Secondly, the margin of error is very, very slim. It is not like the in the past where anyone who couldn't pass an 11+ was branded a second-class person and dumped in a "secondary" school. Every school is supposed to offer good teaching and although this obviously isn't the reality, the equality of education is much greater than it used to be. No matter what anyone tells you, nearly all of GCSEs are factual recall. This means that if someone studies hard for two years, they are in line for a top grade regardless of intelligence.

Thirdly, the personal satisfaction of turning up to an exam you have studied two years for and seeing a question like "Vishmal wants to boil some water. What temperature should Vishmal boil the water at?" is small. Don't get me wrong, in the exam hall I'm relieved and questions like those are brilliant for confidence, but you end up feeling slightly cheated - that all those lessons were just a waste of time.

Today, when 600,000 of us trudge off to get our results, we are damned whatever happens. If the GCSE results fell, it would be blamed on the lazy, couch-potato attitude of our generation; if they rise, it will be attributed to easy exams moulded to our lazy couch-potato generation. The two years of work, the two months of stressful exams, the hellish week leading up to our results - what's the point, if they're ridiculed anyway?

The adult, O-level hangover, with its bitterness and resentment, is affecting the psyche of our age group. If we're constantly told how easy and how worthless any exam we take is, it'll be no wonder if we turn into lazy and selfish adults. Instead of dissecting our generation when results come, it would be nice if someone thought to look elsewhere to attribute blame.

If universities will only take students with conglomerates of A*s, then schools will work out how to manipulate mark schemes and pass on this information to its students, which gives understaffed exam boards more reason to sign another paper off as an A* which in turn means the universities need more A*s and As to differentiate, which means the schools push harder. It is a vicious circle, for which the students are not accountable. If we are doing piss-easy exams, it is up to someone to change them properly.

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