I should have guessed that something was wrong when I left the Maths exam confident that I had done well. I was eagerly discussing what I’d put as my answers with friends who seemed to be puzzled by my enthusiasm and had put something else. It turns out they were right and I was wrong. I scraped an ‘E’ in Maths and failed my other two A-Levels. Everyone around me seemed to heading off to Uni and I was heading for the sofa and parents who could barely contain their disappointment!
It wasn’t going to last:
One trip to the Council Careers Officer over the summer and I turned a significant corner in my life. “With grades like that,” he said pompously from behind his enormous desk, “I wouldn’t bother to re-sit. You might as well go out and just find a job.” That was it. It was like a red rag to a bull. I was supposed to have been clever enough for a Russell Group Uni, my family had invested time in my future and even I had some strange vision of myself tossing a mortar board into the air on graduation day.
Anything else was complete and utter failure for me and this obnoxious, so-called expert had just written me off. “Oh no you DON’T” I thought as I almost ran back down the long grey corridor of the Local Authority offices, determined to overthrow his diagnosis and recommendation.
Within weeks I was enrolled at a local college to re-sit two of my A-Levels – the two I had failed. On the timetable, the college couldn’t accommodate me doing Maths as well (sound familiar?), and so I had to take a random third A-Level from scratch. Bearing in mind this was meant to be a one-year re-sit, I can only assume that the Head of the College, who was bravely accepting me onto three courses, was either grateful for the funding they generated – or sympathetic to my claims that I was not meant to be in this position and that it was all a temporary mistake which I was about to rectify!
My whole attitude had changed. No longer did I believe, arrogantly, that I was going to a top University with top A-Level grades simply because I was destined to be there. Now, I was on a mission. I was on a mission to prove that I deserved to get there. This one-year journey of discovery was for me, for my benefit and mine alone. I had chosen to be there and accepted a random third A-Level, all at the risk of failing it and putting the other two in jeopardy as a result of taking on too much. I am more risk-averse than anyone I know, yet this inner determination drove me on and nothing was going to get in my way.
I don’t know what experience you’ll have of switching courses with the same title, but it is like starting all over again. The two exams I was re-sitting were both on different syllabuses and boy, that was a challenge! The third I’d never even done before and was studying alongside others on a re-sit programme for just 12 months. Everyone else had studied the subject for two years already so had a good grasp of the content before we started! Remember the Council Careers Officer message “with those grades, I wouldn’t bother to re-sit”? Most weren’t re-sitting because they had failed and I so was up half the night reading just to keep up and you’ll see what an additional challenge that was in a minute.
When the exams came, I was ready. I had a rough idea how I was doing in one of the re-sits because I’d had coursework grades during the year and knew what was left to achieve, but I went into the other two completely blind, relying solely on my inner determination and new-found perseverance developed during the year.
Not only did I pass, but I got an A and a C in my re-sits, both on new syllabuses and with different teachers. In the random third A-Level, I got another C and together these were enough to secure me a place on a brilliant course at the Russell Group Uni of my choice. I had made it at last!
But the story doesn’t end there:
I belatedly discovered that I wasn’t a natural academic. I struggled to read and absorb vast quantities of information and got bored easily in lectures. If I had been taught in a different way or with more practical experience, such as in an apprenticeship, it would have suited me better and so made it easier, but in achieving my dream Uni, I discovered it was just that: a dream, based on what I was capable of achieving rather than what would have suited me best.
Yearly exams were tough, I re-sat a couple along the way and had a rollercoaster ride of results as various papers and dissertations were submitted in between my having a blast on almost no money. But the determination stayed with me and I got through to the end with a lot of self-study (and a part-time job). I succeeded against personal odds. I got a 2:2 degree and the Uni that I wanted tattooed onto my CV.
Along the way, I realised that – for most of us – we have to work extremely hard to achieve what we want in life. And if we mess up along the way, we have a real choice for ourselves of either giving up or fighting back. If you are at risk of being in this position, dig deep, work out where you want to be and start finding out how to get there: the choice is huge and often right on the doorstep if you look.
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