Coping with uncertainty about school and exams due to the pandemic

The pandemic has impacted our lives in so many different ways. Probably one of the most obvious is education. A lot of schools were forced to go online in March 2020 which no doubt caused a whirlwind of stress and confusion for students across the globe. Expert Dr Emma Silver breaks down how to handle it.

llustration shows a young person studying at home on a laptop, with a pile of books next to them

Disclaimer: This article was originally published in June 2020. In it, we discuss ways of coping with uncertainty around education and exams in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Even though schools have gone back to being in person, there’s still a lot of hangover stress about what happened during the pandemic. So, if you’re looking for help to deal with uncertainty about your future in a seemingly post-pandemic world, read on.

For further support dealing with the changes brought on by the pandemic, head to our coronavirus support hub here

There’s a lot of feelings of uncertainty about school right now

With GCSEs and A-Level exams cancelled and results day not far away, it’s a pretty weird time to be in secondary school. Some of you might actually like being at home and having a change of pace. But odds are that you still feel slightly stressed, or even just strange, about not being able to take your exams. Plus, if you’re in your GCSE year, you can add going back to school onto the list of worries.

We spoke to Dr Emma Silver to get her expert advice and answers to some of your questions. Before we begin, we’re just gonna give you a picture of how awesome she truly is. 

Dr Silver is a health care professional. She is a consultant clinical psychologist with more than 25-years’ experience working with young people and families. She also has a role in CAMHS at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and is director of wellbeing at Highgate School.

I’m feeling uncertain about school and I don’t know what’s going to happen next

Generally speaking, we tend to find dealing with uncertainty difficult; it’s part of human nature. Unfortunately, if this pandemic has taught us anything, living through uncertain times is also unavoidable. Especially if you’re a young person. You went from having your day basically mapped out for you to not knowing when you’ll be in school next. There’s no sugar-coating it, that’s tough. It’s also important to note that those already struggling with their mental-health are going to be doubly affected.

The structure of the school day, the clear boundaries created by school, and knowing what is expected of you, is normally there to help prevent young people from feeling overwhelmed. So it is not surprising that many of you are feeling more anxious without this structure. Don’t bottle it up though. It’s a difficult time to predict the future. But opening up to someone can make a world of difference.

If I can’t sit my final exams, will it impact my choice of university?

How to cope with exams being cancelled and the cancellation’s effect on getting into uni is understandably a common question for lots of you. Well, we have some good news.

All students who would’ve taken A-levels this year will still get a grade even though they don’t take the final exams. We should flag that those grades are your actual A-level grades which will be sent to unis. The grades will be set by your teachers, who are using all the evidence they have over the last two years to make an informed and fair decision. But if you think you would do better in the actual exams than TAGs (Teacher Assessed Grades) then you can talk to your teachers about the possibility of taking the exams in the autumn or next summer instead.

All the information on grading of A-levels and GCSEs and re-taking exams is available here

I don’t know how to study for exams at home and I can’t stay focused

Many young people are currently yelling “I don’t know how to study for exams anymore” at their mirror. We recognise that it’s really hard if you don’t have your own space to work in, have to share devices, or have younger siblings around. That’s why it’s important to try to give yourself some structure to your day. 

You’ve probably heard this gem a million times, but we’re about to make it a million and one. During the day you have to take regular breaks to get away from your desk and screen. Make sure that you get fresh air and check in with your friends (through social media). If possible, go for a walk or do some exercise every day. 

I can’t take part in online lessons and I’m worried I’ll fall behind

Loads of people are struggling to pay attention to and engage with online lessons for a range or reasons, and that’s totally okay. But we get that it can be very frustrating at the present moment. Give it some time to adjust and you’ll get there eventually. Remember: slow and steady wins the race. 

However, if it’s down to practical reasons like bad Wi-Fi, or no space at home to do online classes then you should contact your head of year or teachers and let them know your situation. Some schools have been able to provide more devices for pupils. Otherwise, the teachers may be able to adapt the lessons so that you can do the work individually and they can take questions at other times to support your learning.

Get support for dealing with uncertainty around school and the pandemic

If the uncertainty about school and exams is making you feel stress, anxiety, and depression (or any combination of those) know that we’re here for you. You can find free and confidential support and advice by contacting The Mix’s team of experts and trained volunteers. Alternatively, you can: 

If you’re under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out, complete this form and we’ll call you to arrange your first session.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. Search their website for information, research, and to see how you could get involved.
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 04-May-2022