Author Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of the best books on: Exam results

Author Patricia Nicol unveils a selection of the best books on: Exam results

When I was in my late teens, I feared that a single stumble on the school career path would send me falling into an abyss. One dishonest choice and the game could be over.

Of course, life is not like that at all. This is more of an endurance test than a sprint; more about the stumbles you get rid of than the easy wins.

But very few people tell you that when you are between 15 and 18 years old. And to be fair, even if they did, would you have listened?

This week and next, a cohort of children whose education has been significantly disrupted by Covid lockdowns will get their GCSE and A-level results.

I hope the examiners and university admissions officers will give them some time. But more importantly, I hope they let go and realize that if their hopes aren’t fully met, they have options.

British author Patricia Nicol has put together a selection of the best books on exam results, including Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls.

They can wait, postpone or even just rethink: the school and college hamster wheel is not for everyone.

Charlie Lewis, the main character in Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls, is convinced at the start of the novel that he will not have the GCSE grades to continue his studies.

At her graduation disco, a caring professor tries to tell her how little that matters, in the big picture. “I mean, it matters, but not as much as you think.

By contrast, the main character in Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers, Charles Highway, is a short titled, taking a year after passing his A-levels to take a separate Oxford entrance exam. Despite his swagger, however, there are a lot of things this boy has to learn.

Martha, the first-person narrator of Meg Mason’s bestseller Sorrow And Bliss, learns the hard way that navigating life is about more than just passing exams.

During his year of the baccalaureate, “a little bomb exploded in my brain”. From there, brilliant intellectual Martha must learn to live with mental illness.

Good luck if your children or grandchildren are expecting results. But also remember that no one over the age of 25 is ever asked how they did in their GCSEs, or even their A-levels.


Lola R. McClure