Identity Crises and ‘Exam’ Results

The inconsequential identity crisis

Under 11, you’re disappointed if it’s less. Over 12, you want it to be 15. From 18-28, you’re happy for it to be the same, and from 29 onwards, you’re willing them to go lower. Age predictions are always tricky because they involved judgements based on face value.

My petty identity crisis

I’ve surfed the wave of elation after an ego-massaging I.D. request in SPAR (aged 35), then wallowed in despair at the deflating ‘are these for a grandchild’ conversation at Gloucester Services last month (aged 40)! I’ve tried to rationalise both: the SPAR checkout person probably just saw my unruly toddler and my haphazard juggling of life, biscuits and frozen meal deal and assumed inexperience. The Gloucester Services cashier scanned the over-priced artisan/rustic baby clothes and looked up at the ‘old’ half of my face (youthful smile covered by a mask), assuming I was happily preparing to welcome a grandchild into the world. She had an incomplete story about me, ‘masked’ evidence, and jumped to the wrong conclusion. (I was, in fact, buying them as a gift for a younger friend before you jump to conclusions!) I don’t feel old enough to be a grandma yet, but it is possible for someone my age, so I shouldn’t have reacted so badly!

The crisis of identity faced by those receiving academic grades in 2020

Whilst 40-year-old women like me are worried about how much they have aged during the lockdown, thousands of teenagers are worried about whether their whole future has been jeopardised by it.

The situation forced a judgement to be made based on an incomplete story: an examination that didn’t take place.

I feel so sad for all these young people. Whatever they felt identified them academically may well have been snatched away in the socially-distanced opening of an envelope.

It seems condescending for a Xennial like me – who never experienced such disappointment – to tell a Millennial that they are more than those few numbers or letters on a page or screen (but I’m going to try anyway!).

What can we say to comfort our children, relatives, church youth and neighbours at this time? You’ll know what is best, but here are some starting points:

– First of all, don’t panic.

Keep remembering that any exam result is a snapshot in time. Yours is a snapshot of 2020: unprecedented and unique. As soon as someone sees your grades and the infamous 2020 date alongside them, they will be viewed in light of everything that we all went through. You have every right to explain the inconsistencies and disappointments related to the grade you were awarded, and you have your whole life to prove yourself in hundreds of different ways.

Yes, your 2020 grades will feel like a headline written by a biased newspaper, but you and your family, teachers, and future employers get to write the subheading and the body of the report. And don’t forget, God already knows what the article will say.


“I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.  Jeremiah 29:11

All adults have written the story behind their results, you’ll be no different in that respect.  Ask anyone and you’ll get the ‘subheading’ to their exam results from 1955, 1975 or 1995… Here are some I’ve collected from my years of ‘research’ (and bear in mind, I can remember these phrases, but I can’t remember what any of their exact results were, apart from my own!):

– ‘Yes, but I did nothing but revise. I didn’t have a life.’
‘I was going through a really hard time at home.’
‘I just didn’t revise.’
‘I didn’t understand the Chemistry teacher.’
‘I missed a lot of school.’
‘They never finished teaching the course.’
‘I was dyslexic but didn’t find out until I got to Uni. Then I got a First.’
‘School wasn’t for me’
‘I messed up the exam.’
‘That was a total fluke, I hardly revised but all the right questions came up.’
‘I suffered from panic attacks.’

After the initial turmoil, aim to level yourself by embracing your value and identity in Christ.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29)

This is an opportunity that might be the making of you: you have learned (at an age much younger than the rest of us) that your identity is not tied to your academic results.

– Alongside many other uplifting and encouraging Instagram posts on A-Level results day, @krishkandiah put out a great reminder. ‘My daughter receives her A-Level results today. Here’s what I want her and every other student to know:

Whatever your results today, whatever injustice has been done, your future is not dependent on an algorithm. This has been a year like no other. Be kind to yourself. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

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