A Sixth Year Study

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A Higher Experience

I'm gonna go out on a limb, and say that the first day of school- not a good thing. Getting up at 7.30 (after 6 weeks of lying in), forcing myself into some seriously uncomfortable clothing, and listening to teachers drone endlessly about the work that's stretching in front of me- not a few of my favourite things. Of course, it goes without saying that things are better in sixth year. Right?

Wrong. Yeah I know, as my sisters keep reminding me this is the last year I'll have to go through all this (and there is potential in being the oldest ones in school). And yet. The problem is, there's a rather large thorn (ok, rosebush) in the side of the whole experience: exam results.

Now, not everyone going to know the debacle that was my exam results. For the uninformed, the basic gist is: Thursday morning- complete and utter lack of exam results. Ensuing panic and harassing of SQA people for the rest of the morning. And then, finally, I had them. And fortunately, they turned out to be worth the wait. But my point is that, having worried myself sick the night before, and all through the day of exam results, I was now (just a few days later) being forced into school, where I would have to answer endless questions about what I got. The thought of torturing the SQA in all kinds of inventive ways had more than crossed my mind- it had stopped, taken a look around at the fixtures, and decided to settle down.

What if everyone's done better than me?... What if my results are wrong?... What if...? That's just a sample of what was going through my head as I stepped out the door on Tuesday morning. Suddenly, I had turned from the girl looking forward to seeing her friends and starting new classes, to a competitive monster, desperate to keep my head above water. And here comes the irony: whereas I had built up the morning into a frenzied competition of questions and comparisons, no-one else seemed to care. Everyone knew what their friends had got, and if the subject came up then questions were asked, but apart from that... Apparently academic achievement doesn't get the rest of my peers as worked up as me.

It wasn't until the next day that I discovered the real problem with coming to the end of my Higher experience. With two words my social ed teacher sealed our collective fate: UCAS forms. Once again, those non-Brits among you are probably sitting with a blank expression on your faces. In general terms, the UCAS form is what you fill in to apply to universities, including such information as your qualifications, where you want to go and what you want to do. More specifically, it is the work of the devil.

Our school has taken a more modern approach to the UCAS form for a while now: we use computers to fill it in. I think this may be designed to make it less daunting. There's just one small design flaw... it fails miserably. You're still faced with a software package, into which you must enter courses and codes you know nothing about, until your best friend mentions to you that her SE teacher handed out the information last term. You still have to try and work out when you started your job, and what year you started high school in. And, worst of all, you still have to write your personal statement. This 75(ish)-line essay must tell the universities what kind of person you are, why you have chosen your courses, and prove to them that you are the absolutely perfect person for their university. Call me crazy, but I need more than 75 lines to describe my character, interests, choice of course and qualifications. And I still can't decide whether having been a Girl Guide is the kind of information that makes me irresistible to a university.

But, even so, there is a good side to exam results, and even to the UCAS form. Through the whole of last year, I tried to convince myself I was an adult. I knew I was taller than the first years (though, unfortunately, smaller than most fourth years- gotta love my genes). I knew than I was about to sit some of the most important exams of my entire life. I had even accepted the fact that fluttering my eyelashes and looking hopeful wasn't going to count as a reason for my parents to give me an advance on my allowance anymore. But I still had a hard time thinking of myself as a real live grown up. Now, I know that 16 years old doesn't really make you an official adult. But in so many ways, I was having to act like one. And I couldn't reconcile the rights and responsibilities with my own identity.

What finishing my Highers, and effectively achieving the entire purpose of my adolescence, did for me, was allow me to feel like an adult. I feel as if I've gone through a tunnel and emerged at the other end, and I can now let myself accept the fact that I'm not a kid anymore. So, if that's what I got for all those wild imaginations on my first day back... then I'm quite happy to go through first days for the rest of my life (although if someone could arrange an extra hour in bed for each one, I wouldn't object).


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