Results day of public exams can easily be one of the most stressful days for students in Hong Kong.
by Martin Campion
by Martin Campion

‘Exam Results Season’ – is the stress really necessary?

The small summer gap between final school exams and university entry means that places are often ‘conditional’ on those results

Whether it’s the second week of July (for IB and HKDSE) or the third week of August (for A-levels), students holding conditional offers from universities in Hong Kong or overseas are left in a kind of limbo until they can see their results and have those places confirmed.

In the case of A-levels, this can be worryingly close to the dates for matriculation (starting) and the arrangement of necessary visas.

Most of these students finished their exams and school weeks ago and should be enjoying a long and relaxing summer, were it not for this nagging uncertainty.

In most cases, the news will be good, but what of those who fall short of their conditions?

Many university admissions systems allow for a second, or “insurance”, choice that may kick in in these circumstances and sometimes the top or firm university choice may be flexible enough to confirm a near miss.

If not, students enter what in the UK is known as “Clearing” where they can apply anew to those universities and courses that still have vacancies.

The main danger here is blind panic and grabbing the first seemingly good opportunity that comes along. Disappointed as the student obviously is, he or she should certainly see this as a new opportunity rather than a miserable failure and there is plenty of evidence of students making a great success of their Clearing choices

The University of Bangor website features Cyan Williams who gained a place to study chemistry there through Clearing, and who is now going on to do a PhD at the University of Cambridge.

That doesn’t mean that time is not of the essence and further research needs to be quick as well as careful (a bit like an exam!). In fact, although it sounds pessimistic, students can prepare in advance for this eventuality and in doing so lessen the stress to some degree.

For instance, UK university courses that have vacancies before the results season are listed under “Extra” on the UCAS system. Insurance options for many Hong Kong students can, of course, include choices in other countries.

With something of a demographic downturn in secondary school-leavers in a number of countries, the number of second chances seems to be increasing: at a UCAS conference I attended last July in Manchester, university delegates were referring to Clearing as just another application phase.

Is this a necessary ordeal?

The precursor to all of this and an equal, if not greater, source of stress is the set of Predicted Final Grades, often determined at the very beginning of the senior year, on the basis of which conditional offers are made.

That reminds me of another UCAS conference I attended in York, 20 years earlier, in 1997, and the proposal then to move to a post-qualification admissions system.

Surely, technology has moved on and if universities were to show less inertia and shift their first undergraduate term by just a few weeks, we could wave goodbye to both these sources of unnecessary anguish.