Dealing with pressure, stress, exams, self-confidence, self-worth and bullying in secondary school ... we've been there too

School can feel like it is your whole life. We know, we've been there, too. Looking back, there are some ways we could have made it better


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I wish I had known that secondary school was not the be-all and end-all of my life. That in the grand scheme of things, failing the short essay question of my ancient history exam in both my mock trials and my actual final exam didn’t mean I was doomed to fail for the rest of my life. It just meant I had to learn to be more careful and be better prepared in the future.

I wish I‘d known that the way bullies treated me and other “less popular” girls was a reflection of their own sense of self-worth, and had nothing to do my value as a person. I’m not saying I wish I was stronger in general, just that I wish I understood life is so much more than just the strange bubble that is secondary school. Whatever their academic success in secondary school, all my classmates went on to lead great and meaningful lives. It all comes down to perspective and attitude, and I wish I’d listened less to people who tried to convince me that the grade I graduated with will dictate the rest of my life. (Spoiler: it didn’t.)

Heidi Yeung

I wish I had known that other students had the same problems as me. It seemed that everyone else was perfect and could do things easily. I don’t mean that people should have constantly whined about how insecure they are, but just understanding that others felt bad or struggled with stuff would have made it so much more bearable.

The other thing I wish I had been able to get my head around, is that going through secondary school, while seemingly so huge, would eventually become less and less important. It seems super important at the time because it is the most important thing you’ve done to date. But afterwards, there are a whole lot of important things that just make this part of your life so much less important.

Susan Ramsay, editor

I wish I’d known that secondary school is only one teeny tiny part of my life. At the time, of course, it felt like my entire world. But it’s not. If you think of your life as a percentage, and say you live to be 100, your secondary school life is only six per cent of that! It’s important to think about what else is waiting for you in the upcoming 82 per cent. Sometimes it can feel like there is nothing beyond the exams, and that they are the pinnacle of your life. That’s simply not true. Once you get to university, or start your first job, or take up an internship, you soon realise that school, and those silly weekly tests you stayed up late studying for, aren’t going to make or break how your life turns out.

Lucy Christie, sub editor

I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to live up to all of these expectations that everyone had of me. It seemed super important back then that other people thought well – or at least not badly – of me, and that stopped me from being true to myself. I’d judge my own self-worth by what others thought I was worth, and I know now that’s not right. I worried constantly that I wasn’t being a good enough daughter to my parents, or a good enough friend, or a good enough student, but you can’t mould yourself into something that’s universally perfect, and you shouldn’t have to. Perfection doesn’t exist, even though sometimes it might feel like you know someone who is. Just be you! There’s no-one out there like you. That’s good enough.

Ginny Wong, sub editor

I wish I’d known my parents would love me no matter what, so I could appreciate it more back then. I was happy all through secondary school, now that I look back, and I think it’s because my parents didn’t put too much pressure on me, especially academically. They weren’t disappointed (or at least they hid it really well) when I was behind most of my classmates, and they didn’t push me to be the top student of my year when I was in top 10. They made me understand that I wouldn’t be judged on a single exam result, and my life wouldn’t fully depend on the notorious College Entrance Examination – while a lot of my peers were led to believe so.

They respected my choices, from which subjects to focus on and what extracurricular activities to take to what major to do in university. It doesn’t mean they didn’t help me in ways that I felt comfortable with though; I felt safe turning to them when in need, whether it’s a maths problem I couldn’t crack or a roommate fallout.

Young Wang, web reporter

I wish I had known how to enjoy my alone time. I always wanted to be social, but sometimes that meant spending time with people who were not true friends. It was a lose-lose situation, because I would either get into drama or arguments with “friends”, or I would feel sad and lonely. If I had found more hobbies I could enjoy by myself, such as yoga, playing music, artwork, gardening, carpentry – anything, really, then I would not have felt the need to hang out with people I didn’t really get along with. I would have had a better time with true friends, and a better time by myself.

Sam Gusway, sub editor

I wish I’d known that although academic results affect your chance of getting in to university, there is always another choice. I didn’t do well in my HKALE and I thought it was the end of the world. But my parents had dinner with me after collecting the report card. It was a tiny but powerful way of supporting me. The period after knowing my result was awful as I knew I’d have to either repeat my Form Seven studies or study overseas. I was envious when others got offers of university programmes.

But finally I knew that the period tested my mental toughness. I needed to go through that to make myself stronger. I told myself that I could be as tough as my parents because they had experienced even harder things. I hope that everyone reading this message knows that you are not alone. We are always here.

Ben Pang, reporter

Bobby McFerrin was right – don’t worry, be happy. I wish I knew how to have even more fun every time I achieved a small goal, whether it was doing my first presentation or first proper research essay. Sounds really simple, but the small things in life make the biggest difference. Have a Star Wars duel with your buddies, or treat yourself to a nice lunch with friends. They are there to help you, as well as you help them. It is not a lonely, black and white road; there is more to student life than writing assessments or preparing for exams.

Don’t always take things so seriously; let your hair down once in a while! And rest assured – everything’s gonna be alright.

Sebastien Raybaud, reporter

I’d like to have had the self-confidence and clear-headedness I have now. I can think of so many instances where people intimidated me, and I should have given as good as I got. I was really shy and would never say “boo to a goose”, which meant that other students probably saw me as an easy target.

Also, I wish I’d made the most of all the free time I had back then – something I really miss. Now that I have a full-time job it leaves very little time for writing creatively, drawing, or making things. All those long school holidays could have been spent doing more productive things than messing around with friends at the park.

Lauren James, reporter

Edited by Sam Gusway