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Helping your child to navigate A-level results day

A-level results day is on 10 August. It is a time to celebrate and acknowledge all your child’s hard work, but the run-up to the day and the day itself can also be a difficult time to cope with mentally. Here Ruth Sims, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby, gives parents and carers some advice on how to navigate results day, especially if things don’t go exactly as your child planned.

By Dr Ruth Sims - 27 July 2021

Make a plan

Before the day, discuss with your child that they should have a back-up plan so they know in advance what they’ll do if the results aren’t what they were expecting or need. Encourage your child to do some research into alternative 18+ options now, so they know they have some alternative routes to take before they get their results. This should help them feel less like everything is ruined, that they can’t do anything they want to, should the results not be as good as expected. Taking pre-emptive measures like this can help build resilience and also reassure your child (and you) that lower-than-expected grades aren’t the end of the world.

Coping with anxiety

If your child is showing signs of anxiety or stress in the run-up to results day, there are a couple of ways to cope with this. Try to distract them with activities and avoid bringing up the topic if they don’t want to talk about it. If they do want to talk about it then it is important to allow them to do so and validate their feelings by reassuring them that being anxious is very normal while waiting for results. Having a back-up plan should help with these feelings, but if your child keeps discussing the same things over and over try to move the conversation onto something more positive. You could plan in meeting friends or fun activities that you know they enjoy to keep them busy so they’re not dwelling on it all the time.

On the day

When results day arrives, try to stay calm. If the results are not what they expected, your child may well be distressed, angry, confused or demoralised, so they’ll need you to be the voice of reason and calm. That does not mean you should dismiss their feelings. Try to reassure them that yes, this is not what they wanted, and they are totally allowed to feel all the things they are feeling. If they need to vent their feelings or cry, then let them do that. Don’t downplay their responses or tell them to ‘pull themselves together’ or that ‘it doesn’t matter’.

When they’re a bit calmer, sit them down and remind them of the back-up plan you made earlier. Ask them what they want to do. There are many options available depending on their level of study and how close they were to achieving the required/expected grades. It is also worth reminding your child that this year is unprecedented with the Covid-19 crisis, and everyone who was meant to take exams this summer has been through a similar situation. If you do want to appeal the grades or want to resit the exams, then this can be discussed with school/college.


If your child decides to apply for a university place for this September after all, has changed their mind since applying, or has received different results to what they expected, Clearing is an option for them. You can help them by making sure they have all the relevant information they will need (any account passwords, IDs, university hotline phone numbers, etc.) before the day.

Clearing opens on the day of A-level results being released, and is available for all students who want to look at other options, not just students who do not achieve their expected/required grades. Entry requirements may change during Clearing so it is worth taking a look even if your child feels that they won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything due to their results.

Other options

If they don’t want to look at Clearing then there are still options: vocational qualifications, apprenticeships, Foundation year, or taking a year out to get some work experience and take time to evaluate what they want to do and where they want to go. There are many people who have not achieved the exam results they wanted but have gone on to great success. Reassure your child that one set of bad exam results does not mean they can’t do what they want to. It might take a bit longer, and a bit more effort than they’d planned, but there are still many options available to them.

Celebrate success

If your child does get the grades they need/expected – or better – then celebrate long and loud! If anyone mentions grades being inflated due to the circumstances, or that ‘exams are getting easier these days’ (as is often reported by the media), make sure your child knows that that is not how you feel. Let them know that you are proud of the hard work they have put in and that they have earned their grades themselves.

As an adult it’s easy to forget how important our A-level results were at the time – it can feel like the rest of your life will be decided by those grades. Your child might not be able to celebrate in quite the way they might in previous years, due to social distancing and other considerations, but you should still make the most of this happy occasion in an otherwise not-so-great year! 

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About the author

 Ruth Simms with laptop

Dr Ruth Sims
Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Ergonomics

Dr Ruth Sims is a senior lecturer in psychology and ergonomics, teaching on-campus psychology, blended-learning, and online ergonomics. She has 20 years experience as a researcher and has now been teaching for over 7 years. Her interests are varied and include social and developmental psychology, companion animals, behaviour change, design ergonomics and cognitive ergonomics.

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