Feeling Pressure


I sat bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat and looked around the room. Faint daylight crept under the curtains. Posters were on the walls. The Specials, Madness and Bob Marley in the main. I leant on an elbow and saw the card table covered in green felt which served as a makeshift desk. Books were stacked against the wall. A chart was filled with crosses, except for one circled date. It was the last day of my exams and I smiled.

I was eighteen years old and about to finish my A-Levels. I had spent two years studying at Sixth Form College, adjusting to the post-school world of girls and lively nights out. Gradually, I became more confident. The previous four months of revising a ten-hour day, six-day week were less fun, but it was finally coming to an end. I needed a break from this education lark.

The two papers in Art were over. One a painting of a First World War soldier in a gas attack, the other an incomplete drawing of some fruit. The British and European History exams were also behind me. The Greek History paper was yesterday afternoon and it had gone well. It was Big Tuesday and my final exam, Roman History, was that afternoon.

I got up, yawned and walked down the landing. A click of the door and I looked in the bathroom mirror. I was weary after the perpetual revision and exams. But I was nearly there. I hadn’t shaved in about a month and the half-grown stubble was ridiculous. My mates had been making fun of me for weeks. I didn’t care. It certainly wasn’t a proper beard, but it wasn’t quite not a beard either. Either way, it was coming off as I was leaving Sixth Form that afternoon and I had some celebrating to do. I ran warm water into the sink and shaved. Then I had a long shower. Afterwards, I grabbed some toast and rushed out of the house. I wanted to keep myself to myself until this was over, so I was going to spend a few hours in the library with my revision notes.

Eventually, it was time to go to the exam hall and I lined up with some friends. The conversation was muted as we shuffled into the large room, filled with row upon row of desks. I made my way toward the far wall and found a desk with my name and exam number on a piece of paper. I sat down, three desks from the back and organised my pens. I waited for the question paper. Soon enough, it was placed on my desk and an invigilator announced the three-hour examination had begun. I turned over the page. The four main questions I had worked for were there and I began to write.

“Please put your pens down, the examination has finished,” the invigilator at the far end of the hall exclaimed in a clear, piercing voice.

The side of my face was on my right arm and the other was dangling over the edge of the desk. I’d finished the exam about twenty minutes early and invested the remainder of the time resting my eyes. I blinked and lifted my head. Some dribble was on the front of my exam paper, so I wiped it and then my face. I must have been really tired. Sitting up, I glanced at my right hand and the second finger was dented by the pen. Looking around, I grinned at some friends. My final exam was over.

After an eventful summer, my friend, Paul, called for me one morning and we walked the mile or so to the Sixth Form College with another friend, Sanderson. We talked a lot at first on that bright, late summer’s morning but the conversation soon petered out as nerves kicked in. That was an important day. Paul would be okay, I was sure. He’d been offered two Es from Oxford University and was predicted to get straight As. Sanderson was sure he’d flunked the lot. My future was a bit more uncertain. The teachers predicted I would get two Cs in Modern History and Ancient History, and an F in Art. The early promise I’d shown in Art had fizzled out, helped along by a lack of effort on my part and the teacher’s refusal to give any feedback on my work after I had taken the piss out of him in front of the class. I thought the prediction for Ancient History was a bit harsh and that for Modern History slightly generous.

We got to College and lined up for our results. People were in the corridor. Some were crying, others hugging. Glowing smiles contrasted distraught faces. Paul looked matter of fact at a line of As. Sanderson turned to me and muttered “Yep, all Fs.” He smiled sheepishly. A tutor handed me an envelope and I walked over to a corner of the foyer.

Inside were three folded pieces of paper, each about four by thirty centimetres. The first was a D in Art. Not a bad start. Then came a C in Modern History and a B in Ancient History. Not brilliant, but better than predicted. I was happy with that! We celebrated and commiserated all day and night in the local pub.

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