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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Keeping A-Level Head

Results Day has always filled me with dread.

From primary school tests to my university finals this May, I’ve felt stomach churning stress every time that results are released. That feeling was probably shared by many of the 760,000 students who received their A-Level grades yesterday, while others await their GCSE results next Thursday.

For some, yesterday was a day of celebration as new horizons opened. For others, it was a day of huge disappointment. ‘I’ve failed everyone’, wept one of my friends, as she missed her university offer. Another despaired, ‘No-one wants me’, after three hours of phone calls through clearing.

Public exams bring with them a wealth of pressure, concentrating some of our culture’s most toxic messages: ‘Surpass others. Your worth is determined by what you achieve. Success will equal satisfaction.’

Against that backdrop, God says that true hope isn’t found in ourselves or what we do, but in him and what he has done: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

None of us is up to God’s pass mark. We’re not even close to the grade boundary. And trying to find identity, fulfilment, or our primary purpose in our own achievements – academic or otherwise –will never be enough. A royal flush of A*s or 9s, a promotion at work, or glowing entrepreneurial record, won’t bring life in all its fullness.

The Bible also stresses the place of hard work, of stewarding the talents that God gives us, of seeking to honour him in our approach to everything that we do. Working hard for exams is a part of whole-life discipleship. But whilst we’re prone to critique outward results, God looks at the heart.

In the midst of results season, why not reach out to any young people you know and point them to the one who offers true fulfilment? A well-timed text, email, visit, or offer of prayer can make a huge difference while the world shouts, ‘Achieve! Compare!’

And for all of us, perhaps Results Day is a moment to marvel afresh at a God who gives not as the world does. The God who looks at the scrappy, ink-stained exam paper we make of our lives, yet through his grace grants us his own unconditional offer of acceptance.


Katherine Ladd
Katherine recently graduated from Cambridge and will be working as a parliamentary assistant in London.


  1. At once, a relatable and helpful refocus! With Gods help, what next?

    By Graham Christopher  -  17 Aug 2018
  2. I enjoyed this piece, but I was struck by the irony of the sign off, which described the author as someone recently graduated from Cambridge, and about to become a parliamentary researcher in London.

    I wonder how much of the subtleties of success do we unintentionally perpetuate through customs & practices like saying what our worldly credentials are?

    The piece was excellent (as all LICC articles are) – perhaps they should just be signed off by the name of the author?

    Yours sincerely, Richard A

    (With sweet irony of course I say this as someone who went to Oxford, and works in Westminster 🙂

    By Richard Antcliffe  -  17 Aug 2018
  3. Thank you Katherine for the timly reminder.
    A particularly note to contact another was so relevant.

    By Peter  -  17 Aug 2018
  4. A great piece, thank you. I always remember the words that a friend had on her wedding cake: Life is not about what we achieve but how we love and are loved.

    By Katy Friese-Greene  -  17 Aug 2018
  5. Thank you Katherine for your comments! Stimulating thoughts. Though I had to smile a little when after your article on achievement and grace your descriptor read ‘recently graduated from Cambridge.’ Keep going and thanks!

    By Andreas Hild  -  17 Aug 2018
  6. Very well said. There is too much emphasis upon worldly achievement.

    By Angela Somerton  -  17 Aug 2018
  7. I failed completely at school, was sacked from my first three jobs YET God took my life and enabled me to have an amazing newspaper career. BUT far more importantly God out of his sheer grace enabled me to serve him and I (me?!) now serve as an evangelist. The Lord can use failures.

    By Fane Conant  -  17 Aug 2018
  8. How helpful. I have also been thinking of all the teachers who put their hearts and souls into their students and for whim Results Day is stressful as they are often judged by their students’ results.

    By Cathy Pynn  -  17 Aug 2018
  9. thank you for such a balanced and well-thought out article.

    By Sabine Burningham  -  17 Aug 2018
  10. Given the richness and range of human character, creativity, skill, and gifting. Given the sheer capacity for resilience, endeavor and generosity of spirit, latent in humankind; exams can be a poor marker of human potential. Including those of intellect and knowledge, despite their undoubted value as a measurement.

    Yet exams are how every young person may find themselves defined and labeled in August 2018. For life. Bemusing at its best. Life wrecking at it’s worst.
    “I’ve failed everyone” (not true) for some can mean “every one! (true)”. (Not a single pass!). .
    In the midst of results season be watchful for those in danger of falling into the definition trap on the basis of such news. Either way. The etiology of a bad result merits consideration.
    The grace of His unconditional offer of acceptance includes a true God view of each individual’s actual potential, not limited by, nor restricted to a 2018 exam moment. It comes with hope and grace. Incredible!
    The out working of this truth is a leveler but need not be a limiter.
    It is also an adventure awaiting. For all.

    By Jill  -  17 Aug 2018
  11. I remember a very senior Christian officer writing to me aged 40 when I failed on my last chance to get promoted. ‘May your disappointment lead to God’s Appointment’.

    How right he was – God gave me a wonderfully fruitful satisfying career for the rest of my working life and still does in my retirement.

    Martin Hines

    By Martin  -  17 Aug 2018
  12. Amen to this.

    By Cynthia Tews  -  17 Aug 2018
  13. On many occasions, as a teacher, and latterly, a Headteacher, talking to parents who were tearing their hair out because their child just wouldn’t work to his/ her potential, I have often pointed out that the list is VERY long of people who were ‘failures’ at school but went on the be very successful…… John Lennon, Richard Branson, Guy Ritchie, Jo Fairley, Stephen Spielberg et al. And Einstein was expelled from High School…..

    By Chris Edmonds  -  17 Aug 2018
  14. I agree with Richard Antcliffe’s comments – a great article, but leaving out the sign off ‘Katherine recently graduated from Cambridge and will be working as a parliamentary assistant in London’ and indeed leaving off his own ‘ps’ might have been more helpful too.

    By CJ  -  17 Aug 2018
  15. Keep up the good work!

    By Asfaw  -  20 Aug 2018
  16. As a Christian teacher I concur with both this article and the comments particularly the double edged sword of students and teachers judged by exam results. We now educate for results. The issue is how do we work within this system to serve future students and change the system itself when society no longer has an overarching Christian ethos? Having influence from the ground upwards to those who decide educational systems requires qualifications but the more Christians in place the more minds and hands for the Lord to use.

    By Jan Roberts  -  14 Sep 2018

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