Results day reactions: What are A-level students thinking right now?

By Posted in - Results Day & Social listening on August 17th, 2020 0 Comments A person with question marks above their head. Text reads "What are A-level students thinking right now?'

The much-anticipated (and dreaded) results day of 2020 has flown by. And wow, it was eventful. We can’t say we’re surprised. It’s one of the most stressful days for A-level students every single year under normal circumstances. And then multiply that anticipation with everything that this pandemic has caused: school closures, shifts to online learning, exam cancellations, uncertain grading criteria.

It’s been a wild ride for these students; one that just doesn’t seem to ease up. 

For them, it’s been a tumultuous time of uncertainty, mixed messages and vague responses.  Results day – at least – was supposed to offer some degree of certainty for them. But for many, it’s made the path to university even more confusing and challenging.

To share some insight into how A-level students reacted to their grades, we carried out social listening on results day across several platforms: Twitter, Reddit and The Student Room. 

Here’s some of the key things we heard online, plus common questions that have inevitably arisen.


For some, results day is exactly what they had hoped. They achieved the grades they needed to get into their chosen university and they’ve secured their place for September. But, interestingly, this was met with surprise. 

After everything these students have been thrown their way, the survival mechanism was to prepare for the worst. Positive news was seen as a surprise, as if they were the lucky ones. 

Can’t believe I somehow got in?



Well, [I] got better results than I thought I would get…

We typically see some declarations of surprise and shock at securing a place at university, usually accompanied by screenshots of UCAS confirmations. But this year felt different. It was as though the idea of failure was so prevalent, it was unthinkable to imagine that the results could go any other way. 


Since March, these students have sat in a kind of purgatory as they waited to see if their grades – that they haven’t even been given the opportunity to achieve themselves – will be enough to take them to the next step towards their future. 

Enough is the key word here. 

In our study of A-level students’ reactions to the pandemic, we saw students just hoping that they can make it to university – or wherever their heart desires. This kind of thinking was reflected in some of the reactions on results day too. We saw relief from students for just getting into a university, regardless of whether they’d missed grades or not quite achieved what they had hoped for. 

Not happy with my results but happy to be going to university next month.

I was blessed to have gotten A*A*A*B and I am off to my firm despite missing the requirements slightly with the B. I hope everything goes well for everyone!

A* A* A* down to A*BB nice f***ing system, I got into my firm anyway so I guess I can’t be too mad.

We saw many students who were happy just to get into university, even if it was not their first choice. It felt like any disappointment around the specific grades they were awarded diminished slightly if they had a confirmed place at university. 

I got into [university] 😁 [It] wasn’t my first choice but still an amazing university.

I got f***ed over in my A-level results, but will be heading to [university].

On the whole, I’m happy I managed to get into university…even though I didn’t get my predictions.

And these students really empathised with those that had been severely downgraded, as if they knew it could have quite easily happened to them too. Within their posts, these students acknowledged that others had been hit worse by their grades, adopting a humble rhetoric of ‘I can’t complain’.

I missed my firm for [university A] but have [university B] as my insurance, which is also a good uni so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. 

Maths is disappointing… but I can’t complain as it was enough to get into [university].

We also saw these students using forums such as Reddit and The Student Room to support those who did not manage to get their required grades.


With nearly 40% of A-level results downgraded, it’s no surprise that there were a lot of distraught students worried about their future. And there were certainly a lot of students’ stories that were heart-breaking. 

Many felt that they had been screwed over by the grading system and unfairly treated depending on where they studied. They felt powerless and out of control of their own future. Their hard work during these two years that led to these results had been wasted.

A few months ago, we did some social listening to see how A-level students reacted to the pandemic – and you can see how results day has simply amplified some of those same emotions. Below are the emotions we categorised pre-results day:

A word cloud with prominent emotions of 'anxious, worried, bored, annoyed, stressed, sad, confused'.And here’s the emotions from results day:

A word cloud with prominent emotions of 'disappointed, screwed over, uncertain, happy, frustrated, confused'.

We also saw students directing anger toward those in authority – particularly Gavin Williamson, Boris Johnson and Ofqual – with several students tagging these accounts in their tweets. 

Government did us dirty and I let myself down by not studying throughout quarantine. 

Just got my A-level results, how can the government give me grades lower than my mock results?

The government really screwed us over this year. [We’ve] worked so hard this year only to be given grades that don’t even reflect our hard efforts. Screw this grading system and screw our education secretary @GavinWilliamson

Just got my A-level results. 3 grades lower in nearly everything than my previous grades in mocks. i have wasted my time. @GavinWilliamson

Everyone say it with me: the government should’ve trusted the bloody teachers.

Students are holding these people accountable for their downgraded results, rather than – as we saw in our research in the spring – being worried about their teachers grading them unfairly.


At the time of writing, the government has just announced that students can use their teachers’ calculated grades instead of those generated by the Ofqual algorithm. These days of uncertainty mean more difficult questions to find answers to: appeal and hope to get the grades for their firm choice, or go through clearing to get a place with the grades they already have? Or wait until the autumn and sit their exams for real? 

Inevitably, results day created a whole new wave of questions and concerns. 

We saw some students asking for clarity in how the grades were awarded and understandably frustrated how this was handled:

– I got [x] in my mock but was awarded a [x] instead. How does this make sense?
– What if our cohort performed better had we been given the chance? Why do they downgrade us so that we “correlate” with the grades of the previous cohort?
– What happened to universities being lenient with grades?
– How do I see the rankings for A-level results?

Those that were considering the option to appeal or retake faced even more tough decisions to make: 

– Do I have to let my university know that I’m appealing? What exactly will they do?
– Can universities hold my place for this year or will I be deferred?
– Is it even worth trying to retake three exams because I haven’t had any formal teaching since March?
– Can I re-sit my exams in October and go to university at the same time?
– How many exams can I retake? Am I allowed to retake all of them or only 1/2?
– Should I appeal/retake or go through clearing?
– How can I revise in this very short time for retakes?
– Are we able to apply for both October exams and summer resits?
– Do I go through clearing just in case my appeal fails or takes too long?

It’s clear that a day of supposed certainty has thrown many students’ futures into disarray. These are genuine concerns that need to be addressed with empathy and compassion. If we can provide answers – or even signpost these students to concise information/advice where available – we can really help to alleviate some of these anxieties and, importantly, help them feel that they are making the right decision for them.

At times like this, it’s best to let these students speak – and for us to really listen. Let’s make them feel heard. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how students think and feel about studying at university, we can help by carrying out social listening for your institution in an empathetic way. Get in touch.

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