Emergency Ask Uncle Colin: What happens now?

Dear Uncle Colin,

I’m meant to be sitting my A-levels this summer and there’s an awful disease going around. I don’t know if school will be open next week or even if the exams will go ahead. I don’t know what that means for university.

I’m scared. What do I do?

School Closures And Related Exam Disruption

Hi, SCARED, and thanks for your message.

Me too. It is a weird and frightening time. I’ll get the kettle on.

First and most important thing is not to do with studying: you need to look after yourself and those around you. Listen to what the experts are telling you to do - keep your distance from other people. Keep yourself to yourself if you’re sick. Be a good neighbour as much as you can. Check in on your friends online. As much as possible, avoid anything that risks having to go to the doctor or the hospital. Things are likely to get extremely tense over the coming weeks and months: there will be much awful news and many terrified people. Try to borrow strength from people around you.

It is OK to cry, whether you need to or not.

With that out of the way, exams and the future. It feels a bit strange even discussing them, but sure: you’ve spent most of your life working towards this summer and it’s quite reasonable for the uncertainty to weigh on you. (Your tea is getting cold, by the way.)

And I don’t have good answers for what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen next week, let alone in a couple of months’ time. But here’s what I would try to do, as much as is possible.

  • Prepare as if the exams are going ahead. Making sure you know the material will stand you in good stead whatever happens. If the exams go ahead as planned, you’ll be ready. If they’re postponed, you’ll have less work to do. If they’re not rearranged, knowing the subject is sort of what you signed up for, right? If you’re going on to do a degree that needs a maths A-level, you’re going to need this knowledge at some point.
  • Set up online study groups with other students. I don’t know what you younguns use to communicate these days, but I would set up regular times to talk your subjects through on Whatschat or Instabook or whatever it is. You will all have different strengths and weaknesses and can help each other straighten them out.
  • Help others out. If you’ve got siblings doing (possibly) their GCSEs, give them a hand. This will shore up your skills as much as it does theirs.
  • Try to keep to a routine. As much as possible, get up at a consistent time, have breakfast and a shower, or whatever your morning usually looks like. The more structure you have to a day, the more solid it’ll be.

As for universities, who knows what they’ll do? What they’ll try to do is make sure that nobody is unfairly disadvantaged. Everyone’s in the same boat here - the uncertainty is something we’ll have to live with for the time being. I would expect most universities are currently scrambling to figure out how to handle the emergency of this term rather than think too much about what happens after the summer - they won’t have forgotten about you and I’m certain they’ll be in touch with updates in due course.

Frankly, all we can do is control the things we can control and try not to obsess over the things we can’t. I’m sorry I don’t have concrete answers - and honestly, I’m as worried as you are.

Look after yourself, ok? I hope this helps.

- Uncle Colin

* The comments are, as usual, open; if you have any questions you think I can help with but don't want to share publicly, you can email colin@flyingcoloursmaths.co.uk . I'll answer as many as I can.

Colin

Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

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