Since the clocks went back earlier this year, I’ve been noticing a grand oul’ stretch in the evenings. I believe it puts us all in a better mood all together. And why wouldn’t it? There’s really nothing better than getting home in the evenings while it’s still bright outside, and better yet, when it’s maybe even a bit sunny and sort of warm enough to take off your jacket. Shockingly, we’ve actually been able to enjoy this kind of fair weather often enough recently.

However, I’ve found that these bright evenings instill an instinctual sense of dread deep in the pit of my stomach sometimes. To me, they inspire a feeling that time is running short, that things are coming to an end, that there’s much to be done. Only on reflecting on this did I realise that what I’ve been experiencing is more than likely an emotional hangover from my many, many years in the education system.

You see, for the past eight years solid, bright evenings have only equated to one thing for me. Exam season is coming. But while it may feel to me like it was only yesterday, in actual fact the most of a decade has passed since I was in Year 11 and sitting some of the first modules of my GCSEs.

So, now that they’re a thing of the past, were the grown ups correct in telling me that I’d look back and realise my school days were the best days of my life? In ways, yes. There are most certainly times when I miss the lack of responsibility, cracking jokes with all my friends every day, and running out the door before half three. But I also most certainly wouldn’t go back to relive those wonderful highlights at the cost of having to resit my exams again, and experience the desperate, tiresome slog they come with.

And in fact, the system is becoming even tighter on the youngsters who are sitting their tests today than it was on me and my classmates only a few years. With huge reforms to how pupils are assessed, particularly at GCSE, I don’t doubt that the stress and anxiety being felt by students today is higher than ever perhaps ever before. From last year, there have been big changes implemented to how GCSEs are graded, mostly in England, under the command of former education Minister Michael Gove. English exam boards now use a numbered system rather than the traditional letter grades that we’re all used to, and to align with this new English system, students here in Northern Ireland will be seeing a new C* grade appearing on grade cards this year – as well as finding that obtaining the highest A* mark will be even more difficult than before.

And those aren’t the only changes being implemented in England and Wales. Gove has made it quite clear that he feels that, for the past number of years, kids have been daydreaming their days away and strolling out of school with qualifications that are just way too easy to obtain. And so, pupils across the water are also now seeing less and less modular tests, where exams are spread out across a couple of years, and a massacre on coursework and controlled assessments, and instead a great big, beaming spotlight on a final exam at the end of two years of study. All of this is being done in the name of making the exams and the education system in general, more challenging.

Sounds about right to me, because if I’m honest, back in my day, it was just easy breezy. I feel like the hours on end I spent revising in the evening after a full day of school just weren’t “challenging” enough. Those lazy study leave days, when you would wake up and study and eat and study and breathe and study and sleep, and wake up again to study! And that feeling when you would leave the exam hall with a knot in your stomach and tears in your eyes because you didn’t know how it had gone, but you didn’t have time to care because you had another exam the next day that you hadn’t studied enough for, because you were too busy studying for this one. At least, back in my day, I might have known I was sitting on a good mark from a past module, or a piece of coursework. So really, I had a handy dandy safety blanket!

What I’m trying to say is, I wrote countless pieces of coursework and controlled assessments as part of my course content, and sat up to 4 module exams in some of my subjects. But “challenging” isn’t even close to describing what GCSEs and A Levels felt like to me, and to most of my peers. Maybe try “hellish”, or “horrendous”. Back then, the criteria to be awarded an A* was achieving over 90 per cent in all your exams in that subject. To expect students to aim for even less than that tiny margin of error is only going to drive them to the most insane heights of perfectionism. The pressure to succeed is already immense today, with many young people feeling that without the top marks, they’re jeopardizing their chance at a University of their choice. In an ever competitive job market, a degree can be a Golden Ticket. But to put the price of their future, their earning power, employability and job security in the balance of one exam performance at age sixteen is ridiculous, and frankly, cruel.

While these severe changes aren’t being rolled out in Northern Ireland, it springs to mind that eventually it may be likely that our system will need to be aligned to be just as “challenging” as that of the rest of the UK. If so, maybe we’ll end up with a new generation of Super Students who are astounding in the academics, and ready to take on the world. Or maybe we’ll l see a disengaged, disheartened youth who can’t be bothered to stay on at school, or a rise in anxiety and depression amongst young people. Meanwhile, all of us grown ups can keep lecturing them that it’s the best days of their lives, while we leave our work at the office at 5pm, after yet another day of not needing Pythagoras’ Theorem.