“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.” – Edward de Bono

It’s September at last, which means across the country thousands of young people are heading back into school for a new year. Over the summer, I have worked with many students who were concerned that their grades weren’t good enough. Some received their GCSE and A Level results and were disappointed (especially with the smug A* faces waiting in the crowd desperate to rub it in). Some were about to start the journey to those exams and thought a C wasn’t good enough, and that they would fail in life because of it. But I have a message for every single child, teenager or even adult struggling with those thoughts – you don’t know how wrong you are.

I want to share with you an extract from a letter a teacher sent to pupils sitting their SAT’s last May:

‘The SATs tests do not assess all of what makes each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way that we do and certainly not in the way that your families do. They do not know that some of you speak two or more languages or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for football or playing a musical instrument. They do not know that your friends can count on you to be there for them; that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your face turns red when you feel shy. They do not know that you participate in sports or are fascinated by space, or that sometimes you help your mum with your little brother or sister before school. They do now know that you are kind, trustworthy and thoughtful and that every day you try to be your very best.’

I love this woman. She has summed up everything I believe in far better words than I ever could. At school we are taught that getting good grades is the key to success. If you can fill up that exam sheet with A*’s, you are guaranteed a great life. But if you don’t manage that, then you will be a looser forever. This is absolute rubbish. While how you do in school might be your immediate concern, it’s your passion, drive and other non-academic talents that can really take you places, no matter what’s on your results sheet. To prove it, let’s take a look at a few successful people who didn’t do well at school:

– 2-time world champion wrestler Mark Schultz was born with severe dyslexia and consistently achieved low grades in English.
– Richard Branson dropped out of school at 15 and went on to start over 500 successful companies.
– Alan Sugar left school at 16 without a single qualification. He is now worth £900m.
– John Snow (the Channel 4 newsreader, not the guy from Game of Thrones, sorry!) got a C, D and E in his A Levels.
– Benedict Cumberbatch admitted to ‘spectacularly blowing’ his GCSE’s due to discovering girls, despite his teachers expecting ‘Oxbridge levels of brilliance’ from him.
– Thomas Edison (the man who brought us the electric lightbulb) was told by his teachers that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’.
– And finally, world renowned loudmouth Jeremy Clarkson tweeted that ‘If your A Level results aren’t great be cheered by the fact that I got a C and two Us. And I’m currently sitting in a villa in St Tropez.’

So this year instead of focusing on your grades as if they are the be all and end all of your life, try to relax and do something you enjoy. Take the time to practice your musical instrument or play that game of football. Never forget that life’s achievements and success aren’t always measured by A*’s. Some of the most successful people in our world today don’t have a single qualification to their name, but they do have other skills that are just as important. Determination, motivation, the ability to try or the ability to learn from your mistakes are incredibly important to the success and happiness of your life. You academic achievements may matter, but the nonacademic achievements and qualities are what make you unique and will allow you to make your mark on the world with or without good grades.  So yes, try hard at school and aim for the best grades you can. But if you don’t quite manage it, remember that your exam results don’t determine your success in life.

For more information or to book a session to talk about your exam worries, get in touch via my website let’s work together to achieve brilliance in your own way.


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