Rowan Coleman: examining times

PUBLISHED: 14:38 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:08 04 June 2018

Exam stress is upon us!

Exam stress is upon us!

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With GCSEs looming large in the Coleman household, Rowan takes the long view on exams

Exam season is upon us, and my daughter is facing the first year of a new system of GCSEs. It’s hardly surprising that she feels anxious, nervous and deeply worried that she isn’t good enough. Every day I remind her how hard she has worked for two years, how bright she is, how she revises diligently, but most of all, I remind her that if by some amazing turn events she does really terribly it doesn’t actually matter. That her route through life might take a slightly unconventional turn but there is much more to achieving success and happiness than passing box- ticking exams.

For most of my school career I had very low expectations for myself. Through the way I was treated and taught I was indirectly ‘told’ various things about myself, which I accepted, because adults know best. I learnt that I wasn’t very bright. That I shouldn’t try too hard. That I was good at art so that was something.

Thank goodness for a couple of teachers who saw something in me that no-one else, even myself, did. Those teachers gave me the confidence to try harder than I would have. With a new willingness to believe more was possible I managed four O levels, three A levels, and eventually a place at uni. In My 20s I discovered I am dyslexic.

From that point, I’ve got to this point. With more than a million copies of my novels sold worldwide, The Sunday Times, New York Times and Der Spiegel bestsellers under my belt, a couple of awards and many more ideas for novels that I want to write.

Life is, of course full of ups and downs, and mine has had its fair share of both. Sometimes those downs seem like they will never be over. And that’s how I think my daughter is feeling now. She can’t see beyond her exams. She can’t imagine what life will be like if it doesn’t go well.

It breaks my heart that our education system is designed to force our children into what they are often told is life-defining conformity, when it’s just simply not the way we humans work. If you’d told me at 15 that one day I’d have a degree or be a bestselling author I’d have laughed my head off. People hit their stride at different times and in different ways, and failure once doesn’t mean failure forever. If you have the courage to pick yourself up and find another path, then you are already succeeding.

So, if like me, you have a child facing exams, remind them that their value as a person and their future potential doesn’t come from an exam certificate. It comes from being willing to try, from being curious, from being determined and resilient. It comes from realising that no matter what kind of person you are – academic, artistic or something else – you are just as worthwhile and as important as anyone else.


Best-selling novelist and mum-of-four Rowan Coleman shares the chaos and comedy of her life in the county

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