Three years on, uni students are still feeling the effects of Covid on their grades

‘Having never sat formal examinations before, the stress levels are extreme’

In September, universities across the UK will see yet another influx of freshers. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to have their first taste of independence. However, this year is also the fourth cohort to enter university with their grades affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

When I entered my first year of university in 2020, I did so with three algorithm-generated A-Levels under my belt and a brain that had not sat an exam since my GCSEs. Furthermore, after several months of lockdown, I could barely string together a coherent sentence let alone produce first-class essays. However, I’m one of the lucky ones, since all my exams have been online. Many of my peers had to navigate the jump from their last in-person GCSE exam analysing Jane Eyre’s Red Room to explaining the principles of quantum physics in their university exams. 

It’s once again A-Level season for 17 and 18-year-olds across the UK. Although this cohort’s exams will be far less affected by the pandemic than the last few years, measures are still being put in place to mitigate the effect that lockdown may have on their grades. However, incoming freshers could also be facing fewer university places and higher entry requirements in the wake of the Covid-inflicted grade inflation of 2020 and 2021. Come September, universities will be seeing their fourth year of students whose entrance into university has been affected by the pandemic.

The Tab spoke to four students who all have different experiences of how the A-Level changes have affected them:


Catherine Hamilton, a second year physics student at the University of Edinburgh believes her cohort has suffered significantly due to lockdown and have found taking exams significantly more challenging at university. 

“Sitting our first year uni exams is already a big step up from school exams”, she said, “but from the last in person exams my year did, GCSEs, the step up is astronomical. As a cohort being expected to perform as well as other years who didn’t have 18 months of online teaching places a massive pressure on us. That’s been reflected in the mental health of me and my friends, and the miserable pass rates of a lot of the exam rates we sat in person.”

Certain allowances are still being made to protect students from the fallout of the pandemic. The examining watchdog Ofqual has said that “protection is in place for GCSE and A-Level student cohorts”. On the government’s website, it says that despite disruption current A-Level students have seen with Covid, “we expect national results in 2023 to be similar to those in pre-pandemic years, even where the quality of work is a little weaker”.


Third year Philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh, Isabelle Woodcock told us that she worries about how her sister, who is currently sitting her A-Level exams, will cope with sitting exams the first time since her SATS.

“I’m greatly concerned about how my younger sister will be affected in her higher education,” she said. “Having never sat formal examinations before, the stress levels of her and her peers are extreme.” Isabelle’s sister, who is hoping to go to Newcastle, has been studying hard for her A-Levels but worries that the fact that she has not sat formal exam since her SATS, when she was 11 years old, will put her at a significant disadvantage when it comes to uni. 


However, others argue that the gradual reduction of Covid measures is a positive thing. Third year English Literature student Megan McElhone at the University of Edinburgh told The Tab: “It’s good that things are getting back to normal! I want my younger brother to enter university with the knowledge that he earned his grades fairly so that he doesn’t get imposter syndrome when he sits his first uni exams!”

Megan’s 18-year-old brother, who is currently sitting his A-Level exams and hoping to start at Newcastle University in September, told The Tab that he does not feel his grades or quality of work had been at all affected by the Covid pandemic and said he’s keen to simply sit his exams as normal and feel like he’s entering university off his own merit.

This could the final cohort of freshers whose A-Level exams and entrance into university is impacted by the pandemic. Does this mean the last of the pandemic is behind us or is it only a small token that makes up for the long lasting impact the Covid has had on our academia? 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

First known student caught using ChatGPT at UK university – here’s how they were exposed

It’s official, these are the UK unis where you’re most likely to find a royal