Should I say something?

(56 Posts)
examworries20 Sun 22-May-16 11:27:37

DS has just started his second year uni exams. They will last for 2 weeks. He seemed to cope well last year which was a great relief as he had always been the type to wing it at school, leaving everything until the last minute. I thought he must have finally matured and developed a work routine. He is very independent but texted my DD last week to say he thought we would disown him after he got his grades this time (we are not tiger parents and have never pressured him so was a weird comment to make) We don't try to interfere and only know what he's told us about last year- he got a 2.1 apparently.
He never really talks about work when he phones, just about his main hobby, social stuff etc. but when we last spoke a week ago he said he was worried he couldn't work 14 hours a day like his friends could and was blaming his school for not teaching him how to work consistently (we did try through high school to no avail!). He tried to brush it off as a joke but something didnt sound right. He is doing a very heavy course at Oxbridge.
For the first time I have a gut feeling that is really worrying me. I know he is an adult but I don't want him to end up with a health issue or fail his course as he would be devastated as it's all he has wanted to do for a very long time. We are several hours drive away.
Has anyone experienced similar? What did you do, if anything?

DailyMailFodder Sun 22-May-16 12:05:47

I don't know if I would read too much into it. If he's made it to the end of the second year he is obviously doing ok.

Universities really don't like to fail people especially Oxbridge (I think?).

Also even if he does fail an exam I'm sure he can resit the exa or, if he really does badly he could resit the year.

bojorojo Sun 22-May-16 12:37:34

I think the days of winging it are gone and he knows this. A school will never teach anyone to work for 14 hours a day so this is unrealistic. Who works all hours if you get good results by less work? My DD's flat mates in Y2 said they could not understand how she got such good results at uni with so little work!!! I was a bit cross with her (I thought she needed to work harder and that meant hours and hours of work) but some people do better by focussing when they need to and not burning the midnight oil all the time. Constant work and less play might have been a better strategy in his case and all students get doubts before exams and feel vulnerable. I am not sure, at this late stage, if there is anything you can do except support him and I am not convinced rushing to his side will help.

Oxbridge do fail students but do you know if he had a high 2:1 or a just scrape 2:1? There is quite a big difference and it seems like he is beginning to learn, rather belatedly, that in Y2 work takes over from play for the very heavy workload courses. I think therefore you keep in touch. Start to edge the conversation towards exams and how he is feeling and remind him to pace himself and not work silly hours. Remind him to speak to anyone who can suport him within the university if he feels he needs it.Then cross your fingers and hope maturity sets in. It is not you doing the exams so he will have to revise and do the exams in his way and 14 hours a day may not be suitable for him. Although he is seeing how much work others are doing, the question is, has he done enough in his own way or is he now panicking because he knows he is behind the curve? Just keep talking to him and try to find out.

FoggyBottom Sun 22-May-16 12:44:52

He'll learn - even if he ploughs a couple of exams, he'll learn.

It's not a very mature response to blame his school - he's obviously not learned to take responsibility for himself. If you swoop in, you'll just need force his apparent lack of resilience or responsibility.

If he does fail, he may learn a very important lesson. There are retakes - if he's sensible, he'll scrape through. But you really shouldn't say anything. He has to learn to work for himself, not think about what his parents might say.

FoggyBottom Sun 22-May-16 12:46:58

reinforce not need force blush

Needmoresleep Sun 22-May-16 13:46:53

What subjects? I think Borojo's daughters took MFL/humanities, and are part of a very social set. I am also not sure but don't think they are at Oxbridge, where terms are shorter, students all very able and standards high.

The experience you describe sounds reasonably common in STEM and related subjects. Especially at top Universites where a proportion of the cohort will go in with top results because they have ALWAYS worked incredibly hard.

I suspect it is not so much that the school has not taught your DS to work very hard, but that previously he was bright enough to wing it, and now he is finding he is having to step up a gear. He may also find that rather than always being at the top of the class, in some subjects he is towards the bottom end, and that this is again something new.

I would trust your instincts. You know your son. Ensure you keep channels of communication open. Ensure he knows that as long as he puts in a reasonable amount of work you will be proud of what he achieves.

What do you think is the problem?
- that he has poor study skills and is not good at organising himself. If so he should discuss this with his tutor, and others on this board may have suggestions
- that he had underestimated the amount of work needed.
- that his expectations are unrealistic. Is he hoping to get a first/2.1, having always got top grades before, when actually short of doing nothing but work, that is not going to happen. I would probe gently as to what his hopes are and reassure him, if they seem high, that top grades are not all important, and that knowing how to maintain a sensible work/life balance will probably help more in the longer term that top grade in everything.
- that he is finding himself in some sort of pit, where the advice would be to stop digging. Does he make sence when talking about work, is he sleeping, does he have a good network of friends, or are there signs of an emerging depression which is then further impacting on his performance. If so talk as much as he will let you, and try to steer him towards support that may be available at University.

I don't think it is particuarly about parenting. If someone you love is under pressure and may be buckling, you encourage them to let you in, and to share. And if they won't, you make sure they know that you are around for when they change their minds.

DS is finding second year very hard work, and my concern is that he is working too hard. Many students including him seem to be working dawn to dusk seven days a week. However it is exam term and second year results are what you use to apply for the next stage. I needed to drop something off a couple of weekends back and though it was a Sunday the (London) campus was heaving and the library was full. Poor DS looked exhausted. He is now three exams in, out of five, and though one in particular was not easy, its not been too bad and he sounds a lot happier and starting to talk about his summer plans. I think the second year exam experience will have been a learning experience, but in a different way. (Last year a couple of his then second year friends, underestimated the amount of work needed and ended up having to repeat the year. It was no the end of the world.)

I would support/encourage as best you can through the exam period, by offering to listen, sending unexpected care packages, regular texts wishing him well, or whatever. Then sometime in the summer, especially if the results are not what he hoped for, talk it through with him. There should be plenty of options: resits, revised more realisitc ambitions, improved study skills. At the most extreme, transferring into the start of a second year elsewhere.

I hope it works out.

goodbyestranger Sun 22-May-16 14:32:24

I think bojo's DD went to Bristol/ London though that might be wrong or she might have more than a couple.

Extremely wise advice from Needmoresleep.

My advice as someone Oxbridge mum who completely understands the pressure would be to get in the car and nip up/ down to Oxford just to meet for a drink if he doesn't feel he can spare much time and let him know it's all ok from your point of view. I'm a few hours away too but I've done that before in the exam period and would do it again now rather than phone.

I feel for your DS - the pressure can be massive especially in the subject I think you're probably talking about.

goodbyestranger Sun 22-May-16 14:33:26

an someone

examworries20 Sun 22-May-16 17:04:13

Thank you all for your sensible advice.

SecretSquirrils Sun 22-May-16 17:06:33

I second everything NMS says.
I have a DS in the second year of a very intensive course. He is very clever but also had to work hard to get the highest grades so not in the league of those who coasted through A levels. He has found year 2 as much of a step up as A level to Year 1. He is also putting 12 hour days in during the run up to exams (though not all year!). This seems to be the norm among the very high achievers.

OP I wouldn't care that he is an adult, I think he has reached out and I would step in. Go and visit, partly to see whether you can assess the true situation about the work, partly to see that he's ok and partly to give him reassurance that you are on his side come what may. There may not be much you can do but if it was me I would hate to think I missed an opportunity to make a difference.

bojorojo Sun 22-May-16 17:08:56

I am not sure that being at a university that is not Oxbridge makes much difference to the difficult decision of knowing when a parent should intervene! Lots of students and parents have to deal with this scenario regardless of where they are. You could argue the special ones at Oxbridge should be better equipped to deal with pressure as they are used to short terms and extra hard work. Somewhat elitist to suggest that my views are not worthy because I am not part of the "club".

albertcampionscat Sun 22-May-16 17:12:35

Fucking up second year (not failing - he's astonishingly unlikely to fail) can be a healthy wake up call for finals.

ImperialBlether Sun 22-May-16 17:12:41

I would go to see him. Can you make up an excuse? Does your work ever send you on courses? I used to go and see mine sometimes and just say I missed them. Of course if he's revising then you don't want to take up a lot of his time, but you would need to see him for two or three hours to see he's okay.

I think Oxbridge itself can be the cause of so many problems. There must be such pride and delight if your child is accepted that the pressure to do well must be horrendous at times. And for teenagers to go from being the cleverest in the class to not being able to cope must be incredibly difficult.

Is it possible for you to go down there and stay overnight, so that you can talk to a tutor if you are very worried about him? (I don't mean if you're worried about him failing, but if you're worried about his state of mind.)

hayita Sun 22-May-16 17:31:56

so that you can talk to a tutor if you are very worried about him?

A tutor cannot discuss a student with parents without the student being present and giving consent.

At this time of year, many students (Oxbridge and elsewhere) will be behaving in a similar way to OP's son. It's fine to drop in to see him, but asking to talk to his tutor would be very OTT unless you are genuinely concerned that he is at risk. If he is really at risk it would be very unusual in an Oxbridge college for this not to be known, as tutors/directors of studies/porters/neighbours all pick up on serious problems.

ImperialBlether Sun 22-May-16 17:45:47

Yes, I meant with him there.

You can't say they pick up on all serious problems, when there have been suicides.

goodbyestranger Sun 22-May-16 17:52:56

bojo I think there is at least arguably a heightened intensity of pressure at Oxford and Cambridge and perhaps a very small number of other 'elite' institutions at this time of year. I think even without the pressure which high achieving students too often inflict on themselves, both those universities are very exam heavy and coursework lite on the whole. For law for example, only Oxford has nine finals papers all taken at the end of the third year with no credits notched up prior to that except for a recently introduced dissertation which I think represents only 5% of the overall marks. That's a world away from most other law courses.

examworries20 Sun 22-May-16 18:03:11

Secretsquirrils- interesting to hear about the step up from 1st to 2nd year- I hadn't realised that.
I've decided to drive over tomorrow bearing cake etc. on the pretext of being in the area due to a work commitment. I often travel with work so it shouldn't seem too fanciful. I'd better make a cake!
Thanks again to you all, I feel better already.

bojorojo Sun 22-May-16 18:04:16

My younger DD has just finished her degree with no credits for years 1 or 2. No, not Oxbridge, but pressure nonetheless. The pressures of university are not confined to Oxbridge nor the concerns of parents.

hayita Sun 22-May-16 18:04:49

You can't say they pick up on all serious problems, when there have been suicides.

Picking up on serious problems and solving them are two different things. Sadly at Oxbridge and elsewhere there are students who despite receiving help and support from professionals drop out, attempt suicide, seriously self harm and commit suicide. In general the numbers of students with serious anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are increasing very rapidly, not just at Oxbridge but elsewhere. (There's a lot of stress at many other universities too, particularly those courses which are exam heavy or have relatively high failure rates such as medicine.)

The Oxbridge college system is nonetheless very good at picking up on problems and referring students to get help and support, more so than other top UK or foreign universities.

There's nothing in OP's posts to suggest that her son is anything more than anxious/nervous about exams/feeling he hasn't worked hard enough. These feelings are all pretty normal amongst Oxbridge students. But if she drops in on him/calls him and feels he is at risk, then obviously she should discuss with tutor etc.

goodbyestranger Sun 22-May-16 18:21:32

Glad to hear it OP. That's your evening sorted then, cake making!

bojo out of interest how is your DD assessed? In written exams only? I thought she was doing an art type course so surely that's mainly coursework isn't it rather than a series of three hour written exams?

SecretSquirrils Sun 22-May-16 18:23:31

examworries20 Best of luck tomorrow with cake.

I hope you go along and find there is nothing to worry about and that he's just having exam nerves and feeling a bit sheepish that he hasn't put enough work in.
Maybe in future try and coax him into telling you more about his work / topics.

Needmoresleep Sun 22-May-16 21:46:31

I've just seen DS. The joy of him being only 15 minutes drive away when you lock yourself out. He is completely different to two weeks ago, now the majority of his exams out of the way.

Second year is tough. At least where he is. The job market is immensley competitive, as are requirements should you want to stay on for a Masters. Applications are made in the autumn. You want to be well set for a first or 2.1.

Or you want to if, like many at top ranking universities, your ambitions for the next stage are equally high.

And as squirrels says, there is a big step up from Yr 1, and that in itself is a big step up from A level.

Its different. I took the same degree at the same place, but there are light years of difference. We only had to do enough, and then walz along to milk round interviews. Most of DS' peers will have spent a fair amount of the last year finding an internship for the summer. Recruitment was often in five parts and, for the most popular ones, sucess rates were low. The really ambitious students at LSE (and undoubtably Oxbridge, UCL and Imperial as well as other top courses elsewhere) worked their socks off last year to be heading for that all important first, whilst pulling the stops out to land the Goldman Sachs or whatever internship. No slacking is allowed. 14 hours days the norm.

DS says that friends outside this fevered triangle are not having to work anywhere near as hard, and landing great grades. I have already seen a lot of central London parenting and schooling and believe that tortoises often catch up with hares. However our DC face a different world. Somewhere there is a balance to be struck. University should be much more than sitting in the library, and I hope those that are ultimately sucessful are those who bring other emotional and inter-personal skills to the table. At the same time top Universities are an introduction to the strength of international competition. Who knows what job prospects will be like in 10, 20 or 30 years time, but having the chance now to be up there with the best is an amazing opportunity.

hayita's comment "the numbers of students with serious anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are increasing very rapidly, not just at Oxbridge but elsewhere", does not surprise me. Heads of academic secondary schools can regularly be heard saying much the same. Oddly growing up in central London means DC are reasonably innoculated (and indeed one reason why Oxbridge/London did not appeal to DD despite being predicted top grades at A level.) I think it could be tough to be the child who, having been top of a mixed ability school elsewhere, suddenly finds themselves in a new, highly competitive and hard working world. I think parents can help their DC by helping ensure that they maintain a perspective.

My guess is that in years to come DC will find that plenty of their peers have done very very well, but that a significant proportion will have dropped by the wayside. Indeed this has already started to happen.

FoggyBottom Sun 22-May-16 21:56:29

We always warn students about the step up from 1st to 2nd year. It's well known & most students find it almost as much of a challenge as going from school to university. My personal tutees often come to see me, a bit shell-shocked in the first term of their second year ...

That's why it's a good idea to work hard in 1st year, even though the marks don't "count" - start as you mean to go on, learn resilience & good study habits. I try to explain studying to students as if it's getting fit. You don't go from couch potato to London Marathon in one day. You build up to it, developing good habits & study fitness as you go.

If your DS coasted in school & first year, then I'm afraid this is what he has let himself in for.

Most universities realise this, and adjust for this, by giving more weight to third year marks or allowing for "exit velocity" in some way.

As my old tutor used to say (he was very old school Cambridge) in his gentle protest against continuous assessment, it might reasonably be assumed that you know more in your third year than your second year, so Finals should be the place to show this off. And he was right - I know I did some of my best writing in my Finals.

FoggyBottom Sun 22-May-16 22:01:59

In general the numbers of students with serious anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are increasing very rapidly, not just at Oxbridge but elsewhere

From what I see, it's because secondary school curricula are failing. Successive bastarding governments and idiot Education Ministers (who can't spell) are forcing teachers to teach to the tests. Hearing from the children of friends about how they are taught my subject (a "facilitating" Humanities field) in lists of bullet points of what must go in the exam answers. And if results aren't good enough the teachers are disciplined. It's foul. And it leaves bright high-achieving students anxious but rebellious when we get them: anxious about getting things "right"; rebellious when we won't tell them what "right" is.

honeymom Sun 22-May-16 22:03:35

I've been continually reassured that the second year is the hardest.

It must be hard as a parent to see him struggle but this is really the time when he needs to make the mistakes and learn for himself what he needs to do.

Nearly everyone on my course coasted through the year and then suddenly started to panic around exam time. It's pretty much too late by then.

At worst he has to retake the year. But most likely it will give him a kick up the bum for next year.

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