It won’t be long until the current Year 12s are making decisions about their post-18 education pathways – whether that is university, a job, an apprenticeship or something else. This September, they will be Year 13s in their final year of school.
The Student Room has around 600,000 users a month who are currently in Year 12. 1 In this blog, we’ll reveal what’s on their minds so that you can adapt your communication strategy to engage and support Year 12 students.
1. Some context: the covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on them
In-person teaching ended suddenly in March 2020 as the UK went into nationwide lockdown. Schools closed, education was disrupted and distance learning became the new normal.
For current Year 12s, the covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the most critical years of their secondary education. This year we have 57% more active Year 12 members than last year. 2
They were in Year 11 when the pandemic hit, and had spent nearly two years preparing for GCSEs which ended up being cancelled. After all their hard work they never had the chance to show what they could achieve, and their final GCSE grades were determined by teacher assessment or the controversial Ofqual algorithm (whichever was higher).
This year exams are cancelled again. We polled students at the time this was announced and found that 47% agreed with the decision to cancel exams and 18% were on the fence.
(Check out our pandemic timeline at the end of this blog for more on how Year 12s were affected)
2. Some are preparing for exams to be cancelled in 2022
Mistrust is a common theme with current Year 12s. This cohort watched A-level cancelations for two years in a row and some are skeptical exams will go ahead in 2022.
We’re seeing plenty of conversations about the importance of mock exams and predicted grades, which suggests that students are speculating these will play a role in their final grades and university applications:
“I don’t feel confident for my final exams in year 12, I’ve heard they get sent off to your unis and an offer is made from what you get, is it a big deal and will it impact my university application to a large extent? I’m super stressed”
“How serious are year 12 mocks?…we’re all stressing, like what goes into consideration for your predicted grades, will it just be using these for now?”
3. Students don’t think grades will be fair this year
Our student community does not expect 2021 grading to be a level playing field. This recent poll shows only 23% are confident that they will get fair grades:
Some of the key reasons given were cheating, distance learning challenges, and a lack of standardisation across schools:
“I heard some people were able to use notes in their exams. I’m among students that were told of the possible topics that were going to be in the assessments. It’s not going to be very fair as they aren’t standardised across schools.”
“I know people who found the exam online and knew the answers before we even did the test”
“I feel like my scores on papers will be fair and that my teachers will try to be fair but that overall no one’s grades will really be ‘fair’ this year.”
Students know that these factors will make it incredibly difficult for universities or employers to fairly evaluate applicants. This is why it’s never been more important to empathise with the concerns of students who are going through the assessment process:
“I’m unsure and that is what is giving me serious anxiety [right now] as I can’t predict it at all”
“Do I have any chance of getting into Vet Med?“
We also asked students how they were feeling about the assessments – at the time, 41% said anxious and 33% said they were feeling terrified.
We recommend providing clear information on your website about how you intend to evaluate applications and whether this year’s grades will play an important role.
4. They are struggling to study and lacking motivation
Year 12s are heading towards their final school year, but have no experience of taking high-pressure exams.
Some feel they have not had an opportunity to practice or prepare for A-levels, let alone university-level study:
“many of my teachers just didn’t know how to teach online, so i feel like if I were actually taught the topics, instead of teaching myself the entire year, I could actually have a chance”
We polled our community in January and found 43% of students do not have a suitable study space or adequate resources to study from home.
Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of anxiety-related posts about assessments:
“I can’t really remember anything and my notes are terrible so I’m really worrying“
“any year 12 have exams in june? im so scared lol”
“Terrified for upcoming Year 12 exams 😣 I really need the predicted grades (AAB) or else I’m done for! However, I cannot stop panicking.”
Low motivation is a theme we have seen consistently since the start of the pandemic:
“I really find biology impossible …Any tips over the summer on how to boost discipline and motivation?”
So would students like extra teaching time? We polled our community to find out whether they would agree with extending the school day by one hour to catch up on missed learning. Over two-thirds of students said no:
“Say it loud and say it clear; NO”
However, some students did see the benefit:
“when we were really behind on our GCSE computer science the best thing we did was two days in the holidays where we learnt literally all the theory.”
It’s also lovely to see that some of the most popular Year 12 threads involve students helping other students to study for their A-levels. e.g. A-level maths study group
5. Early deadline applicants are already making decisions
Many Year 12s are already thinking about their pathways into higher education, but those who are considering courses with an October application deadline are particularly active in our forums. Popular threads include:
- Oxford 2022 applicants thread
- Undergrad medicine 2022 entry
- Official Dentistry 2022 applicants’ thread
- Uni comparisons (Oxford V Cambridge)
“I have no idea which [college] to apply for and know very little about any of them if I’m honest! I’m the first in my family to apply and really looking forward to University, any help about Oxford would be greatly appreciated.“
“I am currently in year 12 and would like to start uni september 2022.I want to study medicine and have been looking at irish unis but dont understand how the medicine application process works.Have i missed the deadline?”
“I’m in year 12 at the moment and medicine is the only thing I have ever properly considered so I have never thought of any other careers for myself. Medicine is genuinely what I want to do but I just don’t think I’m good enough. Any advice?”
“I’d love to learn more about what it’s like to study Medicine at Bristol.”
This is a prime time to engage this audience, and we can help you target applicants who are likely to apply in October.
6. Year 12s need help with the university application process now
38% of our Year 12 audience is also in our “Applying to university” segment3 – meaning that they are already engaging with our applications-related content.
Across the site we are seeing students making comparisons between universities, considering subject choices and asking for advice about how to apply:
“I didn’t do psychology A Level should I do it at uni?”
“As a year 12 student I’m currently struggling a bit with how to structure and what to include in my personal statement”
Another interesting trend is that current Year 12s are making greater use of individual university applicant threads, whereas normally they might use the general Applications, Clearing and UCAS forum (however this forum remains popular). Some examples include:
University College London Applicants’ Thread 2021
Official University of Edinburgh 2021 applicant thread
Perhaps this is because students have not been able to attend open days or get in-depth information about specific universities from schools. This insight will be important for university Official Reps, as they can follow applicants’ attention to these areas of our site.
Applicants also want to understand what university will be like for them.
In our open day poll, the most popular request was “speak to current students who are studying my course” and the second choice was “taster lectures or seminars”. Speaking to peers and trying out the course helps applicants to picture themselves in your university environment and are key to decision-making for this cohort.
7. Mental health is a key concern for them
Finally, don’t forget that Year 12s have been going through a really tough time, and this has taken its toll on their mental health. In March 2021, only 20% of this cohort described their mental health in positive terms (pre-covid, 61% of this cohort described their mental health positively)4 :
“I cried so much in year 11”
“spent most of [Year 11] in my bed“
“Lockdown 1 was amazing, every lockdown since has messed me up mental-health wise. Missing friends.”
“I’ve felt low for more than a few months so I have struggled to maintain my grades”
In October 2020, the top concerns for current Year 12s were4:
- Motivation to work – 78%
- Lost teaching time – 71%
- Impact on grades – 70%
This mental health poll gives insights about what is affecting Year 12s now – again, primarily this is uncertainty around their education and lacking motivation.
Many students told us they were interested in what allowances would be made by universities and employers for the impact of covid-19. 77% want mental health support to be included in university league tables.
Pandemic timeline: what happened to this cohort?
March – June: Lockdown 1, schools closed in March, international travel ban, summer exams cancelled (GCSE and A-level)
Mid-June: phased return for some students, but still mainly distance learning
July – August – easing of restrictions, Eat out to help out, summer holidays
17 August: Government u-turn – teacher assessed grades used for GCSEs and A-levels if higher than algorithm
September: This cohort starts Year 12, rule of six for gatherings (indoor and outdoor), curfew on the hospitality sector
October: Tier system introduced – different restrictions depending on location
November: Lockdown 2, Christmas with family or multiple households is promised (23 – 27 December)
December: Tier system returns (stricter), Christmas with family cancelled for many in higher tiers
4 January: Lockdown 3, schools close again until at least February half term, exams cancelled again
February: roadmap out of Lockdown 3 announced
8 March: return to school, after school sports
29 March – June: easing of restrictions
14 June: delay of at least four weeks to final easing of lockdown: 21 June easing date moved to 19 July (earliest)
Want to know more about this audience?
The Covid cohort: Understanding 2022 applicants
Please get in touch with our team:
0800 999 3222
For bespoke research, contact the TSR Insight team.
1 TSR member logins extrapolated to total users, (users calculated by unique cookies), Google Analytics, May 2020 – April 2021
2 Active members, Google Analytics, 17 May – 15 June 2021 vs last year
3 Overlap audiences, Google Analytics, 15 June 2021
4 Navigating Changing Options research, TSR Insight