Today was A-level results day across England, Wales, & Northern Ireland. You’ll have seen the pictures in the news already, no doubt, and perhaps wondered to yourself why only girls seem to have received their results…

Why? Because that’s just how news works. You can find out all about this entirely subconscious bias, and how to continue it and other proud media traditions on any one of the many degrees in journalism offered by Universities and Colleges up and down the land. In the meantime, here are some words of advice (good and bad), ruminations, and consolations.

Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma

One thing you’ll hear a lot of on a day like today is that standards aren’t what they used to be. It’s a canard as old as the first exams, and the older the messenger, the worse the supposed decline. Normally I’d be wary of these curmudgeonly claims, even though they would, if true, put me in a healthy situation relative to anyone who’s been through the educational ringer in the last… let’s just say the last few years.

However, with bands like Vampire Weekend putting reckless grammatical thoughts into the accommodating minds of our future leaders, perhaps my elders (and betters, naturally) have a point. Or perhaps I’m just old: like The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White, and The Oxford Style Manual (now there’s a shock!), I’m a fan of the Oxford Comma.

Ambulance LTD - Straight As

More on those declining standards: I don’t know if this is quite the positive message to give to someone in an exam situation. Telling someone they don’t need to study to get straight As is a recipe for complacency in my book.

Nick Drake - One of These Things First

Some people seem to know their ultimate career ambition from a frighteningly early age. For others life is a river of so many tributaries that must navigated, investigated, and charted. Nick Drake may seem to be one of them in One Of These Things First, singing of possibilities and ways of being, but while his fragile existence (he had, in one memorable phrase, a skin too few) and introversion have since granted him near-mythical status, Drake left Cambridge University before completing his degree with solid ambitions as a songwriter. Ultimately, his failure was crushing and tragic.

The Divine Comedy - Mastermind

Don’t think, however, that the lesson I’m sending you off with is “finish up your degree course, because you’ll only find it too disheartening to carry on when the audience talks through your set and you spend half the time retuning anyway”. Heed the words of Neil Hannon, from Mastermind, a track from The Divine Comedy’s own heroic failure album Regeneration (2001):

You don’t need a Law degree

to set your mind and spirit free

Kings of Convenience - Failure

More than that, so much more than that, is the thought that a setback is nothing more than an opportunity in fancy dress disguise. Or, as Kings of Convenience put it:

Failure is always the best way to learn,

retracing your steps until you know,

have no fear your wounds will heal.

Rumour Cubes - The University is a Factory

If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. Some would say it’s over-rated anyway.

Stop writing now.