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How volunteering and creativity helped me get over exam disappointment

How volunteering and creativity helped me get over exam disappointment

Challenging exams

As part of my Sustainability and Environmental Management course at university, I took a module for those who hadn’t done maths as an A-Level. I passed all the modules, except for maths as I’d struggled with the exam. An hour into the re-take of my exam, I was only on question 3. Given how long it was taking me to answer, I knew it wasn’t possible to answer all 12. I felt the confidence and spirit and self-belief that I had gained from preparing well drop.

I appealed on the grounds of believing my final mark was not a true representation of my academic ability. In fact, my difficulties may have been partly to do with the autism spectrum condition I have. (Here’s an interesting account from someone else with Aspergers to shed light on how exams might affect someone). It reached May and the appeal was still ongoing. By this time, I’d lost all enthusiasm for continuing my course and now I was getting interesting in new things! Realising there was no ideal outcome from the appeal any more, I withdrew it.

Developing skills through volunteering

Time goes by surprisingly quickly. December rolled around, and my next opportunity hadn’t materialised yet. The closest I had to a new experience was submitting my CV to a job recruitment agency, only to be told there were no jobs matching my “skill set”.

Looking to make more productive use of my time, I searched for voluntary opportunities through a site called, where I came across Quiet Connections. I registered my interest and got a prompt response. After submitting a post about my college experiences, Hayley asked whether I’d like to be a regular contributor, which was an exciting prospect for me as I love to write.  Here’s what it means to me, to be part of a Quiet community. I also started volunteering at another social enterprise too, supporting adults with learning disabilities within employment. For me, it’s important to be working with people I identify with.

Expressing myself through creativity

It helps to keep myself occupied; whether that’s listening to music, or reflecting on something. If I’m not engaging in an activity, then I will be thinking; there has to be something allowing me to act in my nature. I lose an element of comfort when I’m without my perspective, processing information in a way I understand. Without it, I’m unsure where to start.

Music makes the hard times easier for me, so I kept myself entertained annotating lyrics on a website for song lyrics and knowledge. There is a standard of annotating that editors have to meet, but I soon became an editor, with access to more of the site’s features than regular users.

I often write poetry about people’s attitudes towards life, and the state of society. My poetry is a manifestation and release of my thoughts: it is a way for me to examine my views. I decided to take this further and enter some competitions. It’s a nice feeling to know that, whilst I didn’t expect to win, I still believed I could.

  • The first competition I entered was the Foreign Voices Poetry Competition, on the subject of migration. My poem was about the Europeans colonising America. I used the same rhyme scheme throughout, rhyming all lines with “Land of the free, home of the brave.”
  • Second, I entered the Nature and Place Poetry Competition. I wrote about nature, spiders, and sharks. I adapted poems I had written when I first started writing poetry and the length was much longer, so I cut them down as much as I could without losing the meaning.
  • For the last, Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Open Competition, I submitted 5 poems: eyes; my hometown; rain; capitalism; and science. I approached the ‘eyes’ poem differently, using no rhyme scheme, and I was happy with its structure, but I used lots of technical and scientific terms. It was far from my idea of poetry, and a bit of a stretch for me!

Reflection and aspiration

Keeping busy during this period of uncertainty, I started reading philosophy- one of the subjects I wanted to study. I found it fascinating. Then I came across Social Psychology. It has elements of philosophy, but also spirituality, psychology, and sociology, making it a perfect combination for me and I loved that it focused on Eastern as well as Western practices. So I’ve signed up to a new course.

In the past, I let my thoughts become my beliefs- I would sink into my shell and become reclusive. If I saw everyone else in groups, I wouldn’t disturb them, and when I saw people who looked more confident, it affected me. I didn’t feel I could be myself with stronger personalities and louder characters surrounding me.

My plan for next year is to approach university differently. I aim to be more involved in events, joining groups and societies early on. I want to continue refining my poetry, and hope to do something more with it, rather than it being just for my own entertainment.

This year has been really valuable and I have grown more as a person, having had the time to do so. Compared to the last few years in education, I had freedom with my days. Enhancing my CV was not an incentive nor was it important to me; it was just what others wanted me to do. It’s being in a setting where I’m contributing, doing what I want to, that really matters to me.

Click here to see more volunteer opportunities with Quiet Connections

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