Higher levels of students taking drugs to get through their GCSE exams


Thousands of 13 to 16-year-olds admit using illicit prescription drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Modafinil to increase concentration.

New research by YouGov shows that GCSE pupils were found to be twice as likely as A-level students or undergraduates to be taking these drugs to help them get through their exams.

The drugs, banned for use except on prescription, can temporarily enhance concentration and memory but can have dangerous side effects including anxiety, sleeplessness and a greater risk of psychosis and heart attacks.

They can be bought from online pharmacies that have sprouted up since the drugs were banned from over-the-counter sales under the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016.

Students say they also buy them from young people who have been legitimately prescribed them, the most common of which is Ritalin.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the use of the drugs by GCSE pupils was ‘shocking’ and a ‘dangerous trend’ but highlighted the extreme anxiety and stress children faced over GCSEs that typically now involved 33 hours of exams in six weeks.

‘Young people at this age may be particularly vulnerable to poorly informed peer pressure and unreliable information they find online. We strongly urge students against taking the drugs as study aids,’ he said.

‘Their uncontrolled use can cause harmful side effects and dependency, and may actually be counter-productive in terms of performance in exams.

‘As a society, we also need to look at the pressure we are placing on our young people in a GCSE system which the government has ratcheted up in the name of increased rigour over the past few years.’

GCSE pupils are marginally the most anxious about the exams compared with A-level students and undergraduates, with 77 per cent saying they felt very or fairly stressed, according to the poll of 1,000.

Asked if they had ever taken prescription drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin and Modafinil to ‘try to improve focus during the exam season,’ 14 per cent said they had, compared with seven per cent of A-level students and six per cent of undergraduate or postgraduate students.

The figures could be an underestimate as 41 per cent of GCSE pupils claimed at least half their close friends had taken such ‘study’ drugs, while one in six (15 per cent) said most or all of them had. Fewer A-level students and undergraduates reported their friends taking them.