In Transition: What to do when you fail an exam.

The shock and shame experienced when you fail an exam or coursework can be painful. The hard work seems to have been for nothing and it feels like the best thing to do is give up. It is hard to know that how much you tried was not good enough. However the one thing that separates those who end up being hugely successful to those who are not is their ability to bounce back from failure. Most if not all people will fail some sort of exam in their life time. The sooner you learn how to learn from low exam results, the better. From all ‘fails’ lessons can be learned so instead of tucking the exam paper away and trying to pretend it never happened, it is essential that you clearly understand where you went wrong. To understand where you went wrong, you will need to ask questions:

  1. You should find out: where you went wrong?
  2. How you could go about doing better next time (do you need to adjust your revision technique?)
  3.  What others did others do for the same test.

The first question relates solely to you. It requires taking some time to review your feedback sheet (if you have one) and looking at the assessment criteria. You should make notes on areas you did poorly so that more attention can be paid to these areas. You also need to note down the areas you did well so that you spend less time on these. The first question is essential for your personal development in the long run. It is a must because as you get older you will be your best critique. For success you will need to constantly review your personal performance so that you can set realistic goals. Personal goals are important because they stop us from getting comfortable and stuck in a rut.

The second question is largely related to the first question. The main difference between questions 1 & 2 is that for questions 2 you should seek advice from a tutor or someone who has already excelled in the area. Having fresh eyes review what you have done and the revision techniques you used is helpful because they are able to point out things that you are not able to see. Furthermore they have already achieved success so they have a real understanding of what is needed to pass.

Question 3 allows you to judge your performance relative to your peers. This is by no means a way to make yourself feel belittled or empowered. Instead it gives you a picture of how you faired relative to others in your field. If nearly all failed, you know it may not specifically be something to do with you and an inability to understand. However should you find that you were one of the only people to fail, it is a wakeup call. It shows that your method of working is not productive and you need to change your strategy.

Failing an exam is not the end of the world and you will have other opportunities to pass exams or coursework that will take you to the next level. However you should seek to learn from the poor grade and change your working habits accordingly to ensure success the next time. You may even fail the same exams a couple of times and it might have nothing to do with your ability; possibly nerves get the better of you, or your exam technique is poor. Either way each retake should teach you something new and act as a push to improve.


About Plantain Periodicals

Hello! Welcome to the Plantain Periodicals blogs. The name stems from the kitchen moments I had with my friends at university cooking plantain and planning our lives together. I have used this space as a window into my mind and the way I make sense of all my experiences through writing.This is where I share those conversations and moments that happen inside my head as a young woman growing up in 21st century London. Hopefully you'll be entertained and also learn a thing or two. My main blog ad: My literature blog: NMx
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4 Responses to In Transition: What to do when you fail an exam.

  1. Mary Bailey says:

    I just failed an exam I thought I had prepared for and done well on. Your straightforward talk and practical suggestions will help me “pick myself up and start all over again” as somebody (with a much more positive attitude than I’m feeling at the moment) once said. Thank you.

  2. Kloklo says:

    Thank you so much for writing this entry. Failing the same exam twice and an individual essay before that (the first test failure was due to that as I was unresponsive for two days and I was sitting the exam in five.) was one of the worst feelings ever… Even compared to a family members death. Perhaps it’s because you start doubting yourself and burry all the assumptions about your intelligence. In any case just like always I know that I will try again and hopefully before sitting the exam for the third time my professor will have the courtesy to agree on a meeting I requested twice so far aka after each result and still no reply.

    • So sorry to hear about that. It might not feel like it now but there is purpose in this pain. Hopefully your professor can sit with you. Even if he doesn’t you can pass this exam. Prepare, pray and believe in yourself.

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