No matter what the reason for low scores, from mis-graded papers to your drawing a blank on any of the questions, it’s never easy to receive your exam results only to confront a failing grade.
On top of feeling (knowing?) that you hadn’t done well and after waiting so long for your results, seeing a disappointing mark on your paper is demoralising. Don't let it crush you!
Whether you sat GCSEs, A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate or, if you're studying in the US, the SATs or ACTs, there is always somewhere to go besides despair.
Superprof now lays out a surefire path for dealing with such a devastating blow and moving past it.
Reasoning Things Out
Let's face it: besides the social aspects of school - hanging out with friends, team sports and extracurricular activities, learning is the most important part of your academic experience.
For teachers, school administrators and future employers, the grades you earn are the most important part. No matter how good their intentions are, for them, your personal development takes second place.
You don't believe it? Let's clear things up.
Teachers' salaries are calculated based on how well their students do on standardised exams. Schools receive funding based on their student body's exam averages and prospective employers want to see at least six high GCSE marks before they will consider you for hire.
You can't even register for university courses unless your grades meet or exceed the institution's cut-off for enrolment.
So, while getting good grades might be the secondary consideration to you, the rest of the world will only accept high marks as a testimonial to your worth. To that we say...
You Are Not Defined by Your Grades
Exam results are not an accurate representation of your worth and ability.
School teachers (and parents, and bosses, and university admissions departments) place a ridiculous amount of importance on grades.
How is it that they haven't figured out you can’t attach a number to someone’s potential or measure a person's intelligence only with a standardised exam? There’s so much more to life - and to you - than exam results.
Don’t ever let anyone try to make you feel bad about yourself, especially not over something that has little to do with who you are.
Are you still waiting for your exam results? Use these tips to wait well.
You Are Not a Failure
The word ‘fail’ isn’t a nice word; why would you want to attach it to yourself?
Calling yourself a failure sets you up for a whole trainload of negativity. You're a failure so every project you undertake must be doomed from the start. With this disaster cloud hanging over you, why would anyone give you a chance to try anything?
And if everything is destined to be a catastrophe simply because you're involved in any small way... can you see how silly this could get? Can you also see how self-defeating and damaging this line of reasoning is?
Besides, as stated before: isn't it a bit over-the-top to conclude that a single academic event makes up your entirety?
Just as you're not defined by the marks you earn in school, neither are you characterised by the times you don’t do as well as you hoped - in school and in life.
Failures are experiences that you can learn from and build on. They are external to you - they are not a part of you so remember that, even when everything seems negative, there is always something positive to be had from any experience.
Now that we have that straight, let's talk about coping with bad exam marks.
Take Care of Your Body
People who've suffered a major blow tend to overlook their well-being as they wallow in their emotional stew.
Wallowing is perfectly understandable - necessary, even, to properly process your experience but it shouldn't become a permanent state of being and, as you wallow, you shouldn't neglect what your body needs.
Your mental state may have changed - if only temporarily, but your body still needs fuel to function and sleep to recover and heal. Two of the best things you can do for yourself during this time is to continue your healthy eating habits and get enough sleep every night.
If your eating habits were never that sound to begin with and you're chronically sleep-deprived, now would be a good time to start reinforcing these two fundamental pillars of healthy living.
Another pillar of human health is physical activity. Being active - playing team sports, going it solo by bike riding, swimming or even just taking a walk; exercising, strength training or doing Crossfit... any physical activity you enjoy will help you get over your feelings of doom faster.
By contrast, dabbling on the illicit side of life - alcohol and drugs will have a deleterious effect on you while never providing the needed relief from your turmoil. They only make for a temporary escape; sooner or later you will have to confront your situation head-on.
Taking care of your physical self gives your mind and spirit a boost. Exercise alone releases endorphins - the so-called feel-good chemical that helps to improve your outlook and gives mental clarity. Combine that effect with mood-boosting foods and you'll soon see yourself examining possibilities for your future.
Here are a few more tips to help you move forward from this experience.
Take Care of Your Mind
Your Superprof is no Pollyanna; we know that if all it took to get over a harsh blow was a bit of exercise and leafy greens, everyone would be running marathons while munching lettuce.
Eating right, exercising and getting good sleep is just the first step on your way to getting control over your runaway, gloomy self.
Once you take charge of your physical - and, to an extent, your mental/emotional well-being, you will find you have put some distance between you and your test scores. Still, you might need input from someone else to gain a fresh perspective on your situation.
Seek Social Support
The adage 'A burden shared is a burden halved' is an apt way to describe the relief you'll likely feel at talking your troubles out with a trustworthy someone.
Getting such a terrible load out of your mind and out in the open will expose it for what it is: a small thing, in no way threatening or frightening. Certainly, something you can overcome one way or the other!
You don’t have to deal with your situation alone. Whether it’s with a friend, family member, a teacher you trust or your school's counsellor, talk about your feelings. Chances are, talking about your turmoil will make you feel a lot better and whoever you discuss things with will likely help you find the best way to move forward.
Should you lack a trustworthy person to confide in - or even if you do have such a person in your life, consider talking with a mental health professional. These worthies have the training, skill and experience to help you reason out your feelings, put them in perspective and find a path forward.
They may also have or know of resources for people in your situation that even your best friend and your caregivers know nothing about.
Keep in mind that there is neither shame nor stigma in taking care of your mental health. To the contrary, working through your exam failure with such a professional is a sane, rational and healthy thing to do.
Often, we expect (and are expected) to move past a debilitating experience without giving it its due.
As you talk your troubles out, you may feel compelled to act right away - to move past the wreckage of your exams without properly examining it and putting paid to it. That would not be your wisest move.
You and your confidant may hash out a few plans but you don’t need to rush into a decision or take a course of action at a time when you are still vulnerable; likely to buckle at the least resistance. You have plenty of time and you’re young; work out what you want from life and what the right pathway is for you without any pressure or stress.
In formulating plans for your future, consider that it’s never too late to continue learning.
No matter what you decide to do now, you can always enrol in an access course later in life to get on to a university course. A-Levels and SATs are not the only pathways to a university degree.
Do you know you may be able to avoid failing your exam if you avoid procrastination?
Moving Past Exam Failure
In this article's introduction, we mentioned mis-graded papers; instances where the student gave the correct answer but the examining body marked it incorrect. Not that it's a common occurrence but it has been known to happen.
Your Superprof is not shining a light on a false hope.
We only want to point out that, if you suspect your exam may have been marked wrong, you should take the matter up with your teacher immediately. Be prepared to defend your position, though; unless the grading error is glaringly obvious, your teacher may quiz you on why you believe your paper was marked incorrectly.
Once you move past the possibility that your work has been incorrectly assessed, it's time to take a broader look at your situation.
As someone who has scored poorly on your exams, what do you have in common with some of the richest and most successful people in the world? We're talking about:
- Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group
- Gary Vaynerchuk: founder of Vayner X
- Richard Branson, who was told he would either be a criminal or a millionaire
- Michelle Mone: founder of Ultimo and MJM International
- Deborah Meaden, the tourism and travel tycoon
- Simon Reuben: the world's third-largest producer of aluminium (in partnership with his brother)
- Steven Spielberg - need we say who he is?
If you were thinking that they either didn't take exams or did take and failed them, you would be absolutely correct. If nothing else highlights the idea that failing exams isn't the end of your life, their successes should do it.
By no means are we suggesting you should leave your future to chance; while those luminaries and others are living a fine life now but there was plenty of struggle to get where they are.
Rather than embrace a period - or an entire lifetime of struggling, research alternative paths.
If your test results do not represent your finest hour, it may be because you're not meant to take that traditional path to financial stability social success. Have you given any thought to college courses that will allow you to retake your Maths and English GCSEs, BTECs, NVQs?
If you tend to not score well on exams, these courses will allow you the opportunity to show what you have learnt through coursework and portfolios.
On the other hand, why not go for a retake?
Knowing you can resit your exams in the next test cycle might encourage you to take a second chance at grabbing the brass ring. If you know you didn’t revise as thoroughly as you could have or you had personal issues that prevented you from passing, don’t discredit yourself and your test-taking abilities just yet.
Throw yourself into retaking those exams with renewed vigour and dedication. Set yourself on a study schedule, find some friends who want another go too and don't forget to draw on your support network as needed.
While you're at it, you should learn to manage exam stress the right way so it doesn't bite when next you confront your answer sheets.
Go further in combating anxiety by taking on a part-time job, volunteering in your community or applying for an apprenticeship. Granted, a work-study position might be harder to land if you don't (yet) have satisfactory exam results but putting yourself out there and announcing your interest will be helpful, if only for the experience of it all.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that places a great deal of pressure on young people and tries to push them down paths which may not be right for them.
If you have failed your exams, do your best to ignore societal pressure; focus on yourself and what you want and need. It’s your future and it’s still in your hands.
To properly prepare yourself for your next steps, you should treat yourself: treat yourself well and treat yourself to something you always wanted to have or do.
Despite low marks, you may credit yourself for having risen to the challenge and, even if you didn't get the grades you were aiming for, you still learned something - even if it's that you should be better prepared to take exams.
Despair is a terrible place to be; let these tips guide you to someplace more positive, where you can define yourself beyond limited academic challenges. That's all exams are, after all.
About to write your exams? Find out how to stay calm and do your best.