Bouncing Back After Exam Failure

by | Jun 8, 2023 | 0 comments


“I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” Michael Jordan.

Failing exams and tests is difficult but it is what you learn from the experience and what you do next that counts! This blog post will provide you with advice on the next steps.


Your mental health

There is no doubt that you will experience a range of emotions and feelings when you hear you have failed an exam or failed a test. You may be shocked, angry, resigned, or sad. It is important to sit with these feelings as opposed to denying them. We all have different ways of coping with adverse or challenging events. Think about the strategies or techniques that have worked for you in the past when faced with difficulties. Try using these again. It is always helpful to get support and talk with someone, a family member, a close friend, or a colleague. The first step is to share how you are feeling.

Negative Self-Talk

Be aware of how you talk to yourself after exam or test failure. What is your internal dialogue? What are you telling yourself? This can often be quite negative. Negative self-talk is often referred to as thinking traps.

For example, “I am not intelligent enough” or “everyone else is better than me”, “I will never pass these exams”. While our brains are extremely sophisticated organs, but if we are telling it something like “I am not intelligent enough”, our brain has no option but to believe that. It is your words that steer your thinking process.

The opposite is also true. When you tell yourself you can do something and you are smart enough, your brain will also start believing this.

Thinking traps can be re-framed into positive prompts. Once you notice the negative self-talk or thinking trap, a good idea is to write it down and then look at re-framing it. For example: “Everyone else is better than me” can be re-framed to “what can I learn from students who passed these exams or tests”. “I am not intelligent enough” can be re-framed to “what are my strengths that will aid my success in the next exams or tests”. “I will never pass these exams” can be re-framed into “what have I done in the past to achieve success in my exams”.

Control, Influence and Accept

It is useful to consider what can you control, influence, and accept having failed your exams. It may take some time and can be very difficult, but a good place to start is to accept what has happened. There is no changing the past. There is no changing a failed test or a failed exam.

Next consider what is in your control. As a student you can control your attitude and behaviours. What you do next is within your control. How you approach your next exam is within your control. How you study for your repeat exams is within your control. Can you change your study methods and study differently?

Some self-reflecting questions to ask yourself are:

  • What are the issues or elements of the situation you can control?
  • What can you do about this?
  • Who can support you with this?

Consider what or who you can influence to support you with repeating your exams.

  • What influence do you have?
  • What are the elements of this situation you can’t control but you can influence?
  • If you have control and or influence, what action can you take?

Be open to changing your approach.

Once the dust has settled and you are ready to start moving forward and preparing for your future exams, take some time to reflect on your past exam preparation and performance. Self-reflecting helps you the student to consider what worked well for you in the exam process and what needs to be changed.

Consider changing your approach to study rather than using the same approach again and expecting different results. When I ask students what are the reasons they think they failed their exams, more often than not they say they did not practice enough exam questions or they left practicing past exam questions and past papers too late.

Consider changing your study approach for the repeat exams. Start practicing exam questions from the outset. By practicing questions, you will get a good understanding of what you know well and what subjects or topics require more learning mastery. Practicing exam question will help increase your confidence.

When you close your mind to alternative approaches, you can get stuck in the failure loop.

Reflecting on your Goals

Failing exams and failing tests is no doubt a difficult experience, but you will learn and grow from this experience. Consider the goals you set for yourself when you started out on this learning journey? Why is this goal so important to you? What are your unique strengths that will help you reach your goal?

To summarise, exam failure is difficult, but you can lean into ways of bouncing back after failure. Look after your mental health. Be aware of negative self-talk and re-frame this dialogue into positive prompts. Think about what you can control, influence, and accept about the situation and be open to changing your approach. Most importantly look to your friends and family for support.

If you need any further information or any further support on bouncing back after exam failure, please reach out to me, Edel Walsh.