How to Approach a Repeat Exam

by | Nov 3, 2023 | 0 comments

Firstly, I want to say, failing an exam is hard. Give yourself some time to process it and recover before thinking about the repeat exam. When you feel ready to tackle your study again, know that you are brave and courageous. It is hard to tackle an exam for the second or third time around. The good news is you are not starting from the beginning. Much of the subject matter will be fresh in your memory. You may just need to change your approach to study.


Before you get stuck into studying for the repeat exam, I encourage you to take some time to pause and reflect. While it might feel hard, there will be some valuable learnings and insights that you can gather from the previous time you sat this exam. In the words of John Maxwell who wrote “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth”, evaluated experience is the teacher of all things. Many of us learn nothing from our experiences because we don’t take the time to pause and reflect.

As you reflect on your previous exams, here are some prompt questions that will help you gain insight into this experience.

Reflections on your Study

  • What went well for you as you studied for your last exam?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What study or learning strategies might you use this time to get better results?

Reflections on the Exam

  • Did you have enough time to answer all the questions in the exam?
  • Which topics or subjects were you least/most confident answering?
  • How did you feel during the exam?
  • What did you learn from this exam experience?


For some, your motivation and enthusiasm for studying might be low. Motivation is not an organic process. Students often wait to become motivated.  You will not wake up some morning and be suddenly motivated. If you can urge yourself to take the smallest of action to re-start your study again, even though you don’t feel like it, motivation will follow. I often compare motivation like going for a run. I am never truly motivated to go for a run, but the hardest part can often be putting on my running gear. Once that is done, motivation tends to follow.


It is important to plan your study with your time available. Firstly, with your syllabus or competency statement for the subject, do a simple traffic light system. Green represents the areas you are comfortable with, the orange areas need some work, and the red areas need to be prioritised. By doing this, you have some idea of what the road ahead looks like for you.

The next step is to consider your weekly plans. This plan should be fluid and flexible. Consider which days you have available for study. You can also schedule in the amount of time you want to spend studying.

When it comes to daily planning, always start by setting yourself a learning goal for your study session. That will keep you on track. Ensure to incorporate retrieval practice into your routine. This means, that you are consistently testing yourself on the materials under exam conditions. This is the key to success. Many students avoid testing themselves. If this is you, ask yourself why?

Testing yourself and making mistakes is the key to success in my opinion. This is an invaluable form of feedback. It might not feel comfortable seeing the mistakes you have made but it is better seeing these mistakes as you study compared to making the mistakes in the exam itself.


If there is support available to you, take advantage of it. Speak to your lecturers. They may be able to provide you with invaluable information. Speak to your colleagues and classmates. They have been there and will be able to offer you a helping hand.

Your Well-Being and Exams

Looking after your well-being in the lead up to the exams is of utmost importance. Some simple tips to help manage your well-being.

  • Planning – we have looked at how to create a simple plan. Planning can help reduce stress levels.
  • When studying be sure to schedule productive deep breaks. This does not mean turning your attention to your phones or social. A productive deep break is taking ten minutes or so between study sessions and can include, taking a walk around the block, listening to music, doing a meditation available on YouTube or listening to a relaxing podcast.
  • Break it down. If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you need to cover, break everything down into small manageable chunks. When we look at the end goal (also known as the performance goal) which is to pass our exams, it can feel overwhelming. If we break this goal down into small learning goals suddenly it feels a little more manageable.

Finally remind yourself of the bigger picture. Failing an exam is part of your journey. It won’t feel pleasant, but you will learn so much from this experience that you can bring with you in future exams.