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Exam results: How to deal with disappointment

How to deal with disappointing exam results

For better or for worse, exams, assignments and other types of assessments are a core part of the education system. You might have wondered whether these types of assessments really are the best way of measuring what you’ve learnt or how hard you’ve worked. However, passing through them is something all students have to do.

And it’s not all bad news. Passing through these assessments can be an opportunity to learn how to be more resilient, how to face challenges, and may even help us feel we have earned our next steps. So, whether your results are better than expected, or find yourself feeling like you’ve failed, having a healthy relationship towards your results can help you move forward.

How to relate to your results

Focus on your hopes and dreams

Whatever the results are, try to work out (as much as you can) what you want to achieve and in what area(s). If you get good grades in modules or parts of the course you don’t like much or don’t interest you, try not to let it take you down the wrong path. Low grades in modules you are passionate about can make it seem like you can’t succeed in that area, but with work and determination, you can still get there.

Results are just a snapshot

When you take photos on your phone, not every picture turns out great, as so many things contribute to the final result. Similarly, your results on the day capture just one moment in time and are not a full representation of you and your talents; at a different time or on another day you may have achieved something quite different.

Clear your fear

If anxiety affects your performance, the good news is that there is a lot you can do to help improve your situation. There are different coping strategies that you can try out - head over to the Wellbeing Centre on TalkCampus for tips and strategies on how to deal with anxiety including mindful meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing techniques. 

Beware of ‘the house of mirrors’ effect

You know yourself, and your individual talents and abilities, better than anyone else. Assessment results can be like those mirrors that reflect back a distorted version of you. So check with yourself if your results feel like a true reflection of you. But also be open to new abilities that you may have developed, such as doing well in an area you weren’t sure of before.

Don’t compare

What someone else gets may be good for them, but might not be right for you. Try to find your own path.

Be mindful of how you speak to yourself

Find a comfortable and balanced way of thinking about your results to try and avoid hating yourself if you are disappointed. Assessments involve so many different factors, including some luck (like if the right questions came up for you!). So, it’s good to understand what worked and what didn’t, without letting extreme feelings take over.

Dealing with disappointment

Firstly, everyone is scared of result day, even if they hide it. Why?

  • No matter how hard you’ve worked, you never know exactly what’s going to be on an exam.

  • Your results can have a big impact on your life.

Disappointing results can be deeply upsetting, especially if there’s a lot riding it. There is no right or wrong way to react. In the moment, you might want to go for a walk, hit the gym, have a big cry or find a friend to share how you’re feeling.  Try to give yourself the time and space to absorb what’s happened.  

Here are some tips that can help:

Don’t take it personally

Just because you failed an assessment does not mean that you are a failure. Try to think of what you are good at or your other achievements to avoid one bad result knocking your confidence.

Avoid catastrophizing

Are you imagining the absolute worst possible outcome of this situation? Try to take a step back and breathe. The most worrying outcomes aren’t always the most likely. 

Don’t dwell on it

While it can be helpful to reflect on what went wrong this time around and how you can learn from the experience, try to resist the urge to overthink, and let it be.

Make a plan

Try to look beyond your results and focus on what’s next. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you have plenty of options. You might want to make a list of every option that’s available to you and ask your tutor, a family member or a friend to help you think through it.

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget to look after yourself. Make sure you are sticking your routines, eating well, getting enough sleep and making the time to connect with friends and family. Try to avoid alcohol or drugs, and ‘doom scrolling’ on your socials.

Get some support

There’s no shame in getting disappointing results. It’s something that’s happened to most people at some point. Try to reach out to your friends or family for support and let them know how you’re feeling. It can be a huge relief and bring some much needed perspective to a situation.

If you’re feeling anxious or low most of the time and things aren’t getting any better, or if you’re feeling totally overwhelmed and like you have nowhere to turn, reach out for professional support. You don’t have to struggle alone. It’s ok to ask for help. You might want to check out what mental health support is on offer at your institution or talking to your doctor is another good place to start.


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