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How to handle failure or disappointment when exam results come through

These past few years will go down as some of the toughest years to have studied in. The end of the semester also brings along with it results time. It can be a stressful time for many; the pressures of life and the expectations that we put on ourselves can leave us disappointed with our exam results.

Woman with a tattoo touching her face and looking upset

So, what can you do if you receive your results and you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped? We have some advice below.

1. Don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up about your results

Although it always feels like it, you aren’t the only one who didn’t receive the results they wanted! Remember, we all experience setbacks and disappointments at some point throughout life, even the world’s most successful people!

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California three times and even Oprah was let go from one of her early television roles. You'll be fine!

Don’t get caught up in the negative self-talk trap, “I always mess up” or “I’m totally useless”. Instead, be kind to yourself. Imagine how you would comfort a friend who has just received bad news.

Would you belittle them or would you instead shower them with positive encouragement, reminding them that ‘this is just a setback’ and that they ‘shouldn’t give up’ and remind them of all the things that they have achieved? Try and apply the same thinking to yourself.

2. Put things into perspective and try to learn from it

Remind yourself that you are worth so much more than a mark on a piece of paper! Future employers, colleagues, tutors, friends and family care just as much about your attitude, personality and experience!

Take a step back and ask yourself, what can I learn from this? What could I do differently next time? Do I need to take proactive steps in order to avoid something similar from happening again?

Although it may seem hard at the moment, try to look at the positives and remember that you will come out of this stronger, more resilient and better prepared!

3. Talk about your exam results

If your results weren’t what you were expecting, it’s natural to experience feelings of shame, loss, guilt, anger and/or embarrassment. Talking to others may be the last thing that you want to do, especially if those around you are celebrating, but having a support system is so important.

Those close to you can help to put things in perspective, assist in exploring your options if a change of direction is required and help build your confidence back up! TalkCampus is another great option if you would prefer to receive support from people anonymously! Whatever works for you, don’t isolate yourself.

4. Prioritize self-care

While a good self-care routine is always a priority, having a schedule in place will help you cope with any trepidation that you may be feeling for the future. Start with the basics - like eating well! Ensuring that you have your five-a-day is a great starter!

As it gives your brain and body all the nutrition it needs to help cope with any increase in cortisol (stress). Also, make sure that you're getting at least eight hours of sleep each night and that you’re drinking between six/eight glasses of water each day.

Most importantly, take a break from the stress of everyday life and schedule in some activities that you really enjoy doing!

5. Take time to explore all of your options

It’s only natural to feel lost if you didn’t receive the results that you were expecting. Although it may feel as if there’s nothing that you can do, there are always many different ways that you can go about reaching your goal(s)!

Firstly, reach out for support from your university and/or from those around you. Whether you’re advised to choose an alternative course, undergo summer tuition or retake the examinations, be sure to write down all of your options so that you’re clear on what you need to do next before you make your decision.

You might find you have many options available to you and it might start to become clear what you need to do next. There’s always another way!

6. Remember that your grades don’t define you

Your grades reflect what you’ve already done in your studies, they don’t determine what you’re going to achieve next. Failing a paper doesn’t mean your dream job is out of reach! Similarly, straight A’s don’t mean you are guaranteed any role.

Not all learning is done at university or college, and there is so much ahead of you! This year of all years has presented a huge number of challenges, and sticking to your studies and giving your exams the best you can, already makes you a success.

7. It’s not over, you can do it!

Any setback is an amazing opportunity to reset and propel yourself forward! It’s never the end until you say it is. Take your courage, strength and ability to bounce back from disappointment, and use these valuable assets to steer you into whatever you want to do in the future.


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