Cynthia Sullivan
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Failed A Test? – Next Steps

From birth and up to the point we bite the dust, success and failure are part of our lives. Although no one likes failure, it is, in reality, a way for us to understand our shortcomings and strengths and an opportunity to make us better individuals. Besides, we would not measure and taste sweet success if we never experienced the bitterness of failure.


You have failed a test and are a little lost, wondering how to cope with this failure and what to do next? To tide over this situation, let us break it down into three pieces – (a) The problem, (b) The Reason, and (c) The Solution

The Problem

The problem of failure is rather complicated in that with failure comes a host of other issues that need to be dealt with. What are these other issues and symptoms of failure? Typical ones include:


1.Panic & Anxiety

2. Depression

3. Stress

4. Fear

5. Diminished Self-Confidence

6. Lower Self-Esteem

7. Lack of Motivation


More often than not, the victim of failure is the topic/subject of the exam. For example, if the test you failed in was in Math, chances are you will begin to develop an aversion for Math and shift focus to all subjects other than Math. Avoid being tricked by your own mind; know and understand that failing an exam is something that can be fixed – if YOU want to fix it!

The Reason

Before we can find a way out of failure and heal the wounds it brings, analyzing and introspecting the reasons behind our failure is advisable. This is because identifying the problem and understanding where, when, why, and how we went wrong can clarify, better judgment, and solutions to mend. The few but most common reasons for a student to fail a test are:


1. Over-Confidence

2. Examination Stress

3. Nervousness & Anxiety

4. Poor Mental, Emotional or Physical Health

5. Poor Learning Environment

6. Lack of Time

7. Lack of Preparation

8. Rote Learning

9. Trouble Retaining and Recalling Fact

The Solution

To overcome failing an exam, the solution can be segregated into two sections – you (as a person) and your learning methodology, strategy, and ability. But because they are related in several ways, let us blend the two and see what has to be done through a few but important steps:


1. Calm Down, Do Not Panic – Failing an exam is not the end of the world! Come to terms with your failing grade and tell yourself that you can and will do better the next time. Try not to panic and calm yourself down by going for a walk, doing some breathing exercises, or through a little meditation. Those in their early semesters understand that studying is not easy and will be a struggle and that it will take time for you to settle into your program. Unnecessarily, many do not take a failing grade in their stride. As a result, nearly one-quarter of first-year students did not return to college for their sophomore year in 2019.


2. Analyze the Situation – Understanding why you failed is just as important as doing something about it. It is always a good idea to take a sheet of paper and write down what brought about your failing grade. Refrain from making baseless accusations such as, “it was the Professor’s fault”, or “the teaching was not up to standard”. Instead, introspect a little and see what went wrong. Was it over-confidence? Or lack of preparation? Were you dealing with a challenging situation at home or office? Were there too many distractions around you? Or perhaps your learning techniques let you down and need to change?


3. Take Corrective Measures – Whatever be the reasons for failing an exam, taking corrective measures is quite obviously the next step. If the reasons were things such as over-confidence, nervousness, or anxiety, address them effectively and seek help from near and dear ones. If clutter and distraction brought you down, find ways to make your learning environment more conducive. And if it was entirely study-related, change or tweak how you study and approach your learning goals. Make every day a productive day.


4. Formulate a Plan – Once some personal factors have been addressed, it is time to prepare a good study plan. Based on the changed and tweaked study techniques you would have made by now, break down your studies into smaller units and allocate sufficient time to each unit. Build a timeline, make checklists if required, and mark milestones to periodically reach. Do not forget to include regular breaks and time for relaxation. Jot down the areas in which you are weak that let you down, and make those the concentration areas, dedicating more time and effort to them. If it is a competitive exam that you did not do well in and wish to try again, look for external resources for help. For example, students preparing for GRE can go through a GRE Prep Guide, and those attempting the GMAT can make do with a GMAT Prep Guide.


5. Get Advice & Prepare Well – Seeking advice and assistance from your professors or mentors is always a good idea. Try and get them to clear your doubts or even help you with your study techniques and plans. And finally, use all you have learned – from your failure, shortcomings, and changes you have now made, to prepare and study well for your next exam.

Recover Strong & Ace the Next Test

Always remember this – failing a test does not make you a lesser person. It does not mean that you are unintelligent or dull and that you are less capable of achieving higher scores.

Shifting focus from your failed exam to the next exam will help you recover from the shock of failure. The corrections and changes you would have made to yourself and your approach to examinations will not only help you recover but also make you a stronger and a better-prepared person to take on any exam – the next one, and the many after the next! 

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Sai Yallapragada

Cynthia is an educationalist and currently works as a lecturer at one of the reputed universities on the west coast. Cynthia has a bachelor’s and currently pursuing an online master’s in education. Cynthia has over 10 years of experience in the field of higher education.

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