Coping with exam disappointment

Coping with exam disappointment

Wednesday, 01 September 2021

Sitting an exam or assessment can be daunting enough. However, the wait before finally getting your results can be even more nail-biting. 

For some, opening the results envelope brings a wash of relief. However, for others, it can lead to disappointment, confusion, guilt, upset and anger.

Allow your feelings

Some feelings can be uncomfortable and our instinct is to push them away. We might think that we ‘shouldn’t’ feel disappointed or upset.

You may find well wishers telling you ‘you should be delighted’ or ‘don’t feel bad, it’s only an exam’. While their intention is good, it’s important to acknowledge how you really feel.

If we avoid difficult feelings, they often have a way of resurfacing again. So allow yourself time and space to acknowledge how you feel.

You could try talking to someone who is prepared to listen rather than give advice. Or spend some time quietly reflecting by yourself. Writing down how you feel may also help to make sense of it.

Difficult feelings

Allow yourself some time to acknowledge any unpleasant feelings that come up. Writing can be a good way of doing this.

Person writing in a notebook

Don’t compare

How many times have we heard this, but the temptation is so hard to resist! Once we open our own results, our natural reaction is to look at what others got.

We can feel pressure to be the best.  If you are comparing yourself to others, ask if you are comparing like with like?

Did you have exactly the same educational journey? Did you face the same personal situations throughout this time? Did you have the same supports around you?

Did you face the same pressures and stresses? How do you know? Is making comparisons making you feel better about yourself?

If you are answering ‘no,’ then any comparisons are unfair and most likely unhelpful.

If you are comparing yourself to others, ask if you are comparing like with like?

Your results don’t define you

Even if we think we’ve ‘failed’ at something, that does not make us a ‘failure’.  There are so many other things that make us who we are. Be careful not to label yourself based on one thing you have done.

Your results are also not a predictor of your future success. If you didn’t do well in this set of exams, it doesn’t mean you can never do well in exams. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other paths open to you.

Try to avoid thinking in ‘all or nothing’ terms.

Two young people sitting on a couch, smiling and talking


If you wouldn’t say it a close friend, try not to say it to yourself.

Be kind to yourself

Now is not the time to beat yourself up about what you did or didn’t do. Tune in to what you are telling yourself.

Do you have a harsh ‘inner-critic‘?  If you wouldn’t say it to a close friend, try not to say it to yourself.

Think about how you are spending your time and try to focus on things that make you feel good about yourself. Try to prioritise things that support your self-care over the next while.


Make a plan

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to crack an egg. So when you feel ready, start looking at the range of options open to you.

Your next step may be to repeat, to appeal, to look at alternative choices for the future.  It might be helpful to talk through your options with someone you trust. But remember, there are options.

Looking ahead

Remember, there are options out there for you.

Two people sticking post-it notes to a wall, brainstorming

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