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What to Do When an Exam Doesn't Go Well

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It's a feeling every student knows, as you walk out of the exam hall and everyone discusses how it went. You either join in the conversation as you feel like it went fairly well, or you avoid all discussion of the disaster that just happened. If you ever feel the latter, here are some tips for what to do when the exam didn't really go to plan…

Don’t panic

It sounds obvious, but it really is important not to panic once you leave the exam hall. Try to find somewhere quiet and calm down there for a while. Remember that it is only one exam in your whole educational career, and it's not the end of the world.

Don't completely write the exam off

I think students have the tendency to assume the worst in their exam performance. However, you could be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was a particularly hard exam and thus will be marked more generously. Yet, I’m also aware, from my own experience, that sometimes you just know that it was bad, despite how many times people try to tell you 'Oh I'm sure it was fine, you’re just being hard on yourself'. In these situations look at the subsequent tips. 

Talk to other people

Talking to others can help you ascertain whether it was a paper that everyone found tricky or whether perhaps it was just you that had a bad day.  Nevertheless, if you know it went badly, talking to friends can still help, as they can make you feel better about it or put it into perspective for you.

Think about your options

I think that no single exam is important enough to mean you've completely failed your degree. So, if one exam went badly, research your options. You may be able to resit the paper, or the module. Maybe the module won't count overall, or it means that your other modules need to be better. This research can be reassuring and could help you to calm down.

Value effort above outcome

If you did the best you could then there was nothing more you could do. Results are not everything. It's important that if you truly feel that you did your best, that you know that it is enough.

Know that it happens to everyone

I can't think of a single friend of mine that can say they think every exam they've ever done went well. So don't worry; you're not alone!

Don't take it personally

Try to separate the failure from who you are.  Just because one exam went badly, doesn't mean you’re now a failure. Think of other things you’re good at and what you’ve achieved lately to avoid letting a bad exam knock your self-confidence.

Learn from it

Being hard on yourself is not helpful, but using the experience as a way of improving for the future is beneficial. Think about where you think you went wrong; what could you have done differently? Was there a particular topic you should go over more in your revision next time? While you probably won’t be able to get your exam paper back to review it, you could also take past papers of future exams, so you know what to expect for each one.

Don't dwell on it

There’s nothing you can do once the exam is over. While thinking about where can you can improve for next time is a good idea, try to resist the urge to overthink, and let it be. You can't control the outcome and you also won't know the results for a month or two regardless, so dwelling on it will just lead to anxiety, and you don't want that for your summer.

Have fun!

Taking a break from the negative thinking will help you reset and focus on what’s really important. Talk to your friends, go to the cinema, just do whatever makes you happy and helps you unwind.

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Written by Katie Roach
Katie is a third year student at UCL studying Philosophy. She is originally from Kent but now lives in London with 3 other Philosophy students. She discusses her experiences and provides advice on a range of topics.

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