Five tips on dealing with exam disappointment

disappointed student

It is the results season, and next week will see a Results Day like no other. For the first time ever, GCSE and A Level results are coming out in the same week, which means it is going to be an intense one! 

Despite the hard work of both students and teachers this year, there will still be disappointed teenagers out there – it is sad but inevitable. Some students take longer than others to get to grips with a subject and the examination requirements. At university, I had a module where my coursework essay marks were low, as I just could not get my head around what the tutors were after. However, in the last few weeks before the examination, something clicked for me, and I secured a First in the exam. It is always possible to turn your progress around, and there will be students who felt they were not given long enough to shine. 

So what to do now? Here are some tips on dealing with exam disappointment. 

Be kind to yourself 

There are some processes that will need to be started as soon as possible, particularly if you decide you would like to sit the examinations in November. However, try not to rush into anything. You may be in a state of shock, and you cannot make important decisions about the future in this condition. Take the time to accept what has happened. I often advise students in this state to go home, take an evening to wallow, watch rubbish films, eat tonnes of chocolate, and then come back to school the next day ready to make an action plan and move on. Failing an exam is not the end of the world, but it can feel like this to some students, who have put their all into their studies. You may need time to adjust and reset, before you are able to move on. 

Discuss it with your teachers 

Once you are ready, do not be afraid to discuss the grades you received with your teachers, if you think that this will help you move on. Your teachers know that the grades they have given will impact your future, and in some cases, it will have been a difficult decision to make. Make sure you do fall into the blame game trap. Your teachers would much rather have not had to be in this position. 

You may not be able to face the subject teacher, but there should be a senior member of staff available to talk. This is their job after all. Schools have systems in place to support students through this, so make sure that you use them. If you were planning to move to a new school or college for post-sixteen study, and you have not met the grade requirements, reach out if you can. Whilst schools do give minimum grade expectations, I have seen these waivered sometimes, normally with conditions in place, such as taking alternative subjects, for example switching from A Level to BTEC. It is so important to reach out and communicate as soon as you are ready. 

Avoid social media 

I would strongly advise not going on to social media. You are likely to see other students celebrating their results, which is not going to help you. Furthermore, people may want to ask you how you got on. Do not be afraid to turn off your phone if you cannot face talking to anyone. If your friends are true friends, they will understand how you feel, and they will still be there when you are ready to talk again. Family members are harder to shut out, and your parents in particular will want to help you, but may not quite understand what you need. If you need space to think, reassure them that you do want their help, but you need a few hours to yourself before you are ready. 

Focus on the future 

You cannot undo what has gone before, but you can start making plans for the future. You have options. In particular, you can sit the examinations in November if you wish to. Think carefully about this option, as it may be better to move on, especially if it is a case of wanting a particular grade, rather than needing it. You will be sitting an examination on content you have not studied for several months, and depending on your school, the support you get may be limited. If you feel passionately about proving yourself in the exam room, then do it, but consider the option carefully, and also listen to the advice of your teachers. 

Instead, think about the opportunities that lie before you. Are there any lessons you learn to help you move forward? Do you know deep down that you could have worked harder earlier on in the course, instead of relying on a last minute surge to carry you through? If you have had to change subjects or options, think of the new pathways that may have opened up. Life has a strange way sometimes of leading us to the places we were meant to be, and you may look back in ten years time and see that this disappointment you are feeling now, was actually all part of a bigger plan. 

Seek professional help 

Sometimes however much we try to move on and focus on the future, we cannot. If you think that you might be experiencing something more serious, then make sure you seek help. This is where talking to your parents or another adult you trust, such as a form tutor, is really important. Be honest with others about how you are feeling, and do not try to put on a brave face when inside you are really struggling. This will pass, but sometimes we need a bit of a helping hand to get through it. 

If you are a parent or student looking for further support with English, please check out Bright Sky Tutoring. I am a qualified secondary English teacher, offering one to one and group tutoring. To find out more about my services, please get in touch at

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