4 Critical Things to Do if You Fail an Exam

Failing an exam is not something desirable but sometimes it happens. When it does, what matters is not that we failed but how we respond.

#1. Find Out the Cause of the Failure

In Nigeria, there’s a saying that, when a child slips and falls on the road, he looks ahead and not behind; crying, looking for succour. But when an adult slips and falls on the road, he looks behind to see what made him fall.

The child who falls and does not identify why he fell is in danger of falling again because when he comes across what brought him down in the first instance, he wouldn’t identify it and so, would not avoid it. But, the adult who falls and seeks to identify what brought about his fall will discover it and be able to avoid it afterwards.

Failing an exam is like tripping off on the road. If you do not sincerely go over what led to the failure, you may not succeed the next time.

The genesis of failure can be from You – your actions, inactions, mistakes, mindset, approach, laxity and so on or Others – people, things or forces and their influences that acted against you or didn’t go in your favour.Finding out the source is the first step to tackling failure effectively.

Here are five ways to do that:

Do a Quick Overview

This check will help you pinpoint if the fault was entirely yours or there was interference from others. Carefully and honestly review the long academic process leading up to the exams; what happened while taking it, and afterwards. Were you caught in malpractice? Did your scripts get missing? Were your scores wrongly inputted? Did an examiner victimize you? Ask questions. If you need to (and it’s possible), meet the relevant people and get answers.

Evaluate Your Efforts in that Subject in the Outgone Term

This includes reflecting on,

  1. Your input towards class attendance.
  2. Your attentiveness and note taking in class.
  3. Elements of your reading and studying, including concentration, assimilation, memorization and retention.
  4. Your commitment to assignments, group work, practicals and preparation for tests and exams.

Figure out where your effort was abysmal.

Check if You Have a Foundational Problem with the Course

Sometimes, the real problem we have with a subject predates that term. If there are pre-requisite courses for that subject, not properly grasping them earlier on could affect how you fare in this one.

At times, it may be that you have been having a consistently poor performance in a subject, which you have ignored only for it to now take its toll on you.

Take for instance, a student who has been having problems with mathematics through grade school and high school, but has been managing to get along. If such falters at a bigger hurdle in college mathematics, you know it’s largely because the foundation has been weak all along.   

Do a Peer Review

Ask some of your friends (or classmates) who did well in the course (or who you look up to), what they did to avoid failure and what they think you should do to avoid failing again.

Speak to Your Tutor or an Examiner

If after all these, you still do not identify the issues, you may need to speak with your tutor(s). Let him/her be aware of what you have done to assess your poor performance and let him/her guide you.

If it is a professional or external exam, you may also need to speak with examiners (at least two) in that subject area.

Now, once you are able to pinpoint the problem area(s), re-strategize. Plan a workable approach and commence preparation for the re-sit. 

#2. Do a Mind Preparation Before the Re-Sit

Before you begin preparations to re-write an exam, you need a mental preparation. You need a renewed disposition of the mind. And you must sustain this mental posture through your preparation, the actual exam, until after you have handed over your paper.

This preparation is necessary to combat and overcome the missiles of fear that will attack your mind. The memories of failure would trigger the arrows of pessimism, panic, doubt, anxiety and apprehension. And then you will begin to feel like: ‘What if I fail again?’ ‘I just pray I don’t!’ ‘I hope I get it right this time’. However, if your mind is rightly programmed, there would be nothing to worry about.

Here are some things to do:

Develop a Positive Mindset

In everything we do, there will always be positive and negative probabilities. Having a positive mindset or attitude, does not mean you are not aware of possible undesired, negative, discouraging or harmful outcomes that may come your way; but it is the decision to shift your focus from all of that to the positive possibility.

It is focusing your mind and strength on the brighter side of life. It is the deliberate refusal to digest or absorb the thought of failure.

So, having made all your plans to give a better approach, decidenot to meditate on failure. Imagine and picture in your mind how you wrote well in your exam and how you got a very good grade. Visualize how you wrote that course, and did not fail again. Every time mention is made of the exam, let your heart be glad because you’re going to excel.

Talk to Yourself

Nobody can talk to you better than you can! If the most sensational motivational speakers in the world come to tell you, that you are bright enough to do well in school; but you keep telling yourself you are the dumbest kid around, your mind will listen to your voice and jettison every other thing you have been told.

So, disregard every voice reminding you of how you failed – giving you a hundred and one reasons why you will fail again. Tell yourself: ‘Look, I’ve learnt all the lessons I need to learn, now is time to forge ahead’; tell your brain: ‘You are smart enough to ace this course’. Say to yourself, ‘I only failed because some things went wrong not because I’m not good enough’.

Remind yourself how you passed the other courses – look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself. ‘If I passed the other subjects, I can pass this one too’; ‘If others passed this course, I will pass it too!’ Keep doing these and just before you know it, you would have written the exams and passed with flying colours!

#3. Analyze Past Questions

Analyzing and answering past questions are always very helpful in overcoming re-sits. First, you may need to examine the assignment, assessment and exam questions of the last session where you failed. Do your best to answer them and note the general topics the questions were drawn from.

Then you may need to check those from previous years. Examine the topics they covered (also compare them with the one you failed) and see if certain topics feature often. If you find that questions were repeatedly taken from some topics, then they probably are of interest to your tutor (or examiners) and questions will likely be drawn from them again.

Take care not to focus on the questions per se, but the topic(s) the questions cover.

#4. Put in Twice the Effort

Let’s assume that everything I have said here were things you had done and still failed, then probably what you need is more effort.

We can’t desire increased output, if we do not increase the input. So, it is important that you invest at least twice the effort you made when you failed the last time. When you do so, you are likely to also get at least twice the results you got the other time.

Try it, it works like fire!


Get your FREE copy of my inspirational poetry chapbook, When I Became a Manhere  


pp (7) new About the Author Ogaga Eruteya is a Nigerian Christian minister, writer and speaker. He writes on Faith, Personal Development, Youth Development, and Life Realities. With his words, he seeks to inspire, motivate, propagate life’s truths and represent a sincere Christian voice. Learn more about Ogaga here.

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