Moving on from disappointing results

Posted in: academic skills, exams, feedback, reflective learning, resilience

Didn’t get the exam results you wanted? Here are some practical ways to move past the disappointment and come back stronger.

1. Allow yourself to feel disappointed (for a while)

Disappointment hurts and it’s OK to feel frustrated or upset. Give yourself a little time to process your feelings. (If you’re struggling, you can contact Student Support’s Wellbeing Service.)

But try not to get stuck on negative thoughts.

2. Challenge negative thoughts

After a disappointment, it’s easy to slip into unhelpful thought patterns, like ‘Why can’t I …?’ or ‘I’ll never be able to …’.

Notice the way you talk to yourself and consciously challenge self-critical or pessimistic thoughts.

Remind yourself that academic skills are complex but learnable. Perhaps there are certain skills you haven’t fully developed yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. A disappointing grade doesn’t define you, diminish your other achievements or mean you can’t succeed in the future.

Now it’s time to focus on what to do next.

3. Reflect on what happened

It takes courage to look back on something that didn’t go to plan, but this is a vital step in learning from the experience and moving forward.

Think back to the period before and during the exams. Give yourself credit for the things that you did well – and there will have been many. Then work on pinpointing what you could do differently next time. For example, you might ask yourself:

  • Did I spend enough time revising?
  • Did I revise the right material?
  • Did I revise effectively?
  • Did I do enough timed practice?
  • Did I understand what the exam was assessing?
  • For open-book exams, were my notes and resources well organised?
  • Did I make the best use of my time during the exam?
  • Did I write clearly, concisely and critically?

You may also have received some written feedback. If so, read it carefully and check you understand it. Use this feedback guide to help you.

4. Devise your action plan

Now you’re ready to set some goals. Use your reflections and any feedback to identify some areas you could work on before your next exams.

Do you need guidance on time management, revision techniques, exam strategy or writing skills? Do you need a better understanding of the course aims or assessment criteria?

For each goal, ask yourself:

  • What kind of information and resources do I need?
  • Where can I find these resources and who can I ask for advice? (Clue: make sure the Skills Centre is on this list!)
  • What would progress in this skill look like?
  • What evidence can I collect to show I am making progress?
  • How will I record my progress?

Avoid setting too many goals – choose two or three and you’ll be more likely to stick at them.

Finally, remember that disappointment is an inevitable part of life. Whenever we push ourselves to try difficult things, we risk failing at them at first. Yet this is a risk we must take if we’re to fulfil our potential and eventually succeed. That’s why learning how to bounce back from disappointment – and grow from it – is one of the most valuable life skills we can develop.

If you have any tips for moving on from disappointing results, please share them in the comments.

 (Featured image by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash)


Posted in: academic skills, exams, feedback, reflective learning, resilience

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