Failing an exam is an unpleasant thing. Suddenly, you find yourself in a situation in which you wonder: Why did I fail the exam? Did I study ineffectively? How can I motivate myself again? What can I do to pass the exam next time? With this article, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) wants to support you in dealing with exam failures.
What should I do if I fail an exam?
A failed exam is usually considered a problem at universities and in the entire education system. For the students concerned, having failed an exam is often a reason to worry, ranging from doubts about their own ability to learn and considerations about whether they have chosen the right degree programme to financial hardship.
Without colouring the situation, exam failure can also be seen as a helpful intermediate step – although this is usually only possible after you have processed the message about the failed exam. For example, this experience will tell you how and what you should study for the exam or how you can acquire new competences. Sometimes it could also be useful to reconsider your specialisation or even your decision regarding the degree programme.
The following steps will support you in dealing with and reflecting on a failed exam in a structured way:
1) Be aware of your emotions and accept them
Failure hurts. Knowing that you have failed an exam, you might feel various emotions such as anger, incomprehension or despair. Be aware of them and give them space. It may be helpful to talk to someone about it or just to take time to deal with the disappointment. Do not jump into action immediately, but take a break and give yourself a treat.
2) Analyse the situation
Analyse the causes of the failure. What was your part in it: Did you underestimate the time required for studying (here you can find tips on time management, exam preparation and tips to avoid procrastination)? Did you notice gaps in knowledge of the content? Did you make careless mistakes? And which factors could you not influence yourself? Was the type of exam new to you? Evaluate the causes and learn from them for further steps.
3) View the exam documents and the feedback on the exam
Viewing the exam documents and feedback from the examiner is very valuable for analysing the causes of the exam failure. Take advantage of the opportunity, if possible: It is important to understand what worked well and what did not.This helps you to improve yourself. It is also relevant to know whether you failed the exam narrowly or very clearly.
4) Next steps
Avoid brooding about the failed exam. Instead, look ahead and plan your next steps (here you can find tips for increasing your motivation). Focus on what you can control and change. Leave the failed exam behind you as an experience and take with you what you have learned during this whole process.
Tips: Use the university support offers and other support structures
A failed exam is unpleasant for you personally and you are probably in good company. Sharing your experience with others can be supportive, especially in view of the next examination attempt:
- The University of Vienna offers different support services for students, ranging from the STEOP mentoring for studentsand subject-specific tutorials to support in academic research and writing.
Failure is an individual experience, which can mean different things depending on your personal situation. Quite commonly, it leads to self-doubt and feelings of loneliness. You can deal with this individual experience together – which might make it less stressful:
- The Psychological Counselling Service offers a wide range of services and, in addition to initial information on the website, also offers free counselling via chat and in person. Sometimes there is a long waiting list, but do not be discouraged by that.
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