How to Cope with Exam Failure


  1. Is it bad to fail an exam?
  2. Is it normal to fail exams?
  3. What causes exam failure?
  4. What happens if you fail your exams?
  5. What to do when you fail an exam?
  6. How to ask your parent to support you
  7. How to prepare for exams


Failing an exam can feel like the end of the world especially when you feel like everything was riding on it. We’re going to give you some simple but effective strategies on how to cope with exam failure so you can be ready to bounce back and face the next challenge head-on. We understand how difficult it can be to deal with exam failure so we have some top tips for you.child wearing school uniform taking an exam in an exam hall

Is it bad to fail an exam?


Failing an exam isn’t necessarily bad and can actually be helpful in some situations. This all has to do with what level you are at (e.g. primary school vs uni). It also depends on what kind of an exam it is and what it counts towards. 

If you fail a mock exam then this can work in your favour. It should give you the drive and motivation to revise for the real deal. It also lets you know where you went wrong so you can focus on any problem areas. This advice will help no matter what qualification you are aiming for, from GCSE to Leaving Cert.

Even failing a uni exam isn’t usually enough to stop someone from reaching their desired career. Perhaps you can resit the exam. It’s also important to consider what other grades are taken into account such as presentations or assignments. Usually, one exam doesn’t mean failure of an entire subject. 


Is it normal to fail exams?


Many people will fail an exam at least once in their lifetime. This is especially true at school because there are core subjects that everyone has to take and we can’t all be experts in everything. The same is still true for many on A-Level results day, even if they had been focussing on specific subjects. Although frustratingly, we all knew that person at school who seemed to breeze through every subject.

Usually, everyone will struggle with at least one subject and likely have their favourites too. Even if you go on to university, you will usually have to undertake some core classes that are compulsory and slightly left-field of your chosen study area. 

What’s more, even the brightest students can fail exams at times due to environmental factors. This could be changing schools (and possibly country) or their parents getting a divorce. Big life events can easily distract you but it doesn’t mean you won’t get back on track again. 


What causes exam failure?


As we mentioned, there can be environmental factors that play on your mind that can hinder you from studying and/or ruin your concentration. We won’t focus on these as a direct cause but be aware of any family or external issues you might be experiencing in the lead-up to an exam. 

Here are some common causes of failing exams surrounding issues with preparation and knowledge, both key to any student’s success. 

  • Lack of revision, effort or understanding

Although most students try hard, of course, there are times when some students can identify they just didn’t put enough effort in. There are many reasons why this happens but it usually comes down to the fact they didn’t find the subject interesting. 🙄

It could be that it really wasn’t relevant to them and they couldn’t see the point, especially if it’s a subject that isn’t a part of their future plan. Or perhaps it was too challenging for their skillsets (one kid might fail PE but ace maths and vice versa) and they felt overwhelmed.

If it’s a core subject that you have to continue studying then you’ll need to find a way to stay motivated. A good option is to find a tutor as they can teach the material in a manner, on a one-to-one basis. At GoStudent, we always create tailored learning plans for each individual student. Our tutors will help improve your grades and boost your confidence. 

  • Ineffective studying

This is a very common trap that students run into. Even if you’ve studied every spare minute of the day, if you haven’t been taught how to study effectively, you can still fail an exam. This is bad for morale but doesn’t mean you can’t improve. 

Here are some top tips to improve the quality of your study time:

  • Don’t cram - this doesn’t lead to effective memorising or understanding of a topic. Space out study time. 
  • Use retrieval practise - if you just re-read material you often recognise it and feel that you know it as a result. It’s important to practise remembering information without looking back at it.
  • Exam jitters

It could be a simple but frustrating case of getting the exam jitters. If you get very nervous before exams it can impact how you think and process information. It’s common to misread questions in this state of mind and make it look like there was a knowledge gap but perhaps you actually knew the content. 

You could also have run out of time which means practising exams in the run-up to exam time in the future would be useful for you so that you’re more relaxed and know what to expect. 


What happens if you fail your exams?


This will depend on what type of exam it is and what level of education you are at. A good starting point is to discuss it with your teacher or lecturer. Perhaps you can retake the test or there were extenuating circumstances you hadn’t made your school or uni aware of. 


What to do when you fail an exam?


When you fail an exam it’s likely you will feel a combination of emotions. You could be angry, frustrated, shocked, embarrassed, depressed, and experience a range of other (usually) negative feelings. 

Let’s look at how you can bounce back by feeling better in the short term and planning for the future. ✨

Check out our GCSE Results Day FAQ to be able to better process your results.

  • How to deal with failing a test: making yourself feel better

Here are some of the best ways to cope after failing an exam:

  • Relax - breathe and try not to panic
  • Speak to someone - whoever you feel most comfortable with or all of the following for maximum benefit: friends, family and teachers
  • Consider your options - a teacher will be able to guide you on this
  • Lesson learned - even though it’s disappointing, you will learn from it and figure out what went wrong
  • Distraction - do something you love, whether your hobby is cooking, music, running, etc.
  • What to do when you fail a test: positive steps for the future

Now that you’re feeling better about your exam result you should be able to concentrate on your future and take positive action. 

If you know you need to improve your revision strategies in the future you can focus on improving your study habits. Creating a timetable to help break down your time into realistic chunks will help you feel more organised and give you the confidence you can achieve everything if you stay on track and don’t leave everything until the last minute. 

If you struggled with understanding the content then joining or starting a study group with peers could be useful. Getting a private tutor is another positive step you could take. One-on-one teaching presents the information in a completely different manner than in a classroom setting. If you find an online tutor, you will benefit from feeling comfortable in your home and feel less pressure too.


How to ask your parent to support you


If you fail an exam it’s common that your parents might think you haven’t tried hard enough. However, as we’ve seen, there are many reasons why you may have failed, even if you dedicated many hours to studying. Either way, your parent’s support is going to be crucial for your morale and motivation to continue learning. 

Ensuring that your parents recognise why you failed is a useful start. If you did try hard then they can’t be angry at your effort but instead will need to work out how to support you to improve your knowledge and understanding going forwards. It’s normal for students to have strengths and weaknesses!

If the subject is compulsory and unavoidable (like maths or English) getting a GoStudent tutor can really help. Simply explaining theories and information in a different manner usually does the trick. Plus, you can feel open enough to ask questions whenever you want and not be hesitant in front of peers. 

If your parent is feeling upset with you then make sure you give them time to calm down before having a conversation with them. When you’re ready, have an honest discussion with them. Talk to them about why you believe you failed the exam. Then you can make a plan of attack together. 👍


How to prepare for exams


Failing an exam is a chance for you to improve things in the future. While it might mean studying harder, joining a study group, or getting a private tutor, there is a lot you can do to help yourself.

  • Have a nutritious breakfast on the day of the exam. While you should have this every day to support your brains it’s so important not to skip it on stressful exam mornings 
  • Talk about how you feel and gauge your stress levels 
  • Make sure you have time off studying. Go for a walk for an hour or get out of the house to give your brain a rest and a chance to process the information you’ve been learning 
  • Remember the other things you are good at outside of one exam or subject or even school/uni. If you’re an avid painter, reader, etc., take some time off from study during exam time to enjoy your hobby

If you fail an exam just remember the first thing you need to do is to stay calm. Together with your parents and teachers, you can work out what went wrong and then put a plan into place on where to go next and give yourself the best chance of success in future exams.