how to cope with exam failure

Failing an exam can make you feel really deflated, but it’s important you don’t stay feeling that way. Discover our six top tips for picking yourself back up and coping with exam failure.

No matter how many exams you sit, waiting for the results never gets any easier. 

Unfortunately, there are times when you don’t get the result you hoped for, which can leave you feeling frustrated, dejected, devastated and embarrassed. 

you are not alone  

Exam failure isn’t the end of the world. Many successful people experienced setbacks when they first started out, and many more throughout their careers: 

  • Sir James Dyson, the mastermind behind the best-selling bagless vacuum cleaner reportedly spent 15 years making 5,126 failed prototypes before succeeding 
  • the writer, Stephen King, had his first book, Carrie, rejected by publishers. He dumped the transcript in the bin, which his wife retrieved and insisted he re-submit. He went on to secure his first ever publishing deal with that very same novel, triggering the start of his hugely successful writing career 

failure feeds success 

In fact, when it comes to success vs. failure, many experts believe failure is essential for success because the act of failing offers invaluable opportunities to learn. 

According to physicist and developer of the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein: ‘Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ Meanwhile, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, said: ‘Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’ 

If you’re reading this article after failing an exam, you’ll be happy to hear you’re in good company. The first step in dealing with exam failure involves something that’s often overlooked - not being too hard on yourself. Beating yourself up about your result won’t change the outcome at the end of the day, as much as you would like it to. 

With that in mind, here are six, easy-to-follow best practice strategies for helping you deal with exam failure. Embrace them all or just some of parts of them, however you feel they work best for you. 

steps for dealing with exam failure:   

make a new plan of action  

When an exam result doesn’t go your way, it’s essential you look beyond the result and focus on what’s next. Because you do have options, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way. 

However, it’s even more important you weigh up your options before deciding on which course of action is best for you. The most effective way to do this is by listing out all of the options available to you. If you’re still struggling to decide what your next step should be, assess the pros and cons of all of your options. This will help you whittle them down and create a logical action plan. 

explore your resit options   

It may be the last thing you want to do, but if you do want to resit, then you should look into what the resit options are. 

For instance, you can retake ACA Professional Level exams up to four times, while Advanced Level exams can be taken an unlimited number of times. If you’re in an ACA training agreement, you may want to check with your employer about the number of resits you can do. 

learn from your last exam  

If you’ve decided to resit your exam, but aren’t sure why you failed, it’s a good idea to find out. Try to identify your weaknesses - if you have a clear idea of the area/areas you’re lacking in, you then can tailor your studying to make sure you’re much better prepared overall for the next time. 

If the exam you failed is an ACA written paper, you can use an ICAEW service to request marks feedback for up to 12 months from the date of the exam (each paper requested costs £25). 

perfect your exam routine 

Knowledge gaps may have contributed to your exam failure. But so too may have many other mistakes. For example, staying up too late revising the night before the exam or feeling really overcome by nerves on the actual day of the exam. It may be that you didn’t have an effective study plan in place or that you didn’t stick with it. These are all areas you can draw upon to help perfect your performance next time around. 

Spend some time identifying what you could do differently next time. Aim to get a good night’s sleep the night before your resit and make sure you feel as calm and relaxed as possible about the whole process. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself either. You don’t have to be the best or the brightest to pass exams, you just need to work and study hard and practice. 

build your resilience 

Your future attempts at passing exams may be more successful if you learn to bounce back more effectively. 

Being more resilient will help stop you going into panic mode and allow you to cope better whenever you feel under any type of pressure, not just exam-related pressure. But unless you’re a naturally resilient person, developing resilience takes time and practice. For guidance on being more resilient take a look our on demand course.

“My employer terminated my contract because of the failed exam. So it became very clear to me that if I didn’t change my approach I was going to lose everything I had been working for. I realised I needed help, and I did 2 things. First, I explained to my employer the situation I was in and the pressure I was under. And then I reached out to caba.”


caba client

reach out to us 

We’re here to help you when personal or work stress is too much. Chat to us today. 

Best of luck with resitting your exam. While it may be the last thing you want to think about or do right now, plenty of preparation, self-care and the right outlook can help you put that initial exam failure firmly behind you. 

In the meantime, for a practical pick-me-up in relation to revising and resitting your exam, read this article, ‘How to approach your revision with a positive mindset.’  

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