Even those who couldn’t have studied harder or more thoroughly get nervous when exam results are published. But if you don’t get the result you were expecting or hoping for, it can really knock you for six. Failing even the most minor test – let alone an important exam – can leave you feeling frustrated, dejected and devastated, not to mention embarrassed.

Knowing how to manage your behaviour and emotions if you fail an exam isn’t usually something you’ll find instinctive. Indeed, most people struggle with the aftermath of a result that doesn’t go their way.

But it’s certainly not the end of the world (even though you may feel it is). Many successful people had serious setbacks when they were starting out – and kept having more setbacks throughout their careers. In fact many experts believe failure is essential for success, as failing always offers invaluable opportunities for learning. So the first step to getting back on your feet is not to be too hard on yourself and realise you’re in good company.

Here are some other strategies that may be helpful:

Make a new plan

So you’ve had an exam result that didn’t go your way. What’s next? It’s important to remember you have options. But it’s even more important to weigh those options up before deciding which course of action would be best for you. Try making a list of all the pros and cons of each available option if you’re struggling to come to a decision.

Can you resit?

Find out whether you can take the exam again, if that’s what you’ve decided to do. For instance, if the exam in question is an ACA Professional Level exam, you’re allowed a maximum of 4 attempts (you’re allowed an unlimited number of attempts at the Advanced Level exams). Also check with your employer about the number of resits they will allow if you’re in an ACA training agreement.

Learn from the experience

If you’ve decided to resit the exam but you don’t have much of a clue about why you failed it, it’s a good idea to find out. Try to identify your weaknesses – if you have a clear idea of an area or areas you’re lacking in, you can tailor your study to help ensure you’re much better prepared overall during your next attempt.

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 examination (each paper requested carries a fee, currently £25).

Besides any weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge, you may have made other mistakes previously too. You may have stayed up too late revising the night before the exam, or you may have let your nerves get the better of you – either way, these things could have affected your performance. You may not have had an effective study plan or you may not have stuck to it. Or perhaps you simply didn’t have enough confidence in your abilities.

So try and identify what you could do differently next time. Aim to get a good night’s sleep the night before the resit, and look at things that may help you feel more calm as the exam approaches (see 5 easy ways to relax more and 5 meditation apps for beginners). Also remember that you don’t have to be the best or the brightest to pass exams – you just have to work and study hard, and practice.

Be more resilient

Your future attempts at passing exams – or navigating any other challenging situations – 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 pressure. But unless you’re a naturally resilient person, developing resilience takes practice. For more details, read our article 10 ways to boost your work resilience.

How CABA can help

CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please: