How to cope with failure at university exam

How to cope with failure at university exam
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How to cope with failure in university exams? This article will explore three essential steps that can assist you in this process. Whether you face disappointment from an unsuccessful exam or receive a low grade on an essay, encountering failure at university is consistently disheartening.

Regrettably, it brings about various distressing emotions. Failure can negatively impact your mental state, diminish your overall academic experience, trigger feelings of depression, generate doubts about your suitability for university, and more.

However, why does failure at university evoke such intense fear? In many instances, this apprehension stems from the fact that university represents the first significant challenge for most students.

Failure is inevitable in everyone’s journey, as life is far from effortless and never meant to be so. Nonetheless, overcoming it can prove exceptionally challenging when it transpires for the first time, particularly during one’s formative years.

It is ok to fail at university

Indeed, you read that correctly. Undoubtedly, failure is not the desired outcome, but what happens when it inevitably occurs? The university encompasses much more than just academic pursuits.

It presents a challenge to navigate various aspects of life, such as time management, handling tight deadlines, coping with stress and anxiety, multitasking, adjusting to independent living, forging friendships, and much more.

University serves as a transition into the “real world,” equipping individuals with academic and non-academic skills to prepare them for what lies ahead.

One mustn’t allow failure to strip away everything, for there is always a silver lining, as dictated by the laws of nature. Following a setback at university, it’s effortless to fall into a spiral of thoughts like, “I have failed an exam; perhaps I am not capable of succeeding in university,” or “I am unable to cope with a failed assignment; should I consider dropping out?” or even “I feel utterly useless and depressed at university, a complete failure.” Additionally, a low grade on an essay might prompt the question, “What do I do now?”

Whenever such thoughts arise, recall the wisdom of the quotes above and the individuals who uttered them. Begin to shift your perspective on failure and perceive it as an opportunity for growth and transformation.

The nature of failure at university

The concept of failure in a university setting extends beyond a simple pass or fail grade, as it introduces a problematic element: a comparison. This comparison can evoke feelings of worthlessness when you realise that others have succeeded while you have not. It leads to self-doubt, questioning your suitability for university, and a sense of inferiority in the presence of seemingly more intelligent peers.

Once these thoughts take hold, they have a detrimental effect on your confidence. Doubt starts to overshadow your every endeavour, whether an assignment or an exam. Moreover, concerns about your future employment prospects after university consume you. You start questioning whether you will be able to secure a job. In short, your faith in your abilities diminishes, and your self-esteem suffers.

It is crucial to break free from this cycle of comparison and self-doubt. Constantly measuring yourself against other students could be more productive and healthy. Although challenging, it is vital to stop comparing yourself to others. Remember, the university is not a competition but a personal journey of growth and learning.

Please refrain from comparing yourself to your peers. This is a necessary step. It may be tempting to compare yourself, but if you continue to do so, restoring your lost confidence will be increasingly difficult. Recognising that some individuals may excel academically is essential, but your capabilities remain strong. Everyone faces failures and setbacks, even if you are unaware of them.

Each person possesses unique strengths and weaknesses. Embrace your individuality and strive to discover and develop your strengths.

Best books on failure

  • “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday
  • “Failing Forward” by John C. Maxwell
  • “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck
  • “Rising Strong” by Brené Brown
  • “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed
  • “The Up Side of Down” by Megan McArdle
  • “The Art of Failure” by Neel Burton
  • “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown
  • “Emotional Agility” by Susan David
  • “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries

These books offer valuable insights and perspectives on failure, resilience, and personal growth. They guide how to navigate setbacks, learn from failures, and harness the power of resilience to achieve success.

1. Managing failure at the university, first step: remain calm and composed

Experiencing failure in an exam, essay, module, or any coursework can be difficult to accept. Initially, you simultaneously undergo mixed emotions like anger and disappointment, which is far from enjoyable.

During this period, you feel vulnerable and mentally weak, and that’s the real challenge. If you allow yourself to believe that you are not capable enough for the university during this vulnerable state, it will become much harder to change that conviction later on.

Therefore, the first step after facing failure is to control your thoughts and prevent them from undermining your self-esteem. It’s essential to “cool it down.”

Try to distract yourself as much as possible, maintaining your usual routine. Students make This common mistake when they fail at university; they completely withdraw from life. It becomes even worse if you have other exams or assignments approaching.

Imagine failing an exam and then isolating yourself in your room for days. Remember the vulnerability you experience initially – it can severely impact your confidence.

While it’s impossible not to think about the failure, you can contain its impact. Go outside, engage in physical activity like running or taking a long walk, spend time with friends, or reach out to your family – live!

Focus your thoughts and discussions on other topics, not just on failure. This will help you realise that life continues, and you should too. Moreover, keeping your mind occupied will prevent it from causing excessive damage, which is crucial as you face future challenges in university.

2. Addressing failure at university, step 2: Engaging in Self-reflection

Alright, now we come to the next step in dealing with failure at university: self-reflection. As mentioned before, it is normal to feel down initially, but how long you dwell on it is up to you.

You have control over your response, and eventually, you will need to pick yourself up. Take a moment to relax, breathe deeply, and analyse where things went wrong.

You can either continue believing that you are not capable enough for university, which can negatively impact your mental well-being and overall university experience, or rise above it and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Failure is a part of the university journey, providing an opportunity to learn and grow. But how can you effectively learn from failure at university? The best approach is to begin by questioning yourself.

Self-reflection is integral to the academic journey and can greatly contribute to improvement. It is also a valuable skill that extends beyond university and can benefit you in various aspects of life. Therefore, it is essential to cultivate this skill.

Now, we will explore two types of self-reflection following failure at university:

  1. Self-reflection after failing an assignment, such as an essay.
  2. Self-reflection after failing an exam.

Self-reflection on failing an assignment

If you have failed an assignment, such as an essay, you have likely received feedback on it. Start by focusing on the areas where you received low marks.

Did you need help with the structure of your assignment, the content, critical thinking, or referencing? Identify those specific areas that performed poorly and prioritise them.

If you feel the feedback you received is too general or standardised for all students, don’t hesitate to ask for more details. Be proactive and request a meeting or additional clarification.

Remember, seeking more information is for your benefit. Feel free to reach out to the relevant individuals. Send emails if necessary, and if you don’t receive a timely response, politely visit your lecturer’s office during their open hours to request a meeting or schedule one.

Additionally, remember the support available to you, such as your tutor, academic writing service, or student support services. These resources help you understand the feedback and obtain more comprehensive guidance. It’s their responsibility to assist you.

Once you have obtained the necessary information, be direct in your approach. Ask questions like, “How can I improve my grades in the next assignment?” Remember that academic writing follows specific principles, regardless of how good it may sound to you initially.

Self-reflection on failing an exam

Failing an exam can have more significant consequences compared to failing an assignment. In this case, it is assumed that you tried to prepare for the exam, but something didn’t go as planned.

As mentioned earlier, improving your academic writing skills can already positively impact your exam performance. However, a deeper level of self-reflection is necessary when reflecting on a failed exam.

You need to identify the underlying causes of the failure, starting with how you prepared for the exam. If you experience exam anxiety while studying, it’s important to address it.

Finding ways to alleviate study-related stress and anxiety is crucial. If you need help figuring out where to start, focusing on your physical well-being is an easy entry point. Engage in activities that get you fresh air or exercise (which doesn’t necessarily require going to the gym; a long walk can suffice). Additionally, prioritise healthier eating habits, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and ensure you get quality sleep, among other things.

Consider your study and revision methods as well. Sometimes, despite feeling adequately prepared for an exam, you may experience mental blocks once you take it. You struggle to recall the information you reviewed, and your mind goes blank. While this can also be a sign of exam anxiety, it’s worth questioning your study approach.

For instance, if you find it challenging to retain information after revising, you could explore visual learning methods like mind maps and flowcharts. These visual aids can enhance memory retention, so experimenting with them during exam preparation could be beneficial.

Addressing failure at university, step 3: Seek support

This marks the final stage, the culmination of the journey through university failure. Many students encounter immense difficulty when it comes to discussing their failures.

It’s not solely because they feel inadequate for university, perceiving themselves as intellectually inferior to their peers; an additional factor is at play.

The fear of disappointing others weighs heavily – family, friends, and those who have supported them. They worry they may no longer view them in the same light, questioning their intellect.

Overcoming the inferiority complex about fellow students may be possible, but the fear of letting down loved ones, the fear of disappointment, persists.

Discussing failure becomes arduous with such fears in mind. Consequently, many opt to conceal their failures, attempting to evade reality. However, one cannot escape from reality indefinitely.

Consider the previous steps: it now becomes evident that speaking out about your failure is meaningful. It is important to note that speaking solely about failure is not the objective; that phase has passed.

Acknowledging that you have experienced a setback in an exam, assignment, or other endeavour is not the end of the story. At this point, there is something else you can add to the narrative, isn’t there?

Reflect on it. You have learned to “cool it down,” making wiser decisions by avoiding emotional instability. This demonstrates maturity on your part.

You have engaged in self-reflection to identify areas where you went wrong. This is another positive aspect, showing you are learning from your mistakes. You are actively addressing anxiety (if present) and improving your study methods.

It is no longer solely about failure but how you respond to it! Therefore, do not be afraid to open up and discuss it; once you can do so freely, you have triumphed over failure at university!


As mentioned earlier, experiencing failure is an inevitable part of life. This post aimed to offer a fresh perspective on failure at university, whether it’s related to an exam or receiving a low mark on an assignment.

Failure presents valuable opportunities for growth and resilience. By harnessing its lessons, you can bounce back even stronger. We also have another post on how to become a successful student at university, which you may find helpful.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. We hope these three steps for coping with failure at university have benefited you.

Please remember that everything shared on this blog is based on the author’s experiences and opinions, so consider it as supplementary information only.

Remember, the university is a journey, not a competition. You are more than capable. Wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

Author Bio:

Mark Edmonds is a dedicated professional at Academic Assignments, a renowned provider of top-quality assignment writing services. With expertise in online exam help, Mark strives to support students in achieving their academic goals.