Learn to overcome stress of failing an exam

Aditi Kulkarni

Published on


Every year, when exam results are declared, the student population goes through emotional ups and downs. But believe it or not, your score has little bearing on how successful you can be in the future! Most people find that hard to believe, yet it is true.

Scored poorly in your exams? Feeling disappointed with your score? Didn’t do as well as you expected? You are not alone. Many youngsters grapple with low exam scores. And even though it might seem that all is lost, this is far from the truth.

Stay positive

What really matters – and plays a crucial role in your potential success – is how you react to your score. Psychologists believe that a person’s level of achievement is affected by their perception of whether or not they are capable. This means that you are less likely to succeed if you believe that you are not capable of succeeding! Focusing on the positive aspect may be challenging in the face of exam failure, but it is very beneficial. A helpful way to practice this is to make a list of things you are grateful for. This simple exercise in counting your blessing works towards broadening your perspective, giving you a more realistic picture of the situation.

Get real

Poor marks in exams are not the end of the world! In the face of exam failure, it is common for people to resort to cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing (magnifying the impact of an event), filtering (focusing only on one part of the situation), and over-generalization (assuming that you will always fail at everything). Try to pay attention to your thoughts, and challenge yourself when you notice cognitive distortion. For example, if you think ‘I am good for nothing’, ask yourself if there is evidence for the same. In most situations you will find evidence that contradicts your negative belief.

Build on your strengths

Many people feel frustrated as they had imagined a certain path for their life or career. While failing in exams comes in the way of this plan, it also gives you a chance to discover alternate options. You may not have done well in these exams. However, there is more to you than your score. Spend time to discover your interest areas and strengths. If you feel you are good at something, find ways to hone the skill. If you are not sure where your strength lies, try to dabble in a few different things. Give yourself the opportunity to explore various activities and avenues.

Identify potential for improvement

 “A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”  – B. F. Skinner

Most people tend to view failure as permanent or unchangeable. In fact, if you consider some of the most successful people around the world, they are not the ones who never failed but those who grew from the failures and emerged even stronger. Look at your situation as an opportunity to introspect and analyse what and how you need to improve.

Practice relaxation

The mental stress of failing in an exam can have an impact on your health and overall well-being. Thinking over and over about what went wrong and ‘if only’ scenarios is exhausting. Also, being constantly stressed takes away time and energy that you could have invested in figuring out a way forward. Guided meditation and simple breathing exercises can go a long way in stress management. Make sure you maintain a good balance of rest and exercise since both are essential for your wellbeing.

Be gentle with yourself

Often, a person is his/her own worst critic. Even though you can explain away others’ failure (‘he was sick during exams’, ‘she only scored badly in one subject’), when it comes to yourself, you see any explanation as an excuse. You probably did the best you could, and sometimes the outcome is beyond your control. Even if you feel you did not put in your best, you can always improve upon your performance by trying harder next time. Remember not to isolate yourself and share your feelings with your loved ones. Also, make sure that you maintain a wholesome intake of diet since what you eat impacts your mood and energy levels.

Despite trying the above suggestions, if you are still feeling overwhelmed and upset, reach out to a counsellor for stress treatment. Don’t live with the negative feelings. Talking to a non-judgmental person in a professional counselling setup is an empowering and enriching experience. Do get in touch with HealthEminds to find more ways of overcoming failure and for learning healthier techniques for managing failure.