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How to Encourage Someone After Failing an Exam or Test

I worked for many years as a science teacher in Toronto, Ontario, and now am an occasional teacher working on the local school board.

How do you support your friends through academic failure?

How do you support your friends through academic failure?

Failing an Exam

Inevitably, most students will at one time or another fail an academic or work course exam. The feelings which result are often devastating. Often, failure is not the result of a lack of studying and preparation although often lack of commitment may be the primary factor in failure.

Feelings of shame and guilt often arise from failure at any task. Self-esteem takes a big negative hit, especially if one has been working hard at preparing for the exam or task in question. Very few people come out of exam failure unscathed by some negative feelings.

Just as in grief over significant loss, most people go through a series of emotions after their failure.

  • Most people become fearful of being unable to attain success in that particular course or school in general.
  • They either choose to give up or drop out.
  • Or, they make the choice to try again by using different strategies.
  • Some people react to failure by blaming someone else.
  • The teacher made the exam too hard.
  • They justify their lack of studying by blaming their failure on lack of good teaching, lack of appropriate location to study effectively or other "lies" they convince themselves are truths.
  • They may become angry and give up.
  • They may choose, after a cooling-off period or through counseling with friends, that a better attitude will get them farther and again may try to achieve success through better strategies in the classroom and while studying.

Personal reaction to failure can determine if a person will eventually gain success. Friends and teachers can help make the difference by suggesting some key strategies for success.

Encouraging a Student Who Has Failed an Exam

1. Remind the student that he/she is only human.

  • All of us face failure at one time or another.
  • There is always something to learn which helps in doing better the next time.

2. Try to focus his/her attention on the importance of perseverance.

  • The only real failure is to give up.
  • Focus their attention on past successes in exams and assignments to boost their confidence.
  • Encourage them to focus on strategies they used that gave them success.
  • Have them write out their list of goals to encourage perseverance.
  • Let them vent their frustrations allowing them to purge themselves of the negativity.
  • Find examples of others who have had to take exams, tests, and/or courses more than once and how by doing so they eventually found success.
  • Encourage them to take a break to rest their mind and refocus their priorities.
  • Continue to build on their self-esteem and confidence by lending a listening ear when needed.

3. Do not mock the person or make insensitive comments.

4. Help out the person.

  • Offer to share strategies you have used when studying which have given you success on exams.
  • Run errands for them and/or help them with chores to free up their time for studying with fewer distractions.
  • Suggest the need for a tutor and if the person is agreeable help them find a suitable one.
  • Remind them again about their goals for the future and help them become excited again about their future plans.

5. Point them towards resources that can help them get back on the right track.

  • New studying strategies may help them succeed the next time.
  • Encourage them to create a more organized, quieter workspace if that seems to be lacking.
  • Self-motivation techniques may help them get back on the right track to success and your friend may just need some help finding the resources.
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Just Be Compassionate

Most people who fail an exam just need a shoulder to cry on. They need someone to help them pick up the pieces and persevere through the experience. The above strategies can help you be there for a friend in need. At the very least you can be that tiny voice that reminds them to never give up!


Janet mukula on June 09, 2020:

I have now received the conviction to achieve my goals

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 22, 2020:

Sorry Sarah, I just got this. Next time email me here: We always learn from our mistakes. But you have to be persistent. When you try something and it does not work you need to try something different, a new approach. Its the same thing scientists do. When they experiment, sometimes their first idea does not work. They don't give up. They modify their experiment, sometimes only a little bit, to see if that works better. If you are persistent and keep trying different ways to make something work then you are learning. I hope that helps. If you want to talk more, use the email address above. I check that one all the time. Good luck!

Sara on April 15, 2020:

I just wanted an easy story that defines that we Learn from out mistakes On your own experience. I am a 7 grader and that was my homework Plss help.and mam your suggestions are marvelous

Akshita on December 06, 2019:

Marvellous Suggestions

Really helping....!!!

N Barne on September 10, 2019:

Thanks for the very useful tips and guidance. I will use the informations to motivate my students; surely I'll mention your name and your website to them.

Aisha chao on May 21, 2019:

Quite good idears to calm down a failing person

The failiar shoud know the mistakes

Arjun Kapoor on May 04, 2019:

Thanks for giving this type of nice information. I also want to share some information about the Office Management Course which is an extremely successful job oriented course which you can do with or after your school education even after graduation & that will surely help you to easily get a job in a company. For more details, you can also search for the Drona Training Academy on Google.

eshaaaaa on February 03, 2019:

these ideas are very helpful for me to encourage my friend while she is failed I exam. thank you

Bokang Daniel Talenyane on January 16, 2017:

These ideas are very helpful because i felt so speechless simply because I feared that I might hurt her while trying to console her

Thanks a lot for these ideas

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 30, 2013:

I agree Billy. I'm going through exams with a class today. It will break my heart for one or two anyway if they fail the exam or the course. Take care my friend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 29, 2013:

Excellent suggestions, Teresa! It was so hard as a teacher to fail someone who I knew was trying hard. On the flip side, it was so exciting to see them succeed later on.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 29, 2013:

Thanks tirelesstraveler, it is so true. If we can learn from our "failures" then they really weren't failures after all! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

Judy Specht from California on January 28, 2013:

These ideas are critical for helping students. The idea that you are a failure if you don't do well on a test permeates society.

The first time I took the G.R.E. I had pneumonia and coughed throughout the entire test.

The room was all wood and echoed with each cough. I was so embarrassed. I don't remember the results, I threw them away.

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