Take proactive steps to manage a disappointing mark or exam

3 July 2024

With exam results pending, some of you may feel anxious about your grades and how you performed. A disappointing exam can come as a shock but should not define your entire year. Here are a few tips if you receive a low assessment or exam mark.

Picture of a fork in the road with an arrow pointing forward.

UCL exam and assessment results will be notified shortly and, as you await your results, some of you may be experiencing a whole range of emotions, from excitement to anxiety and stress.

Receiving a low or disappointing mark can feel like one of the biggest disappointments in the world. You might get a sinking feeling, wondering if you are unsuccessful because you didn't get the result you hoped for. You may think that you are bad at your chosen subject and even be tempted to give up on your studies completely. However, many university students receive a dissapointing mark at some point. This does not make you unsuccessful, and it is what you do next that really matters. 

You can't let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you.
         - Barack Obama

How to learn from a low or disappointing mark

Everyone experiences disappointment at some point in their lives. Dealing with this is part of being human, and you should use the experience as an opportunity to work on your weaknesses and to help you grow. Managing this can help you learn how to manage disappointment, to be kind and compassionate to yourself and others, and to develop resilience. In that sense, these situations can be turned into positive experiences, opportunities to think again, and perhaps even a chance to refocus and take a different or new direction.

Sometimes, if we don’t succeed at something, it is because it wasn’t really right for us or in line with our priorities and true values. At other times, we fail because there were things going on in our lives at the time that interfered with our capacity to succeed.

To deal proactively with an unsuccessful exam or low marks:

Don’t panic – take a deep breath and try to stay calm. You may have an opportunity to take a re-sit or alternative exams. However, you will need to identify your strengths and weaknesses and start making a plan for the resits or next set of exams.

Learn from it – hindsight allows you a fresher and more realistic perspective, so look for and identify any positive paths open to you? If you’re struggling to find your way and wish to talk to someone, you can always get in touch with an adviser from Student Support and Wellbeing at our same-day appointments. These sessions enable you to speak to a trained adviser in a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space via phone, video call or Microsoft Teams chat. 

Bounce back – turn that disappointment into motivation. This can mean being creative with solutions, and thinking broadly and freshly about your future and where you are going.

Know that you are not a failure – remember, you are not defined by an exam, or any one thing in your life. Not passing an exam does NOT mean you are a failure or that you are a lesser person.

If you do find yourself in crisis, then please reach out for help. Crisis support information can be found on the Student Support and Wellbeing website.

Support available from Student Support and Wellbeing

If you received a low mark or were unsuccessful in an exam, Student Support and Wellbeing has support available, including appointments with advisers. Call us on +44 (0)20 3108 8836 to make an appointment to speak with an adviser.

Alternatively, submit an enquiry via askUCL. We will contact you to make an appointment, which can be via video call, phone call, or Microsoft Teams chat.

Dr Barry Keane, Student Psychological and Counselling Services (SPCS)