Making peace with disappointing exam results

Every generation receiving exam results before you includes young people who’ve experienced disappointment, worry and stress related to unexpected grades. It’s not unusual to feel lost and confused about what to do next.


The following activities and tools are designed to support you to constructively acknowledge what you’re experiencing, while finding ways to pick yourself up and feel hopeful about your future.

Helpful reflection

There’s an achievement you now have that isn’t graded by any academic board that deserves some recognition: your ability to live through five months of education in exceptional circumstances. Take 10 minutes to really think about this and answer the following questions. Looking at ourselves through an optimistic lens can feel a bit strange at first, don’t let this put you off.

  1. List five things you’ve managed to do during this period that you feel pleased about.
  2. How did you manage to do them?
  3. What have you learned about yourself and the world that has been most useful?
  4. Who would you like to thank for supporting you during this time?
  5. What would you like to continue doing that relates to who you’re trying to become?

Facing the fallout

When receiving grades that fall short of hopes or expectations the following questions are likely to be most prominent. Can I do anything to try and change this? Do I feel it’s worthwhile to try to do something to change this?

If you feel an intense sense of injustice because the grades aren’t matching up with your previous performance, then talk to your teachers about the possibility of your school or college appealing on your behalf. You may also want to consider taking your exams in the Autumn if you know you thrive in an exam environment.

There may also be an element of facing up to disappointment with yourself. Regret that you didn’t work harder and/or a sense of shame at not being as good at you hoped at a really difficult subject.

If your disappointment with yourself outweighs disappointment with the way the education system has adapted during Covid-19, then try practising resilient self-talk using the tool below.

Self-talk matching exercise

Draw lines to match the worry-provoking self-talk with the more supportive and resilient self-talk. Where there isn’t a matching statement, write down your statement.

Get curious about what’s next

Your school or college will hopefully be able to give you some options and guidance about what you can do next, but not all. You have an opportunity to be proactive in seeking these for yourself – whether it be accessing support from a government careers advisor, talking to trusted adults about how they’ve moved through a sense of failure or disappointment, or finding online tools and courses to help you learn more about what you really enjoy and are good at.

Watch videos 8 and 9 from our resource library to learn more about developing curiosity and understanding how best to tap into yours.

Final thought

No one has a time machine or a crystal ball to accurately predict the future. Therefore, the best we can do in any situation is what we can, with what we’ve got, from where we are now.

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