Failing an Exam in College

Failing an exam in college is quite a heartbreaking thing. You studied countless hours only to received a grade that was much less than you hoped. Trust me, I have experienced a ton of grades that started with 4s and 5s lol. I have failed quite a few exams in both undergrad as well as grad school. Today, I am here to discuss how to react, what to do, and how to overcome failing an exam in college. I will discuss how to go about failing an exam in undergrad as well as grad school. They aren’t too different, but the way you deal with it in grad school is different than undergrad.

failing an exam in college

What It feels like to fail an exam in college

For those of of you starting college, or those that have been in it for a while, you’ll eventually get a failing grade. There are a select few that will never experience an F on an exam, and we all envy those people. Failing an exam is like getting kicked in the gut. You might have studied weeks for an exam, gotten to it, and completely forgot everything there was to know. If you aren’t familiar with test anxiety, read about it (here). This can cause you to forget everything and fail an exam. Of course there are other reasons why you failed. Maybe you didn’t study. Shame on you lol but life may have gotten in the way and made it impossible. So, no shame on those people.

When you study for a long time to get a failing grade, it physically and mentally hurts. As I stated, it can feel like you were kicked in the gut. Mentally, your brain will be going to every negative thought in the book. You might have self doubt. The amount of worrying for your future will increase, and anxiety will be very high. If you are on the premed track, you’ll probably be thinking that you aren’t set out to be a doctor. I think the mental effects are the absolute worse. But it will be fine.

What to do first when you get a failing grade on an exam

First thing first, do not blame yourself and do not panic. Failing an exam in college happens all of the time. There are so many reasons why you may have failed that exam. The test may have been unfair. You may not have had enough time to prepare for such a hard exam. Test anxiety kicked in and made you forget what happened. Heck, something may have happened that week that really put you in a bad mental state, one where you probably wouldn’t have passed the exam anyway. Whatever the cause, do not blame yourself. If you are coming to this blog, you are probably finding ways to cope with failure because you usually do well and are an overall good student.

The first thing that you need to do is look over the answers and see where you went wrong. Maybe you got the answers right and the TA marked it wrong. Maybe you just made some silly mistakes and seeing the answers will show you that you were on the right course, just not there. Just take a look at the answer sheet and see what went wrong. If there were mistakes made by the TA, email the professor right away. You might get quite a few points back.

Next, after you saw what went wrong, go over the problem again and really understand how to do the problem. One weird, but actually understandable, think that will happen is you’ll remember how to do those problems later. Years later, I still remember the material on the exams I failed. I also remember how to do those problems still. That’s because I went back and learned. The combination of learning and having a tragic event like failing really solidified those questions in my head. I think it’s a form of Flashbulb Memory.

Moving past failing an exam in college

IU think this may be one of the hardest things to do. Failing an exam in college can be extremely difficult to get over. You will be worrying whether or not you will pass the next exam and I guarantee you will probably be looking at different majors lol. I did that after failing an exam in undergrad. I got a D+, which is technically a failing grade for certain courses. This was a critical tracking course, which meant that I needed a C and nothing lower. A D+ really messed with me.

What I did after getting that grade helped me to move past the feeling of failure. I took a moment, looked at what I did wrong, went over every question, then I went to get ice cream. The first thing to do when moving on is to let it go. You failed an exam. If you did everything in your power to make sure that it was graded fairly then all you can do is move on and tackle to next exam. Do not linger over the fact that that pone exam was bad. Instead, focus on how you can improve and get a higher grade on the next one.

If You Fail an Exam in Undergrad

You are a baby and learning. Unfortunately, your whole existence revolves around passing exams. Failing an exam in undergrad may be detrimental to your GPA and you graduating. My best piece of advice is to actually go to office hours, participate in lectures and everything to do with that class, and I guarantee that you will pass the course, even after failing an exam. DO not give up any hope. Work hard, put in the hours to study and you will be rewarded. Also, be kind to yourself. You may not get straight A’s, but straight A students don’t necessarily make the best employees. I also feel really bad for those that haven’t failed an exam. When the time comes where they do fail something, because they haven’t experienced it before, they’ll have a rougher time with coping with the failure.

Don’t give up hope. Most classes have 3 to 5 exams, so failing one will give you motivation to pass the others. Also, most finals are a lot easier than the first and second exams of the class (TA secret). If you are close to failing the class, stick with it until the final. You’ll have a grade booster then.

failing an exam in college: getting past the failure

If you Fail an Exam in Grad School

So, I have written about whether or not grades matter in grad school. If you want to read about that, here is a link. You probably won’t really deal with failing exams in grad school because most professors will hand out a B as the lowest grade. Colleges are under a ton of pressure to graduate master’s and doctoral students, so they pass pretty much everyone. In grad school, research should be your main focus. If you fail an exam, sure it stinks, but you’ll probably be used to failure so it won’t faze you at all.

If you are concerned with failing an exam in grad school, I have some helpful tips. 1) Take a deep breathe if you do fail one. Go see your professor and go over the exam 2)Forget about it. Go do some research because you will be more remembered for the research you do, the lives you changed, and how you benefit society than passing a stupid test. No one will remember you for passing a class, but they will remember you when you contribute some form of knowledge to the world.

failing an exam in college

In The End

Grades, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter. No one will ask you how well you did on the second exam of your chemistry course. All you really need to do is pass, actually take something away from the class, and move on to the next one. This is true for most everything unless you are going to grad school or a professional school. Good grades are important then, but one failing grade on an exam won’t really affect you too much. If you are in engineering, just graduating will get you an amazing career.

The most important thing is learning something when you fail an exam in college. If you don’t learn anything, then you truly failed. Failing an exam in college is not the end of the world. You may fail multiple times and that is fine. Just learn from the mistakes that occurred and move on. Life is way too short to ruminate over a stupid test.

Final Thoughts

I want to know. How many college exams have you failed? I think I failed like 10 or close to it. I remember the first few that I failed but lost count lol. If it says anything, I failed more times than I wanted and now I am well on my way to receiving a doctorate in engineering. This is happening because I learned from the failed exams and I grew from them. You can too.

If you haven’t already, go and check out my post about the best gifts for grad students. It’s graduation season so I want to help you find the perfect gift for your grad student. Link is right here. I hope you all have a wonderful day and I will see you in the next one. Peace!

2 thoughts on “Failing an Exam in College

  • 💜 Great Post; personally I Failed Plenty of Exams and it Taught Me just What I Didn’t Have a Passion For

    …💛💚💙…

  • Thank you for this post, Ben! As someone who failed one subject in the first semester of freshman year in college, it does sting. But in the end, what matters is how you stand up after that failure.

    “Fall down seven, stand up eight” — so says a Japanese proverb.

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