Exam results – what to do if you don’t get the grades you need

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Disappointing results? Why it’s not the end of the world

When it comes to exams, it can feel like we’re trapped in an endless cycle. Once you, or your children, hit your teens, there’s always another exam on the horizon. And another set of exam results.

Whether you’re going into further education; already training for a career in law, medicine or finance or other exam-based employment; or restarting your career post-children, results day is a red-letter day.

A good grade can open the door to your first-choice university, or a whole new career. A low grade feels like the door slamming shut.

But it’s OK to fail, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Failure is often success, in disguise.

You’re not defined by one set of results

There are of course, a million blogs out there ready to offer support – and this government education site provides a useful starting point for practical advice and next steps. But at Zebra Pen, we’re here to help you discover what’s best for you.

Sometimes, not getting the result you want, can be just the result you need to make a lifechanging decision: for the better.

So… what happened?

Sometimes, a surprise result isn’t so much of a surprise. You kind of know that you didn’t put the hours of revision in. Or, you just had an off day on exam day – and you’re 101% certain you want to re-sit. Sometimes however, the results are a sign of something deeper going on in your subconscious.

Don’t panic, and don’t rush your next steps!

If the grades weren’t what you or your tutors were expecting, you can reach out to them – all teachers and lecturers want the best for their students, so they’re a great support, both practically and emotionally.

But if you don’t feel like talking to anybody about it yet, then just tell well-wishers quietly that you’re still thinking about how you feel, and what you want to do.

If you’re supporting a friend, or your children, through this time, be guided by them. Even if you just want to rush in and give them the biggest hug. 🤗

It’s time to reset and re-evaluate what’s important, and what’s not.

Listen to yourself

Getting a good grade is a clear goal – and it gives us something worthwhile to aim for. But if your grades don’t match your goal, you need to be sure that your goal – a university place, a qualification or a career – will reward and fulfil you, emotionally and creatively as well as financially.

Clear your day, clear your mind, and reflect on what has made you feel truly happy and fulfilled over the last 12 months.

Was it getting that brilliant essay mark? Was it helping somebody else struggling with their own essay? Was it creating a collage, or volunteering at a local theatre or charity?

Listen to your inner voice, and list those moments when you felt your deepest sense of reward.

If you build your next stage around what makes you happy, you’ll be more likely to stay happy.

Ask yourself questions

Now, create a list of questions to ask yourself. Is your course what you expected? Do you still feel as passionately about your subject, or your career choice as you did when you started? Do you really, honestly need that grade or that qualification to get you where you want to be? Should you retake – or does your heart sink at the thought?

List your options, embrace the change

Writing down all your options really does help to process those swirling emotions. Come back to it in a few days’ time – when you feel less raw and vulnerable, and don’t feel pressured to make a decision immediately.

You may look back at that list in 10 years’ time, and realise what a positive, life-changing moment this is. Changing direction now, before you’re locked into a career or a course that your heart isn’t really in, may make you happier and more fulfilled in the long run.

Whenever you come to a crossroads in life, the possibilities are endless. And making the right decision will feel good.