It Held Me Down, But I got Up: Failing an Exam and Moving On

There´s no pretty way to put this. I mean, you can put flowers on a dog-do, but it´s still going to be a dog-do, right? So here it goes:

I failed my grammar exam

I was on the bus on my way to the hairdresser when I got a notification that I had received a grade for my hand-in. I knew the result was going to make or break my day, but I decided to brave through it and rip the bandaid off quickly, as the knowledge of its existence and availability to me had already left its imprint on my day.

So I checked, and there it was, black on white – a big fat F.

Once I unclenched my fists and wiped the burning tears out of my eyes (why is this so emotional?), the following 2 questions popped into my head:

1) Did I Overestimate My Own Efforts?

I think most students actually do everything they can in the actual exam situation. Whether it´s writing a paper from home or attempting to hammer out something coherent in 4 hours in a giant room with one hundred other students, I think everyone, when it comes down to it, tries their best. The problem is the time before that – revision, preparation, etc. With this exam, I really did revise as much as my brain allowed to me. I felt prepared, and as I opened the exam paper, there was not a single question that took me aback or that I felt unprepared for. In fact, I started typing immediately, and didn´t need a book until an hour into the exam. However, as I learned, this is not necessarily a good thing!!! But no, all in all I don´t think I overestimated my efforts to pass this exam.

2) Do I Know What I Don´t Know?

this one is more tricky. Often times we know what went wrong, or know our weak points. Perhaps you ran out of time and you would´ve been able to pass had it not been for this factor; or maybe you were asked the one thing you had hoped would not show up on the test. Or maybe – and here is the thing – maybe you truly felt like you knew and understood everything, and finding out that you didn´t comes as a surprise to you because there´s clearly something you don´t know that you don´t know you don´t know (I´m beginning to sound like that boring-ass Donald Rumfeld movie). That is most definitely the case for me; there´s something that I feel completely confident in that I clearly haven´t truly understood, and that is where the chain broke for me. I don´t know what I don´t know.

I had to transfer between multiple means of transportation to get to my appointment, and the process of making my way from A to B gave me some time to reflect on my woeful situation. I feel like I went through the whole spectrum of emotions one typically feels when they are directly told that their skills just don´t meet the requirements.

F for failure (“I´m a walking, talking embarrassment to myself and others)
F for figures (“Of course I failed. How could I not?)
F for fu… it (“That whole class is BS, anyway. Who needs clause trees? I´ve spent 27 years constructing sentences just fine without ´em!)

and finally, walking up the brick steps to my hairdresser´s salon, F came to stand for fix it.

Because what other options do I have? There´s no use in throwing in the towel now – in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. Haven´t most of us been through worse in our lives? Anyway, I´ve decided to share with you some of the things that I have been doing/telling myself in the last couple of days.

8 Tips For Moving on After You´ve Failed an Exam:

  1. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and give yourself a hug. Go ahead – give yourself a squeeze. Don´t stop until you feel the #selflove, okay?
  2. Give yourself 5 minutes to feel sad and defeated.It does suck!
  3. Give yourself a day to pick yourself up. Distance yourself from it and try to forget about it for a little while. Go to the movies, meet your friend for a cup of tea, snuggle with your cats on the couch.
  4. Find a tutor! (if you find it necessary) I´ve realized I need help because I don´t know what I don´t know. Dammit, Don R., get out of my head!
  5. Ask your professor!
    Ask your professor if they can tell you specifically what went wrong. Obviously this is mostly relevant if you really have no idea what went wrong.
  6. Your F doesn´t have to be a secret! Yeah, something went wrong, big deal. If it becomes some sort of state-level secret for you, it can end up feeling even more like an embarrassment. You don´t have to scream it off the roof tops, I certainly don´t intent to, but if my classmates ask how it went, I´m going to be honest – it went like shit! I guarantee you that you will meet both solidarity, sympathy, and probably one or two will say “Man, I thought I was the only one!” Just like bitching about the teachers, this can be a bonding experience!
  7. Everybody fails! Now, I have absolutely no statistic to back this up (how academic of me), but after several years of monkeying around in the dusty world of academia, I can tell you that I have met plenty of people who have become closely acquainted with the good ol´ “F”. Failing an exam only makes it all the more impressive when you pass one, because subjects at university levels ARE hard and ARE challenging. Suddenly I have so much more respect for the masters of my field, because they made it through a year and a half of clause trees and that´s not some easy task.
  8. Write your theory at home! Did you run out of time? Well, if you are allowed to bring notes and other aids, I would suggest writing most of your theory sections from home, ready to type into the word document. I made the mistake of only bringing notes, which meant that I had to tie it all together at the exam. When you are pressed for time, this becomes a major stress factor. Don´t do what I did!

Finally, repeat this to yourself as many times as needed: You´re not a failure, you´re not a disappointment – you are not your grade.