Exam catastrophe?

It happens to all of us at some time or another. An exam doesn’t go to plan, it’s harder than expected, or we revised the wrong things, or we panic ourselves into a flat spin and don’t think straight. (I’m still holding a grudge about Property Law!) It’s easy to feel desperate afterwards but here are some thoughts to help  you get things into perspective.

It probably wasn’t as bad as you thought it was!

Some numeracy based subjects allow you to have a pretty accurate picture of how you’ve done, that’s not so true if your exams involve essay writing. You don’t actually know what mark you’ll get, so it’s really important not to dwell on an exam which challenged you. You might have answered better than you thought, or the exam may have challenged everyone, so some allowance may be given in the marking and moderation process. Try to stop thinking about the paper and move on to the next. The last thing you want is for one less than stellar performance to affect other exams too.

It’s not possible for everyone to get top marks in everything!


It’s very unlikely that one disappointing mark is going to have much (or any) impact on your overall grade. Yes, you’ll have to declare grades on most of your applications for graduate jobs but few employers will rule you out because one subject went less well than you’d hoped. You might need a narrative to explain a disaster but there’ll be plenty of time to reflect on that later. Employers value self-awareness and the ability to learn from mistakes. These are important workplace attributes and sometimes your disappointing mark will allow you to demonstrate them.

Are you being honest with yourself about your revision?

It might be worth reflecting on this. I had the good fortune to do exams before social media pervaded every aspect of our lives and I think it was probably easier for me to assess whether or not I was working hard. I’m as prone as anyone else now to checking social media during the day. Is anyone reading this blog? Shall I tweet about it? Maybe I could put a quick post up on LinkedIn, or shall I mention it on Facebook? When I’m really busy then I have social media switched off to avoid temptation. Think about whether opting out of social media for a few hours each day might help you to focus on revision.

Are you setting yourself realistic goals?

If you’re at Warwick or a similarly prestigious university then it’s a fair bet that you’ve always excelled academically. You have much to be proud of, but you’ve now moved into a pool of people who have also excelled. There’s a new reality of achievement and you might no longer be at the top. If you know that others find things easier than you, and have been getting higher marks than you throughout the year, try not to compare yourself with them. All anyone can ask is that you do the best you can. Don’t ask more of yourself than that.

Colorful candy gum on old wooden table.

For now and while you’re still doing the exams the most important thing is to keep calm. Look after yourself and be kind to yourself. Maybe it’s not such a great idea to take a complete holiday from revision but give yourself good breaks and treats.

Assess how things have gone.

This is for after the exams when the marks are out. You probably did just as well as you’d hoped and your mid exam crisis will be forgotten.

Business People Meeting Design Ideas Concept

If, however, things are not as you’d expected, then it’ll be time for reflection and planning. In terms of careers there are plenty of opportunities for all who plan their career on the basis of realistic expectations and on the evidence of achievements. I’ll be blogging soon about what to do if you didn’t make a 2.1. It really isn’t the end of all things!

So for now, remember that we’re all rooting for you.  We remember how tough it can be. The exams really will be over before you know it. And when the results are out, if things aren’t as you wanted – then don’t just pretend there isn’t a problem. Come to seem me or your own careers consultant and talk through your options. You’ll probably be surprised at how many there are!

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