The prospect of academic failure can be daunting for many students, but it does not have to hold you back.
According to experts, there are different ways to deal with failure and improve academic performance to get back on track for future success.
Here are their insights:
John F. Tholen, PhD
Retired Psychologist | Author, “Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind“
Shift the focus of your attention to a more functional thought
Finding a constructive mindset is the key to rebounding from adversity, including failing to fulfill our academic hopes. Although we may initially be too distressed to appreciate any “positive spin,” once we can face the future again, our success will likely depend on finding an optimistic perspective.
Success and peace of mind are most likely to come our way when we practice focused positivity.
Although it seems that our emotional reactions and motivation result from the events and circumstances we encounter, they are caused instead by our self-talk — the monologue streams through every waking moment, interpreting our every experience and establishing our perspective.
Our automatic thoughts can work against us:
Which thoughts spontaneously come into our minds is the result of factors outside our control — an interaction between our genetics and experience.
When we have been left cynical about life or excessively self-critical, our spontaneous thoughts are often dysfunctional — causing distress without inspiring constructive action.
And when dysfunctional beliefs are allowed to dominate our attention, they pervade our self-talk and cause emotional distress and self-doubt—even though they are almost always incomplete, unreasonable, or completely wrong.
We will recover best from academic disappointment if we can employ the closest thing we have to a “superpower” — our ability to shift the focus of our attention to a more functional thought, one likely to inspire hope and generate motivation.
This is the focused positivity strategy:
- Becoming mindful of our thoughts – recording and examining the ideas that occupy our minds when we feel discouraged,
- Identifying dysfunctional thoughts – those that cause distress without inspiring constructive action — that have become the focus of our attention,
- Constructing more reasonable, balanced, and functional alternatives that tend to inspire hope and self-assertion, and
- Systematically refocusing our attention away from the dysfunctional thoughts and toward the functional alternatives.
Notwithstanding the “sticks and stones” saying, words can hurt us when ominous forecasts or self-disparagements arise spontaneously from within and are left unchallenged.
Changing how we think:
Cognitive therapy (CT) is a psychological treatment approach that is “evidence-based.”
A review of 325 different research studies involving more than 9000 subjects found CT to be effective in treating depression (adult and adolescent), anxiety disorder, and social phobia (David, D. et al., “Why Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy Is the Gold Standard of Psychotherapy,” Frontiers of Psychiatry, January 2018).
A significant part of the benefit results from a change of thought or perspective whenever psychotherapy helps — whether it’s psychoanalysis, desensitization, or assertiveness training.
CT works because it is the most efficient method of challenging our dysfunctional thoughts, and the most efficient form of CT is the focused positivity strategy.
Functional thoughts that can help following academic failure
When we encounter what seems the demise of our academic hopes, our resilience is likely to benefit from refocusing our attention on functional thoughts such as:
- “Academic success is far from the only path to success and happiness.”
- “Many people who later achieved great success first encountered academic failure.”
- “If I look at the “big picture” of my life, this disappointment won’t hold me back.”
- “If I consider this unwanted result as just a learning experience that can help guide my actions moving forward, I’ll be able to persist until I find ‘success.'”
- “Every outcome that allows me to move forward is a ‘success’—no matter how disappointing it may initially be.”
- “There are no failures, only discoveries.”
Focus on learning and not on grades
Make the occasional failures part of your mental norms
This is a tricky one because students tend to get caught up in grades, often because they are in competitive programs or fields. Yet focusing only on how to “make an A” can mean a student misses out on key learning objectives that eventually lead to the bad grade they were hoping to avoid.
Pay attention to those course objective statements; they matter. Ask your instructor to tell you how lessons apply in the real world. Take on the growth mindset discussed by Dr. Carol Dweck, and make learning and the occasional failures part of your mental norms.
Build and use a personal support network
When you do get a bad grade, it’s important to have someone to talk to (in addition to your instructor).
Build a network of family, friends, tutors, and advisers who are all interested in your success and who will encourage you when you’re down. These people can remind you of your long-term goals when things get tough and jog your memory about all the times in the past when you were successful.
Dissect and diagnose what went wrong
Don’t just cry over a bad grade. Create new habits and systems based on what you learned from this particular failure.
Talk to your instructor and tutors to find out exactly where you went wrong. If your instructor hasn’t given you specific feedback, ask for it. Make sure you utilize posted office hours or ask for an appointment, and come prepared with your problem assignment or test and questions on how you might improve.
Reevaluate if things don’t improve
If you continue to have problems in the same course, it might be time to change sections—not every teacher is a perfect match for each student. Perhaps repeated failure in one area is a signal to either get some intense remediation help or change directions in your educational plans.
Academic failure, especially when a student has been working diligently, can also mean an undiagnosed learning issue in play. A simple change like extended test times or recording lectures can make all the difference.
Talk to the accessibilities department on campus to see if you are entitled to learning modifications.
CEO and Lead Therapist, Naya Clinics
Learn from that failure and know how to pick yourself up and try again
Academic failure happens due to several reasons, with the most common ones being fear of failure, fear of success, lack of preparation, laziness, and lack of motivation. In order to overcome this, there are certain mindsets that students can adopt, plus habits that can create to be able to reach success.
Here are some tips to overcome academic failure:
Be compassionate to yourself
It’s only natural to feel bad when you fail at something, but you also have to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that you can always redirect whenever you find yourself on the wrong path.
There’s no point in beating yourself up, but there are lessons to be learned in recognizing why you have failed. You have to process that failure and allow yourself to heal from that experience. When you regain your confidence, you can come back with a fresh approach.
Related: How To Stop Beating Yourself Up
Accept that failure is a part of life
It may sound contradictory, but the only way to avoid failure is to actually embrace it. Once you have fully accepted your academic failure, you will have an easier time dealing with failure in general.
If you keep in mind that failure is an absolute part of the pursuit of success, you will feel less bad about it. The key is learning from that failure and knowing how to pick yourself up and try again.
Train yourself to become resilient
When you adopt a resilience mindset, you will learn from your failures and continue to push yourself towards your goals. It comes from understanding that failure is a part of life, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying again.
Being willing to learn from your mistakes is necessary for becoming resilient. Despite all, you know that you can come up with a solution and move forward with your goals.
Head of School, The Tenney School
Students should have a path to recover following failure
Build a recovery plan
Our overriding recommendation to families is to build a plan for recovery over time. It is better for the student to have a path to recover following failure and graduate with peers.
Young students (Kindergarten/1st grade) may recover from the negative feedback of repeating a grade, but older students who are forced to repeat a grade will develop long-term confidence issues. You are also more likely to see a repeat of the poor habits which caused the academic failure in the first place.
A recovery plan will include summer courses and perhaps additional courses during the school year.
Academic recovery for high school students is more complicated
Graduation requirements vary by state and school, but all will require a certain number of credits to earn a high school diploma.
In the US, our official record starts in 9th grade. This means academic recovery following failure is more complicated for high school students. Not only do students need to understand the educational content for the year, but they will also need to find a way to earn the credits missed.
Because elementary and middle school classes do not go on a student’s final record, recovery from failure in these grades is less complicated.
Consider a change of schools
Schools must have consequences. A change of school may be just what’s needed to put aside bad habits and turn over a new leaf.
In addition, students may not be allowed to pursue a recovery plan versus being required to repeat the grade if they stay at the same school. Requiring a student to repeat a grade is the ultimate consequence.
Intersubjective Psychotherapist, The Awareness Centre
Accept that there is more to who we are than someone good at school
Academic failure can be tough to deal with as academia is tied into your identity and/or if you grew up hearing how clever you were and how good you were at school, and so on.
One method we can use to deal with academic failure can be to look at our explanatory styles.
Our explanatory style is the way that we explain to ourselves what has happened to us or what is happening to us. There are three dimensions that make up our explanatory style, and our style can differ depending on what we are trying to explain.
It’s important to note that this generally happens without consciously thinking about it, but that once we notice it, we can choose to alter our explanatory style.
The first dimension: Personalisation
- Do we believe that the academic failure was our fault, or
- Do we believe that external factors played a role?
- Did we not study enough?
- Did the test ask us about something that the teacher didn’t cover?
- Did we not sleep enough the night before?
- Did someone interrupt the exam and distract everyone?
This is looking at whether we place blame internally or externally.
The second dimension: Pervasiveness
This is looking at whether what’s happened is specific to one area of life or whether it pervades our entire world.
For example, do we believe that failing one test will change our entire lives for the worse? Or can we compartmentalize this failure to this one area of our lives (perhaps even to this one test) and recognize that other parts of our lives are unaltered – our family still loves us, our friends still want to hang out with us, and so on.
This is about separating academia from our identity and accepting that there is more to us than someone good at school. We are multi-faceted, and academia is only one part of who we are.
The third and final dimension: Permanence
It looks at how temporary or permanent the problem is.
- Do we believe that the failure will follow us around for the rest of our lives?
- Do we believe that we can overcome it?
Perhaps we can re-take the test, access academic support, or hand in extra credit work, or we don’t need to do any of those things and accept that other tests, exams, and coursework will bolster our overall academic outcome.
Remind yourself that no academic failure affects your true worthiness
There are three main ways to think about and deal with academic failure. Failure can mean defeat, it can bring a challenge, or it can expose an opportunity.
Failure as defeat
This is the most common reaction to academic failure: the feeling of being defeated. It can be saddening, maddening, or downright disappointing to fail in an academic setting.
Unlike some other types of life failure, academic failures can be especially public. If you don’t get that salutatorian spot you’ve been eyeing, other people will know it. If you don’t pass the bar exam, people in your life will ask and find out.
If you don’t get into the dream college you’ve been raving about, you’ll need to break the news. That means avoiding the feeling of defeat that your social life reminds you of – subtly or overtly – can be nearly impossible! Confronting the sense of defeat, and being seen publicly as defeated, can hurt.
The best way to overcome this feeling is self-compassion. That is, allow yourself to feel the hurt, acknowledge its validity, and remind yourself that no academic failure affects your true worthiness.
Failure as a challenge
Every year, at least thousands of first-year college students fail to live up to their expectations in the notorious introductory biology, chemistry, and physics classes that serve to “weed out” pre-med students.
Sometimes, that failure is a challenge.
Can you work harder and do better? Are you willing and able to put in more energy, attention, and commitment and try again?
Failure as an opportunity
The other side of pre-med students who experience academic failure is the experience of liberation or opportunity. In this example, some students may come to terms with their passions, strengths, and weaknesses.
Maybe your parents want you to be a surgeon, and that influence dictated your decision-making, but your private wish to yourself has been to become a film producer or a diplomat.
Sometimes, academic failure validates that the path you’re on isn’t the path in which you want to invest your life.
In this experience, academic failure can be an opportunity for rethinking your choices, reinventing yourself, and welcoming change.
Founder and CEO, Britannia School of Academics
Understand that failures are important experiences
As much as I love to see my students achieve their desired results, it is inevitable that students will fail to do so at times. Below, I will shed some light on what I preach to my students in this situation.
The importance of experience
One must get the context right to make informed and fruitful decisions in life. No one wants to fail, no matter how small or insignificant the task, but the fact of the matter is that we all fail sometimes. Understanding that failures are important experiences is the first step to dealing with failure.
Most of what we learn in our lives is from failures and not success. The ability to learn from our failures is a lifelong skill, and it’s not such a bad thing that we develop this skill as part of our educational journey.
I cannot agree more with Charles Swindoll’s saying that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” Nothing can change the fact that you have already failed to achieve your desired academic results, but your response to this outcome is all within your control.
For instance, rather than panicking and allowing your confidence to be undermined, focus on what went wrong and how you can change that moving forward.
Similarly, it may be worth reviewing the company you keep when you are feeling low about the situation; are they the type of people who will only consider the negatives in life rather than striving to make the adjustments necessary for improvement?
You need to find a company of individuals who will inspire you to create an effective line of action to come out of the situation.
Not losing hope
Do not forget that there are situations where your grades can be open for consideration. For example, all universities have appeals procedures to request a review of your grades.
Furthermore, your university might have a procedure in place to submit a request for exceptional treatment based on extenuating circumstances, though it is usually required that such a request is submitted before the grades are announced.
Other options might include taking extra credits, resubmitting the work after changes, etc. Therefore, it’s always worth speaking to your course supervisor or the student union to explore your options.
Knowing when to make important decisions
The poorest of the decisions made in our lives occur when we are in a fragile state of mind. If you have failed to achieve your desired academic results, the chances are that you are very sad or disappointed.
You may be tempted to make an irrational decision, like quitting your course or even changing careers. You must not decide in that state of mind, or else you will almost certainly regret it later in your life.
Take some time off and allow yourself time to get over your emotions.
When you feel relatively better and mentally stronger, consult someone you can trust to plan your next actions, such as arranging a resit.
Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M.
Founder and Principal Academic Coach, School Without Suffering
Focus on learning specific set of skills to give your best performance
Suppose you’ve experienced academic failure, be it a low score on an exam or an overall failing grade in a course. In that case, you know the disappointment, anxiety, and even depression that can come along with it. And it’s incredibly hard not to feel that way.
Since we are five or younger, when we enter the school system, we learn that doing well in school makes us good and worthy of praise, and having a bad performance is a problem that we should avoid at all costs.
And with all of the rhetoric about how higher education is more competitive than ever these days and students must excel in school (i.e. get good grades) in order to do well in life, it’s no wonder the experience of academic failure can affect us so heavily.
So what should we do with these very understandable feelings about failing grades, that if not kept in check have the power to derail our academic progress?
As hard as it is, the answer is to do your best to manage your stress about the low grades so you can divert your focus to understand what exactly it is about the task of going to school (which is really thousands of tasks) that is causing the performance issues.
Then, the energy that was once fueling the grades’ anxiety can be funneled into solving those problems.
A real-life example:
No one illustrates the power of “letting go” to bring your grades up than a student who’s been working with us at our school for months now, since about the middle of the Fall semester of his Junior year.
When I asked this student during our first meeting what he wanted to get out of working with us, he said, “I’m not too concerned about grades, more wanting to change mindset because carrying over to everything in life.”
That answer opened the door for us to teach him the skills he really needed to succeed. As I got to know him, I learned that he cared deeply about how his grades and, by extension, how others perceived him. But, he was open to understanding that his perceptions based on his grades were not real and, therefore, not what actually mattered.
It freed up his mind space to learn:
- Strategies for planning out his work and managing his time.
- so that he could complete missed assignments and turn in all subsequent assignments on time
- Strategies for reading.
- so that he truly understood the complex texts he was assigned to read
By the end of the semester, he managed to get his grades up to Bs—not easy to do when you’re starting from failing with only half a semester to go! He’s now beginning the semester ahead in all of his classes, and he’s feeling incredible.
Of course, getting here was not a linear or an anxiety-free process. But, everyone, including the student, saw changes start to happen immediately. The student and his parents were also getting in-depth knowledge about what exactly had been causing the student to fail, which allowed them to trust and let go even more.
And that little bit of room allowed the student to focus less of his energy on stress about grades and more on learning the specific set of skills he needed to give his best performance in school. And as you can imagine, everyone in the house is now feeling much less anxious about grades.
Joy Gandell, MScA, ACC
Parenting & Learning Coach, SETA Coaching & Training
Take what you learned and apply it in the future to make progress
Academic failure sounds so finite. It sounds like all hope is lost. Is it?
Who defined this as a failure? Society? Our culture? The school? Our parents?
What if we re-defined this experience as a form of communication? As an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and take what we have learned and apply it in the future to make progress?
Before we can look at this experience with curiosity, we must first process our related emotions.
We do this by identifying the emotions we are feeling:
affront, aggravation, anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apathetic, baffled, bewildered, blame, dejection, denial, depression, despair, despondence, devastation, disappointment, disgust, dismay, doubt, dread, exhaustion, frustration, gravity, grief, grimness, hopelessness, horror, humiliation, incredulousness, indifference, indignation, irritability, melancholy, misery, mortification, perplexity, pessimism, rage, rancor, remorse, resignation, sorrow, surrender, and uncertainty
We can experience one or many of these emotions at once. Understanding what each of these emotions means and identifying the ones that apply to our situation is the first step in moving forward.
Identifying the emotions applicable to our situation will help us understand the message these emotions are sending us. Only then will we determine how to move that emotion through our minds and bodies; we experience emotions in our minds and our bodies.
Processing emotions gives us the ability to use our thinking brains to make the best decision for moving forward. We want to understand what message this setback (as opposed to failure) is sending us.
We have to reflect on the questions we must ask ourselves to understand them. Potential questions you can ask yourself are:
- What were my life’s conditions that could have contributed to this setback?
- Do I struggle with executive function issues without the proper support in place?
- Do I feel safe and secure in this academic environment?
- What self-regulation issues might I identify?
- Do I even enjoy/find the subject matter stimulating?
- How could I have identified a benefit I could have received from the academic experience to help me stay engaged with the content?
- What other questions can you ask yourself about your academic experience that could have led to this result?
Identifying the conditions that led to the setback is meaningful learning so that you can take the appropriate action from now on. Life is a journey and a process of continuous learning and growth.
Throughout our lives, there will always be setbacks. How we cope and learn from them will determine our resilience. We all have the capability of being resilient; we have to strengthen it like a muscle.
Nekia Wright, M.Ed.
Special Education Teacher | Owner and Founder, Ujamaa
We don’t need to measure ourselves against other’s achievements
I’ve been a special education teacher for more than 13 years and have had to coach many students through feelings of academic failure, specifically regarding standardized tests that all students take even if they are performing well below grade level.
My students receive extra accommodations like having a teacher read aloud the test items, spare time, etc. Even with the most accommodations, many of these tests are not appropriate.
It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch a child who you’ve seen work hard throughout a year. They’ve increased by two grade levels in their reading skills but are still reading at a second-grade level to take a test written for sixth graders.
Environmental factors make it difficult for many students to get to school on time or even at all.
Every three years, any child with an IEP receives a full triennial assessment with a psychologist and education specialist. I get plenty of valuable information through my formal and informal assessments of the students throughout the year, so the standardized tests are unnecessary from a data collection point of view.
Yet so often, I would be sitting in a room with a child who was working incredibly hard for an entire year and surpassed the individualized education goals we had set as a team. I watch them suffer through an assessment that completely shifts how they think about themselves and their academic achievements.
At the beginning of the year, I share with my students the truth about the public education system, that:
- It is a work in progress,
- Many teachers are trying their best to figure out how to transform schools into a place where every child can thrive,
- Students have a role in this, too.
We need engagement and feedback to hear their ideas and constructive criticism on what’s not working. I could not let these tests shatter my student’s self-esteem.
The people who made the rules and laws did not consider the needs of children like them. So, I explained to them about the standardized test ahead of time.
- I told them that it’s something that everyone has to take, even though I didn’t think it was fair.
- I shared some basic test-taking strategies, and we practiced some breathing exercises.
- I explained that there’s probably going to be many things on that test that they don’t understand.
- I tell them to try their best but not focus too hard on the things that don’t make sense.
- Just keep moving through the test.
- Before we would take any standardized test, I would have them review all the hard work they’ve done.
As a special education teacher, we keep track of each academic & socio-emotional growth of the individual students on our caseloads. Discuss how hard it is to grow two grade levels in reading in one year.
We explore how we need others to inspire and motivate us, but we don’t need to measure ourselves against other people’s achievements.
I reinforce how important it is to set your own goals, plan how to achieve that goal, and put in the work to make it happen. We talk about how to measure our progress and celebrate successes.
Sometimes, I share my skiing story: I’d been going through a difficult time, and a friend offered me a free ski trip. I almost said no because I felt so unsuccessful at life that I didn’t think I could take another failure. Then, I decided that I would make the best of it.
So I went with them. On the first slope, my friends all took off, and I just toppled down the hill over and over. I told my friends to keep going, that I would figure it out. Eventually, I was able to get my balance and would just completely relax each time I started to take a plunge.
After a couple of falls, people behind me started applauding. At first, I thought they were making fun of me until “That’s the most graceful and beautiful fall I’ve ever seen!” a stranger yells.
Just remember that it’s all a part of the journey.
Dr. Stacy Haynes, Ed.D., LPC, ACS
Licensed Therapist | Owner, Little Hands Family Services
A great method to deal with academic failure is called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS)
This was created by Dr. Ross Greene and described in his best-selling books Lost at School and The Explosive Child, highlighted in the documentary The Kids We Lose.
With academic failure, we would have a Plan B problem-solving conversation with the student to figure out what is making it difficult for the student to complete the work.
For example, if they are failing math, we might ask, “I noticed you have difficulty completing your math homework.“
- Empathy Step. We listen to the kid’s concerns and learn about their concerns.
- Adult Concern Step. We would state our concerns about the student failing math
- Invitation Step. We would invite the student to problem solve a solution together.
This approach is being trained in schools around the world and is evidence-based to be effective in helping students improve academically.
As a clinician, trainer for CPS, and a mom who uses it at home, this method is a great preventive measure for students with academic difficulties.
Identify the things you can and cannot manage
The academic environment may be stressful, whether you’re entering college for the first time or in your last semesters, attempting to make it through to graduation without falling behind.
Financial independence, establishing new acquaintances, and figuring out your life’s path may all be intimidating new challenges to face. Numerous students find it challenging to adapt to living away from home atop the pressure to succeed academically.
However, you must not allow academic failure to harm your relationships, lower your self-esteem, or lead you to develop more significant mental health issues such as despair and anxiety.
Here are ways how to deal with academic failure:
Make an effort to be competent, even in minor things
Identifying the things you can and cannot manage might be essential amid apparently overwhelming challenges. You may not be able to influence a professor’s mark on your essay, but you can control how you respond to the comments you do get about your work.
Moreover, students living on their own for the first time may find it challenging to learn essential life skills such as cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a vehicle. It is also true that kids spend less time cultivating their social skills due to growing up in an era of endless distractions.
Your self-esteem and confidence will rise if you can take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your assets with respect. It’s a good idea to spend some time learning these primary talents from your family or acquaintances.
It’s much easier to acquire these foundational life skills now when so many helpful tools are accessible on the internet.
Take some time out to reflect
While it may be tempting to rush through college (mainly if it means saving money), stressed-out college students occasionally need to take a step back and take a deep breath. Rather than a full-time schedule, consider taking one or two courses less often.
An excellent way to save money while still earning course credit is to speak with guidance counselors about possible internship possibilities. There is no guilt in taking a little longer for those who want to broaden their views and broaden their experiences by delaying their graduation.
Deborah Ann Spence, CRS, e-PRO, GREEN, RENE
Broker, Fierce Realty Corp
I said, “this can’t be my life,” and just like that, it wasn’t
I was a terrible student in elementary, middle, high school, and college. So yes, how did I get to college as a bad student?
Well, I received a scholarship that designated inner-cities kids with some potential to attend Hofstra University. It was an experiment to see if you could bring poor kids with poor grades and transform them into good students if they had mentorship, coaching, and a new environment.
But it didn’t work. Not in the beginning initially for me. Not for another twenty-five years.
I believe my struggle with school started very early in elementary school for two reasons. One reason was the material used (1970’s) to teach. As a poor African American child, I could not connect. I didn’t see myself in the material, and it wasn’t apparent.
The second reason was the weird things going on in my household. I was dealing with severe trauma at home, poverty, and hunger.
At school, I’m thinking about how to survive, when I will eat again, and not about multiplication or any of those early skillsets needed to create a solid educational foundation. The bottom line is life was brutal, and I am amazed that I survived it all.
In college, my life became worse. I suffered the early signs of a debilitating mental illness, and getting through school was extremely difficult. I was thrown out of college at one point because of my undiagnosed symptoms.
But eventually, I graduated with the lowest GPA of 2.0 that anyone can have to graduate. After college, I struggled for the next 25 years with menial jobs, failed attempts at self-employment, and many psych ward hospital stays.
The mental shift happened during one of my hospital stays.
I said, “this can’t be my life,” and just like that, it wasn’t.
I slowly pulled myself out of despair and into hope and healing. I got better with medication. I started a career in Real Estate. I knocked it out of the park my first year in Real Estate by listing over 63 homes.
Three years later, I studied and took the Broker Exam and became a Real Estate Broker/Owner. Since then, I’ve taken several classes, certifications and recently passed the four-hour exam to become a Project Manager.
I write articles and books. I teach and train other Real Estate Agents. I created an app for Real Estate Training. I am a local elected official. I serve on several not-for-profit boards. I am currently studying for the Uniform CPA exam. I am on fire!
I did it all by making a mental shift.
I told myself I could do it. And, that, along with a lot of grit, is how to overcome failure.
Founder, LSAT Prep Hero
Academic failure is an obstacle you can learn from and grow from
It’s important to remember that failure is not permanent, and it’s not indicative of your overall worth as a person. It’s simply an event, an obstacle you can learn from and grow from.
Here are the prompts I provide to students on how to deal with academic failure:
Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to grieve
The initial reaction to any failure is usually shock, disbelief, and sadness. It’s natural to feel all of these things, so give yourself some time to process them. Don’t try to bottle them up or ignore them – that will only make things worse in the long run.
Talk to your professor or advisor
They may be able to help you understand why you failed, and they may be able to suggest ways that you can improve your grades in the future.
Make the necessary changes to get better:
- Take a look at your study habits and see where you might be falling short.
- Do you have trouble staying focused?
- Are some days worse than others for studying?
- Be honest with yourself.
- Consider changing your study environment by figuring out what level of stimulation you require for optimal studying.
- Some people prefer pin-drop silence, while others do better in a busy coffee shop.
- Test yourself to see how well you retain information after studying in different environments.
- Ask yourself if there is anything else going on in life other than academics that could be affecting how well you’re doing in school.
- I’ve seen students struggle with everything from balancing multiple jobs, to having family and relationship issues, to having substance abuse issues.
Remember that you have a limited capacity and need to prioritize what’s most important to you at this time in your life.
Jessica Bonner, MA, MS, CCC-SLP
Founder and Owner, For Other Prizes Consulting
Take the time to acknowledge feelings
I recall feeling both angry and frustrated when I realized the seriousness of my situation, especially given that none of the other students in my cohort were dealing with the same problem.
Though acknowledging feelings may seem counterproductive, taking the time to do so allows students to simply be human in a time of great pressure.
Too often, students encounter roadblocks during their academic journey that may lead them to believe that their current academic program is not for them. The reality may just be that the present load may be too much, especially if students are also handling nonacademic issues (e.g., home events).
Taking the time to acknowledge feelings such as disappointment may help students approach the issue with more reason since contributing factors can become more evident during the acknowledgment period.
Consider available options
Since I knew I did not want my future to be ruled by my failure in graduate school, I considered the options available at the time.
Flunking out was an option I refused to believe.
Upon talking with program advisors, I learned that I could withdraw from my two weakest courses and continue with the remaining two courses and my clinicals. I would retake the dropped courses the following fall semester. While I wasn’t a fan of this option, it worked best for me at that time.
Whether students face failure in the future or have already failed, they should prioritize looking into options that can prove beneficial in the future.
For instance, students on the verge of failing can chat with their instructors regarding weaknesses and how to best bring up the grades. If bringing up the grades by the end of the term seems unlikely, then withdrawing from and retaking courses also serves as an option.
For students who have failed, I recommend meeting with instructors and advisors to learn the next best steps. Often, one of the steps includes retaking failed courses. Instructors and/or advisors may be able to determine when retaking the courses would be most helpful, assuming specific courses are offered more than one semester per school year.
Also, advisors are specifically known for helping students create a manageable academic schedule each semester, so students should take advantage.
Visit the Counselor
I personally visited one of the university counselors at least once a month while in graduate school. As I faced home and academic issues, speaking with a professional helped me tremendously. Honestly, if I had not spoken to the counselor, I most likely would never have finished my program.
If students find themselves feeling hopeless due to academic failure, talking it out with a professional can allow students to vent in an environment where they do not feel judged.
After taking advantage of these services for some time, students may feel more empowered when handling failure and approaching their academics in such a way that they are much more likely to come out winning.
Founder and CEO, Home Health Care Shoppe
See it as an opportunity to pivot
One of the ways someone can recover from academic failure is to understand that the world offers so much more opportunities for developing a fulfilling career, even if you don’t have a degree to flash around.
If you take a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll find that many of them have dropped out of school at some point. I’m not saying that they were successful because they dropped out or that you should drop out to be successful. It’s how they bounced back that’s important.
They didn’t see their academic failure as the end of it all.
Instead, they saw it as an opportunity to pivot. So, if you’re dealing with academic failure right now, don’t despair. Sometimes, we need to fail at something that’s not meant for us so that we can find what is.
Co-Owner and Chief Marketing Officer, Nolah Mattress
Practice healthy coping mechanisms that make you feel calm
As with any failure, stress, or difficult times, practice healthy coping mechanisms that make you feel happy, worthy, and calm.
This looks different for everybody, but things like sports, yoga, writing, painting, meditation, biking, and more can help you step outside the moment and process failure and the feelings that come with it in a healthy way.
Academic failure can put a lot of stress on your mind and body, and a healthy outlet can help relieve the pressure and remind you that you’re worth more than this one instance of failure.
Co-Founder, Total Shape
Change your mindset about failures
We are the ones who define our failures, so the decision of labeling something as a ‘failure‘ lies in our own hands. Do you want to learn new things from your failures or just get stuck in the corner with a heart full of regrets about your failure?
Obviously, we all want to get up, but the dejection we feel during our failures makes us think that the whole world has crashed down.
But don’t believe in your temporary feelings and thoughts, however painful it can be.
Believe in yourself that your failures don’t define you, and a single failure doesn’t mean successive failures. Develop a growth mindset where you can see doors to opportunities even if one of the doors gets closed.
Having a fixed mindset makes you think that there is only one door available in this whole world. So, define failures as ‘lessons for next success‘ in your mind for dealing with temporary setbacks.
Co-Founder, Academia Labs LLC
It is important to take a step back and assess your options
Academic failure doesn’t happen in one day; it is a culmination of previous activities and decisions that you have made in the past. That is why it is essential to take a step back and re-assess what your next steps should be.
It is possible that you will continue with your current path and achieve your goal, but another option will be to travel another track that you may be better at.
Academic failure may be the last straw you are waiting for or the sign you have been waiting to take on a different route. Hence, identify your losses and possible gains and choose the best option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes students to fall behind academically?
It’s a complex issue with no single answer, but let’s dive in and take a closer look!
For starters, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: distractions. We live in a world that’s filled with distractions, from social media to video games, and it can be tough for students to stay focused on their studies. When students get caught up in the cycle of procrastination and distraction, it’s easy for them to fall behind.
Next up, we have a lack of motivation. When students don’t see the relevance of what they’re learning, it can be tough for them to stay engaged and motivated. This can be particularly true for students who are struggling with their mental health or who are dealing with other personal challenges.
Another factor that can contribute to students falling behind is a lack of support from their teachers and parents. When students don’t have someone in their corner who believes in them and is willing to help them succeed, it can be tough for them to stay motivated and on track.
Finally, let’s talk about differences in learning styles. Some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some are kinesthetic learners. When students don’t have access to teaching that aligns with their learning style, it can be tough for them to fully grasp the material and stay on track.
How do I get my academic mindset back?
Here are a few tips that might get you back into the academic zone:
• Get organized: Make a to-do list, prioritize your tasks, and create a schedule for yourself. This will help you stay on track and feel more in control.
• Take breaks: It’s important to step away from your work every now and then. Go for a walk, read a book, or do something you enjoy. This will help you recharge and return to your work with a fresh perspective.
• Surround yourself with inspiration: Surround yourself with things that motivate you. This could be a photo of your graduation, a quote that resonates with you, or a vision board of your goals.
• Connect with others: Reach out to friends, classmates, or mentors who have been through a similar experience. Talking to others who understand can be incredibly helpful.
Practice self-care: Make sure to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
Remember, getting your academic mindset back is a process, and it may take time. But with a little effort and patience, you’ll be back to your old self in no time!
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