Practical steps after receiving a bad mark


1.Deal with the feels

Depending on what you're feeling, give yourself some time out. If needed, take a day or two to allow the heat of the moment to pass you by. Play some video games, get outside, or work on other tasks to get past your initial emotions. Temporary distractions can be used as a way to cope with intense emotions, provided they're not your only way of responding to the situation. Talk to a flatmate, friend, or family. Looking for emotional support is different from looking for advice. Focusing on self-comfort early in the reaction stage can help you manage the situation in due course. Getting exercise can help your overall sense of wellbeing as well (check out the UC RecCentre).

2. Evaluate the situation

If you're upset, evaluate why. Is it because you're surprised by this particular result? Because you didn’t prepare enough? Because you have disappointed yourself or family/whānau? All of the above? Understanding how perceptions of failure differ from one person to the next and pinpointing what the key concern is can be useful when trying to cope adaptively.

Next, do some detective work and consider why you might have ended up with the result in question.

  • Did you study and prepare enough?
  • Were you just off your game due to some outside circumstance, such as tiredness or sickness?
  • Was the marker unfair or was a question unclear?
  • Did you misread the essay question or exam question?
  • Were there any errors in a calculation?

There can be many ways in which we make sense of our failures and successes. In particular, it is recommended that you consider anything you had control over. If it’s something that you can identify as reading to the result, then consider what you might do next time to reduce the likelihood of such a mark or score.

Now, seek advice. This is your chance to look for more information. Often, students may feel as though they should accept the grade they have received and move on without considering what to prevent sub-par performance from happening again. Instead of doing that, consider some of the following strategies:

  • Talk to a classmate: It can be very enlightening to hear what others have experienced, and this can often help with advice on how to improve and how to deal with the stress.
  • Talk to course staff: If you have thought about where things might have gone wrong and have discussed things with a classmate, but are still confused about why you received your grade, this is your chance to ask your course staff for assistance. It's vital to think about how you phrase a request for assistance. Try to avoid any accusations. Remain calm. Ask for clarification on your assessment so that you can improve rather than try to negotiate a grade change, re-sit, or re-mark.

3. Make a plan of action

Once you have gathered up information about what is upsetting you and why you may have received the outcome you did, now is your time to think about next steps.

Consider what strategies YOU can take in the future to improve as a learner.

  • Is more preparation needed?
  • Is better preparation needed?
  • Are you missing classes?
  • Are there extra steps you can take to ensure you answer the question set?
  • Is asking questions about an assessment allowed, and if so, would that be useful?

Talk with support staff for advice—they can offer objective, honest suggestions.

Lastly, reframe the way you think about failing—find the benefits of past failures, see that the potential for failing is shared by everyone, and look to see what failings can teach us. Reflect on it to see what can be learned rather than ruminate on past failures. And be kind to yourself!