Preparing for Exams – Part 5 – Embracing failure

Embrace Failure


The Preparing for Exams series was first posted in 2017. Each year now we update the posts and repost them as exams approach. Let’s face it, the rules for preparing for exams don’t really change that much over time. 

I gave you a lot to think about in the last four posts: managing anxiety, study tips, common writing/study traps and taming your brain.

Today, my intention was to write a deep and meaningful post on embracing failure, inspired by a couple of articles I had read recently on Lifehacker (here and here)

But when the words didn’t come, I decided instead to model the process of embracing failure.

I therefore present to you my totally s#*t infographic.

This thing is ugly, pointless and an abomination.

And I love it.

It will inspire me to bigger and better infographics!

I will be a better man for having made this hot mess of a picture.

On Exam Day
Oh, this is just bad!

Jokes aside, failure is a topic that is on everyone’s mind at exam time, but perhaps not the topic we want to talk about.

The reality is some people will fail their exams, their topic, their course.

It will feel really crappy. They will be very upset. It might be you. It might be someone you know.

Hidden in that failure however will be a silver lining. And yes, I know everyone says that and its really annoying when they do, but in most cases it is true.

If that person can take the time to sit with those tough feelings (and not avoid them, or blame others), they will likely get a clarity of purpose and a commitment to future success that can really only come from the experience of failure.

They might accept that a course is not for them. They might acknowledge that they didn’t do themselves justice by working and studying hard. They might finally admit or open up about factors that got in the way of their study, that they need help with.

Regardless of the nature of their realisation, they will (when considering the whole of their life, not just university), actually be in a better position than if they hadn’t failed. Lessons from failure are painful, but much richer.

We all fail. We all fail hard at times. If you google “failure” you’ll find a bunch of articles and projects, across the areas of business, education, and self-help that encourage us to embrace failure, built on the universal truth that we will all encounter it at some point.

If the exam period doesn’t go as planned for you, I encourage you to spend some time reading those articles about the experiences of others. Maybe this article about how sports athletes use self-compassion to recover from failure will help you take a kinder approach to your own failure.

I promise that a failed exam or topic or course is not the end of the world. It may even be the beginning of a new chapter.

In Part 6 of the Preparing for Exams series, I continue the conversation with a post on memory. Unless of course I forget (boom-tish!)

Want to comment on this article, or ask me a question about the health and well-being services available to you as a student? Feel free to comment below, abuse me on Twitter, or email me (


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Academic skills Random Gareth Pontifications Resilience

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