Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve revisited this topic, but I’ve been receiving hundreds of comments on the original post entitled “How to cope with exam failure” since it was published a few years ago, and I feel like it’s necessary and important to revisit this painful and sensitive topic. Many of you, like me when I wrote that article in 2012, are wrangling with exam failure or the possibility of failing your exams. The difficulty in providing advice for failure is that it is incredibly hard to unlearn a lot of the rhetoric we have been taught that subconsciously encourages us to define ourselves by our exam results.
Throughout our lives, we’re told that we’re worth less if we don’t do well in school. We’re told that everything we amount to is based on a 1 hour paper in an exam hall. We’re never given the opportunity or the language to articulate otherwise, or to challenge this narrative. Your value is more than just an exam paper or an essay assignment: you’re the sum of all your experiences, all your relationships and friendships, all your talents, your laughter, your sadness, what you find joy in, what you consider important and unimportant — only you have the right to define who you are and what you’re worth.
Moreover, exams do not account for our intelligence. I can really vouch for that. When I finished my IB with low scores, despite working really hard, I was convinced that I wasn’t intelligent enough. Over the past three and a half years since that time, I’ve learnt that intelligence is a spectrum that cannot be encapsulated by school examinations alone. Your intelligence is in everything you do, in every skill you have that might not be quantified as ‘valuable’ intellect in school, and most importantly, in the ideas, thoughts and expressions that you know means something to you.
The most important thing to remember, when you feel like you won’t amount to anything, and that your failures will be your inevitable downfall, is to be kind to yourself. It may sound silly, or a little over simplistic, but you would be surprised how harsh people are on themselves when they fail. And it is in those times, when scathing thoughts are darting around your mind and slashing at your self-esteem, that you must remember to be kind to yourself – to the you who tried hard, but did’t succeed. To the you who, despite the circumstances, managed to get into that exam hall even though you felt like that was the last place you wanted to be. To the you who has felt that you are not enough. Be kind, and remember that you ARE enough, and that you can jump these hurdles.
You are worthy.
You are intelligent.
You are valuable.