You’re gearing up for your upcoming GCSE exams or A-Levels.

You’re well aware that successful completion and high grades will determine the course of your life, from the career you dream of having to the financial security you hope to establish.

So, no pressure, then.

In fact, because of what hangs in the balance, these exams are incredibly stressful; the general certificate of secondary education alone will determine how we will fit into the world.

Even if you don’t intend to pursue a university education – if an apprenticeship will bring you closer to the life you intend for yourself, which apprenticeship you qualify for depends on how many GCSE exams you take and how well you do in them.

Being intellectually prepared – knowing your subject matter backwards and forwards is an essential step towards successful completion.

Being mentally and emotionally prepared is equally important, if not more so.

It’s time for us to talk about how you too can be ready to face this level of adversity and overcome your own self-doubt in the face of failure, whether real or projected.

Your First Defence Against Possible Failure

Let’s face it: not only are these exams tough but, with your very future hanging on the outcome of them, they can be downright frightening.

If you are anxious about your future prospects, you might torture yourself with negative thoughts ranging from imposter syndrome (you couldn’t possibly be the student everyone thinks you are!) to a growing fear of failure that could turn into a phobia if left unchecked.

Such negative self-talk does absolutely nothing for you. It’s time to listen to another inner voice: the voice of pragmaticism.

Pragmaticism: a philosophical approach that assesses the truth of meaning in terms of a venture’s success.

How to stop test anxiety: take the pragmatic view of your exams
Taking a pragmatic approach does away with perfectionist highs and test anxiety lows Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Taking a pragmatic approach to your exams will go a long way towards easing your fear of failure by looking at real consequences of failures and of not failing.

We’re not talking about ignoring valid concerns and creating a veil of blind optimism, here.

If you are suffering from anxiety at the mere thought of exam questions, you shouldn’t disregard it; that worry has its roots in something that you’re going to have to deal with sooner or later.

However, for the sake of your exams, it is best to put such dealing on a shelf for the duration; as for your exams, mindfulness meditation could help you overcome your fear.

Your first step in coping with possible exam failure is to enter the examination room with a pragmatic attitude.

Now, let’s talk about what you can use to build that helpful mindset up.

What Are the Consequences of Exam Failure?

You might think they’re listed in this article’s introduction: nobody wants to hire anyone after failing so miserably on their certification exam. If you can’t get hired you can’t earn money, strike out on your own, make your mark on this world, and then…

STOP!!! That’s how a cycle of negativity perpetuates.

Not that all of the above is not true. It is, but only to a certain extent.

Unlike other countries where you only get one shot at higher education and a decent life, the UK offers plenty of chances to get one’s feet under them.

You could talk to your teacher or another testing center and schedule a retake. You could take an alternative exam like the iGCSEs. You might decide, instead of a university education, that an apprenticeship would suit you better.

And while you’re learning new skills, you could continue to study, re-sitting your low-mark GCSEs in November or January.

The important thing is to not dissolve into drama when you get your less-than-desired results.

You will most certainly feel anger, disappointment and despair. Give them their due and then put them away. Torturing yourself over a poor showing is the most counterproductive thing you can do.

After a sufficient period of grieving, put the experience in perspective and move on.

What Have You Learned From the Experience?

Looking back over your entire exam experience – from the time you selected your exam subjects to the day you got your results, do you have a realistic take of it all? Can you see where you’re going from here?

If, after a suitable time of putting things in perspective, you find yourself still in a deep funk, perhaps it is time to talk with someone who is experienced in dealing with such setbacks.

There is nothing wrong with talking things out; if nothing else, such a professional can help pull your focus away from your exam results.

Afraid of failing? Talk to someone for self-help
No embarrassment needed; talking to someone is a great way to overcome insecurities Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Think about this: exam results aside, you must have had some fascination for that subject to have chosen it. What do you like about it so much? What do you know about it? Are you still interested in it? Why?

This is a technique used by grief counsellors to help people manage their feelings of loss by focusing on the best aspects of their loved ones: precious memories, endearing habits and so on.

The point is, by discussing positive associations with the topic, you force the negative aspect – the poor marks, into perspective.

Another effective strategy in overcoming negative feelings associated with failure is to project yourself a couple of years into the future.

What will your life be like? Where will you be? Will you be working? What kind of job will you have? Will you have money? Will you be in love?

Will your failed exam have such a great impact on your life?

Projection gives you licence to dream but not too wildly. Not picket fences and knights in shining armour; on the other hand, not living under a bridge and begging your daily bread, either.

Forget perfectionism and depressive thoughts and feelings; here again, being pragmatic is the way forward.

Forget procrastination, too: learn about the Department for Education’s exam retake policies so you can get your certification examination out of the way…

Bouncing Back Into Your Best Self

Once you’ve put your exam results in their proper perspective, it is time to get back to the business of living.

  • You know you have the option of re-sitting exams
  • You know that, in spite of those results, your life is not over
  • You know that you have many opportunities to make a good life for yourself, even if your original plan needs a bit of revision
  • You have seen how thinking broadly serves you well
    • much better than narrowly focusing on a single aspect of one facet of your life does!

All of the disappointment and anger you felt when you first got your exam results is fuel for your future; turn it into motivation to never get put so low again.

You may even decide that sitting exams again is not for you. After all, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin ended their stint in higher education early; Rudyard Kipling never even went to university!

That puts you in pretty good company, doesn’t it?

With the realisation that you are by no means a failure, you might go for a bit of fun – healthy fun, of course.

Meet with your mates for a pizza or an evening of cinema and popcorn. Do some running, cycling or workout at the gym.

Find ways to relax: take long walks with your dog, if you have one. Cuddle with your cat if felines rule your heart. Try yoga, dance or writing poetry.

Admire and respect all the ways you are valuable.

Help other people. Whether it’s your Gran or the Auntie down the street, do something nice for others. Take your little sister/brother shopping or for something they’d like to have – maybe they’d just like to hang around you, now that exams are over.

By the way: did you know you can retake your exams privately?

your self worth is worth more than your next exam
Before you start taking risks again, spend a little quality time healing yourself Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Takeaways

We all have fears and we all fail, all the time. What makes us great is the many ways to overcome our setbacks.

Failing is not the end of the world but our inner critic could well get us there.

Quiet it (and your fear of failing) with self-compassion: forgive yourself for not being perfect and embrace the fact that you’re only human. And then, work on becoming the best human you can be.

Remember that you are not a failure. This setback does not define you; never believe you are not good enough.

Don’t let the fear of success taint your vision or hold you back – this fear can be as damaging to your future as the fear of failing. Keep your ambitions alive, no matter what.

Remind yourself that making mistakes is a part of the human experience; it’s what you do with the fallout and how you come out on the other side of things that makes all of the difference.

Bottom line: overcoming fear is a growth mindset; remaining fearful because of a poorly managed setback is what truly damages your self-esteem - and that can echo for the rest of your life.

Now, discover test-taking tips for re-sitting your A-Levels and GCSEs.

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.