How to Move Past a Tricky Exam

by | May 31, 2023 | Education

Worst case scenario

We have all been there: you’ve walked out of the exam hall feeling that it couldn’t have gone any worse. When I was in college, I left my first mathematics test wanting the ground to swallow me up. My anxiety beforehand had morphed into a deep shame, which stayed with me for the rest of the week. As a result, I didn’t just do poorly on one paper but my entire winter schedule, resulting in several retakes. There is nothing wrong with having retakes, especially as it allows more time to further prepare yourself. However, it also meant double the work and effort which I could have avoided with the right mindset. So, here are my tips for moving past a tricky exam.


Positive Thinking

The most significant aspect towards getting over a difficult paper is maintaining positivity. Once I had felt that I failed the ‘easiest’ module, I gave up all hope. In reality, my skills were more suited to the next exam, but I hadn’t mentally recovered enough. Nobody knows what results they have achieved until the end of summer; you could have done much better than expected. Talk with your friends to gauge their reaction to the test. Grading is marked on a curve related to the overall population, so it’s possible to squeeze in to a passing boundary. Tallied up against the other students and your marks can still average out nicely.



Sometimes, though, no amount of positive thinking will be convincing enough when you know that the exam has gone sub-optimally. I’ve had friends at University who have sat down for an exam and left within half an hour, or not even turned up! I required a compensating pass during my first year, and we have all earned our degrees despite this. Simply put, it is OK to fail. It has happened to everyone at some point, and this one exam will not ruin your studies nor career. As mentioned previously, retakes allow you to learn and prepare for next time, we just don’t want to make too much work for ourselves. Accept the previous mistakes (there is nothing you can do to change them now) and tackle the upcoming challenges better.


Relax and Destress

Linking together positive thinking and acceptance will hopefully lead us to being relaxed and destressed prior to the next exam. Devoting precious energy worrying about the previous test is not only futile but distracting from the pressing task at hand. I recently wrote a post here about maintaining your mental health during the exam period which could help manage this. Taking a break from the intense revision timetable and going outside can be just what’s needed to clear your head.


Revise and revitalise

Alternatively, getting right back into revising might be exactly what’s needed. Depending on how you work, having something to focus on will take your mind off of any lingering doubts. There are a couple of sports phrases which summarise this: ‘The next match is the most important one’ and ‘It’s the second mistake, trying to rectify the first, that does the most damage’. Essentially, by prioritising productive learning, you can ride out the negative emotion and not lose any momentum.

About Bristol Tutors

We have been a trusted local provider of tutoring in the Bristol area for over 10 years. If you’d like to understand more about how we could help you, please get in touch.