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Exam results: Dealing with disappointment

After what we’ve been through it’s OK to feel differently, and as we enter a new normal it is more important than ever to look after our mental and physical wellbeing.

This week, Senior Educational & Child Psychologist, Jonny Fee, talks about the stresses pupils face when receiving their exam grades.

'I failed in some subjects in exams, but my friend passed them all… now he is an engineer at Microsoft and I am the owner of Microsoft.'

(Bill Gates) 

Exam results day can be a stressful time for everyone involved, young people, parents and teachers. It can be particularly difficult for those who have not done as well as they had hoped. The importance of exam results at this time, can often be overplayed. Sometimes the pressure to do well can motivate students. It is true that having good qualifications will open doors and provide a clear pathway to university, although it is not the only route that young people might choose.

Exam results tend to become less important as pupils leave school. There are many alternative routes for securing a career. Understanding more about how you manage and develop your emotions and cope when things go wrong can be helpful for your mental health and also make you a better learner. Schools are well placed to support students who are disappointed with their results and staff will be available to provide support. 

How do you understand and respond to failure? 

'Failure is so important. We talk about success all the time, but it is the ability to resist or use failure that often leads to greater success.'

(J.K Rowling)

How you think about and react to disappointment can prevent things escalating and becoming bigger worries that won’t go away. It can stop you from pushing yourself and trying again in the future. But don’t worry there are things you can do to keep negative thoughts under control and develop a more positive outlook.

There are two types of mind-sets that can influence your thoughts, feelings and behaviour:

Fixed Mindset

People with a fixed mindset often believe that intelligence and ability is simply something that you are born with and is fixed and set in stone. Having a fixed mindset can result in a fear of failure and can result in you avoiding anything challenging as a way of protecting your confidence.

Growth Mindset

Individuals with a growth mindset tend to believe ability or intelligence can be developed through learning from challenges and mistakes and that perseverance and trying new approaches can result in successfully overcoming challenges. 

Thinking about thinking 

It is important to be aware of the relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. How we think about a situation, can strongly influence how we feel and how we behave. When you encounter disappointment, you can often experience negative thoughts racing around your mind. Often they can be generalised and make you view yourself and other areas of your life in a negative way. If you haven’t performed as well as you had hoped there can be a tendency to be very self-critical and internalise failure. Sometimes these feelings can spiral out of control and result in rigid beliefs or stop you doing things and losing interest in the things you enjoy.


It is helpful to consider external factors that influence your performance, perhaps realising that other people found the exam hard, or that you could have revised harder. Being able to reflect on your disappointment and learn from it will allow you to reach your full potential.