Dealing with Poor Exam Performance

Dealing with Poor Exam Performance

The Issue - Feeling bad

When I'm feeling bad about something, I go through this thought process. I first work out whether there's anything that can be done to heal the situation at hand and/or learn from it. Then, I ask whether continuing to feel bad will have further benefit. If the answer is no, I choose not to feel bad.

So in the case of exam results, the disappointment that comes from getting 'bad' results is useful insofar as it encourages us to work harder next time (if that's even what we want). However, continuing to feel bad about our results (which are now completely outside our control) is a bit pointless, so we can choose not to feel that way.

If we're not used to thinking like this, the idea of choosing our thoughts/emotions might seem ridiculous. But it works - to find out more, you might like to research stoicism. The book I would recommend is Happy by Derren Brown.

A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine is very good too.

If you read these books, you'll be armed with techniques for dealing with negative emotions. Or minimum, you'll be reading something useful instead of just floundering around in disappointment.

The condition - Identity crisis

The reason most of us feel disappointed about exam results is that our whole identity revolves around our performance.

If results make up too much of our identity and then we don't perform, we'll be devastated.

The solution is to diversify our identity. This Mark Manson article articulates this in such a beautiful way that I cba to rephrase it. By the way, Mark Manson is one of my favourite writers and his blog is one I follow frequently.

When you have money, it’s always smart to diversify your investments. That way if one of them goes south, you don’t lose everything. It’s also smart to diversify your identity, to invest your self-esteem and what you care about into a variety of different areas — business, social life, relationships, philanthropy, athletics — so that when one goes south, you’re not completely screwed over and emotionally wrecked.

If you're upset by your results, it's fine - everyone's been there. Remind yourself of the Serenity Prayer. And most importantly, consider that your identity might be too wrapped up in your exam results, and think about how you might diversify it.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

Extra Reading