How To Keep Going When Your Exam Went Wrong

Exam time. It's a synonym for stress and fatigue. No matter what your major is and what classes you have, this is a common feeling. If someone told me they're not stressed during finals, I would say they're lying! It's inevitabel and I can't say stress is always a bad thing.

Exam time. It’s a synonym for stress and fatigue. No matter what your major is and what classes you have, this is a common feeling. If someone told me they’re not stressed during finals, I would say they’re lying! It’s inevitabel and I can’t say stress is always a bad thing.

You begin your exams, you’ve got 4-5 to do in a week or 6 in a span of two weeks. You study, study, study. You sit at the library for long periods of time, you drink incredible amounts of coffee and have to actually tell yourself to go to bed to prevent passing out. Now here’s the problem. The first exams come, you feel ready. You turn the first page, the second, the third… You have absolutely no idea what to write. Total panic. Disaster.

This actually happened to me last week on my 3rd of 4 finals. I was turning the 13 pages of my exam and had tears on my eyes because panic was creeping in. It’s the absolute worst feeling in the world and I have to say it doesn’t happen often to me. However, it does happen to the best of us! I didn’t expect it; it caught me off guard. That’s why I’m talking about here to day.

I want to help you avoid these kind of situations. But I also want to tell you how you can move past this obstacle and not let it affect the rest of your exams.

One bad exam or one bad mark does not define who you are. It doesn’t make or break you.

So here’s what I’ve been doing and a few tips to help you out if you find yourself struggling during or after an exam!

During the exam

Take a deep breath. Then another. And another.

You’ve got this. You have studied (well I hope…) and you know this stuff.

Take a moment to dig in your brain. Re-read the question(s). Take the time to actually think.

Once panic sets in, it’s really hard to keep going through it. You need to give yourself some time to relax and concentrate. You heave to complete the exam to the best of your abilities. Having your heart pump and your thoughts go fuzzy is not the best of your abilities.

Take the questions one at a time, stop thinking that you have no idea what to answer to question 4d). That will only distract you. Write what seems to you is the most logical answer. You have to follow your instincts. I can’t stress how important that is; your first idea is probably the best one. Go with it.

Fill out the whole exam. Writing something is always better than nothing. At least you can try to get some points. If you don’t write anything, you won’t get anything. And that sucks.

After the exam


Stop studying for as long as you can, depending on what you have coming up next. It could be 1 hours, 5 hours or even the rest of the day. This is so important. You need to give yourself a break. Exams are so mentally draining I usually take a good 2-3 hour nap after coming back from an exam. Or I do a small netflix session. Whatever will help you let go.

Cry if you need to. I know I often need to. It relieves the stress and helps me move on.

Remember that you did what you could to the best of your abilities and you couldn’t have done things better for this particular exam. You can do better on the others though. Instead of depreciating your work and efforts and telling yourself that you aren’t able to succeed, use this as motivation for the other exams you have coming up. Don’t let one bad experience ruin you, even if you’re tired. It’s hard. But it works.

You can’t change what happened it the past. You can only provide more efforts for the future.

Lastly, I would advise to rethink your experience. This is important to avoid such situations in the future. Was it your study strategy that failed you? Did you not provide enough effort during the semester? Did you think you understood the material and you didn’t? Or was the exam simply more difficult than what you had seen in class and you were taken aback by it?

This reflection will allow you to take some weight off of your shoulders and to strategize better for the future. You might not be able to determine that until you’ve received your mark/consulted your exam.

In the end, I don’t think my exam went as badly as it seemed while I was writing it. Of course, I’m not quite satisfied but I can’t blame myself either. I moved on and I got through my two weeks of finals. Finally. You can do it too. Just keep a positive state of mind and don’t let anything bring you down. At least until you’re finished!

Has this happened to you? What do you do to relieve stress in this kind of situation? I want to hear your stories. After all, we’re all on the same boat!

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Discussion about this post

  1. Shana says:

    It happened to me yesterday actually.
    I took out a lot of time to prepare and study for this exam. I knew my weak point for the study material so I tried to minimise its effect. It did not work, what I failed would happen (and what I took precautions for) did happen.. On top of that was the fact that I got a limited number of exam questions (2 big ones and 1 small one), which made the exam more difficult and me more upset. (it was an oral exam, so I already was even more nervous than usual). It just felt as if I had everything against me, and I couldn’t save my mark anymore. I’m still upset. There is this breathing exercise that I usually do when I get stressed, but now I wasn’t really necessary. I just could’t tell my prof what he wanted to hear. Another way to wind down after this sort of event, I have not discovered yet. Maybe I should’ve done some sport… I did take a break from studying, though. I always do that after tough exams: I really feel that helps too.

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