Dealing with Bad Grades or Exam Results

I received a few messages from students who were disappointed by their final grades and wanted my advice on how to cope. So let’s look at the symptom first, and then the disease.

The symptom – Unhappy with results

Whenever I feel bad about something, I think about how I can remedy the situation and/or learn from it. After that, I ask whether it will be of any further use to continue to feel bad about it. If not (which is usually the case), I simply choose not to feel bad about it anymore.

Getting ‘bad’ exam results can be a good thing so long as we use it to motivate ourselves to work harder next time (if that’s what we really want). However, we can choose not to feel bad about our results (which are now completely beyond our control).

This idea that we can choose our thoughts or emotions might seem ridiculous to those of us who aren’t used to thinking this way. You might be interested in learning more about stoicism (a school of thought that has seen a resurgence in recent years) for more information. 

The disease – Identity crisis

In some sense, our sense of identity is tied to our exam performance, which is why we are disappointed about bad exam results.

If grades represent too much (or all, in some cases) of our identity, and then we perform poorly, we’re going to be devastated.

The solution is to diversify our identity.

If you have money, diversifying your investments is always a good idea. If one of them fails, you won’t lose everything. To avoid being totally screwed over and emotionally wrecked when one thing goes wrong, it’s smart to diversify your identity, to invest your self-esteem into a variety of things – business, social life, relationships, philanthropy, athletics – so that when one thing goes wrong, you won’t completely lose it all.

Let’s leave it at that for now. It’s okay if you’re disappointed by your exam results – we’ve all been there 🙂 Secondly, remember the Serenity Prayer and do some research on stoic ways to deal with negative emotions. Finally, consider that your identity might be too tied up in your grades, and figure out if you can 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.

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