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A Failed Test is Not The End of the World. Breathe.


So you got your grade back, and it’s bad. Really bad. The first thing you probably want to do is freak out, but just breathe! There are steps you can take to try to fix things like contact your professor, make a study plan, and get needed help. You’ll also want to de-stress by taking some time away from your studies as well. Just try hard to remember that a failed test is not the end of the world.

Failed Test? Breathe!

Neon sign saying and breathe on jungle wall
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The first thing you need to do when you get a failing grade back is to calm down and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and keep breathing for a moment. Try to remember that you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to do poorly on an exam. There are ways to fix this.

Don’t Blame Anyone

Before you start pointing blame at others, remember now is not the time. Don’t blame the professor, your friends or family. Don’t even get mad at yourself. If you find yourself getting heated, go back to the first step of breathing.

Find a Calm Space

Wherever you feel calm and collected, go there to breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, and maybe call a friend. Vent if you need to but remember not to get mad or too emotional, especially because that won’t help you. If you need to go for a run or meet friends for coffee or a drink, go for it. You can study later after you have calmed down and cleared your head.

Contact Your Professor

Student with a failed test emailing the professor
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Now that you’re calm, it’s time to start figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it. First stop: your professor.

Check for Mistakes

If it’s absolutely impossible that you failed, ask your professor if there could be a mistake. For example, something wrong on the answer sheet or a mixed score entry. If teachers have many scores to enter at once, it’s possible that its a typo or they misread your score.

Request a Retake

So it is true that you really did fail an exam. Now, ask your professor if it’s possible to retake the test. When you have a good reason for doing poorly, or if you are generally a good student, this is definitely worth a try. Make your argument for a retake clear and reasonable and show why you should be given the extra chance. But do so without getting defensive or pleading, as this is likely to backfire.

Ask to See the Exam

If it’s allowed, ask to see the exam so that you can study better next time. See if you can go over the exam with a professor or TA for the class. Sometimes, this will be a part of the syllabus and course plan — that at any time you can go over exams, labs or other assignments if you attend office hours or make appointments with the TAs. This would be an excellent time to take advantage of that.

Make a Plan

Books on an open table for a student with a failed test
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Now that you know what went wrong, take steps to not let a failed test happen again.

The Next Exam

For a retake of the exam you failed, study hard, and we mean really hard! You won’t get a third chance on this test. Truly spend the time to understand what you didn’t on the last exam, and practice concepts that you missed so you don’t get them wrong again.

Also be sure to make notes on what went wrong this exam so that you can improve for the next one. For example, did multiple choice trip you up? Make sure to take your time reading answer choices next time. If you couldn’t provide examples, spend extra time going over lectures and reading every section of your readings.

Study Tips

Hopefully you have a few good study habits under your belt, but if not, here’s 5 great study skills for succeeding in college, including note taking, mind maps, reading aloud, teaching others, and time management.

Now is also the time to look at the way you currently study, find any deficits, and try to insert better and more fruitful ways of studying. For help on that, check out this article that lists 5 bad study habits, and 4 good ones to keep using.

Making Up for a Bad Grade

This part is important. It’s likely that your failed exam counted for a good portion of your grade in the class. If you still have more of the semester to go, try to make up for the bad grade in a number of ways.

Definitely attend every class for the rest of the semester to get maximum participation points. Also, spend extra time going over homework, assignments, essays, and projects for this class to make sure you will get the highest grade possible. Make this course a priority!

Also, it never hurts to ask for extra credit. You might be able to initiate a self-directed project, or help with research the professor is working on. You’ll get more experience, knowledge, and a better grade.

Spend Time Away from Academics

Students from University of the People having a study break
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Even if you did poorly on your exam, you still took a big test which is a reason to give yourself a break. Now that you have a plan for improving your grade or doing better next time, take your well-deserved break.

Meet Friends

Friends are an excellent stress reliever and one of the best ways to get your mind off of school. Go for a walk together, talk on the phone, or meet for dinner or drinks. If you want to vent, go ahead. If you prefer to take a break from talking about schoolwork, make sure your buddy knows that.

Get Some Exercise

Being outside is good for your stress levels, and getting exercise can help clear the mind. You can go for a run, hit the gym, or do some yoga. Whatever gets you moving, do it.

Do What You Love

Take time to do whatever makes you happy. It can be listening to music, making art, or watching a new show. Try to make it a habit of spending some time away (an evening, weekend or even a few hours) from academics in order to get your head back in the game for when you’re ready to buckle down and do better.

Get Needed Help

University of the People student getting help for a failed test
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Seeking resources available through your school is a great idea for success in college. If you were able to get your exam back but unable to review with the professor or TA, take it to a tutor or a student help area on campus to have a peer expert or tutor review with you.

You should also check out study groups for the subject you did poorly in.

Finally, make or join a study group that’s within your class. This is particularly helpful because you can go over homework and study topics with classmates that understand your professor’s lingo.


You failed an exam in college. This means you’ve experienced what most other college grads have as well. It’s not the end of the world! With the plan we’ve made, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming your failed test and improving your grades dramatically.