Bouncing back: How to overcome disappointing grades and "failure"

Things don't always go as planned, and that's okay. When you receive marks that were not what you expected, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your next set of marks.

2 months ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Tim Gouw / Unsplash

We have all been there - you go to open up your laptop, and nervously log onto your school’s assignment page when a wave of dread hits you. The grade staring back at you is not what you expected, you put so much effort into that essay. You stayed up late sacrificing your sleep schedule to conjure up that thesis. You believe that you didn’t get back the effort you put in. This feeling is never pleasurable, but we have all been there. Trust me, I have and know exactly what it feels like. In this article, I am going to share my advice for ‘bouncing back’ after a disappointing grade to equip you with some tools for building resilience and thinking more positively.

Ask for feedback

If you ever achieve a disappointing grade or grade you were not expecting, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher why they gave you this grade and how you can do better next time. Explain to them how you’re feeling as a result of the grade and ask for critical feedback. They should give you some pointers on where you can improve to guide you in the right direction.

Change your mindset

When I was in year 10, I remember really struggling with each of my assignments across all my subjects. Grade after grade, I was only just passing the majority of my subjects. I failed many of my tests and felt very disappointed in myself. I remember wanting to do better so that I could reach my full potential.

It definitely all starts with the mindset. Make a conscious decision that you are going to change your mindset. I understand this can be quite challenging after receiving a disappointing grade but try not to see it as a criticism of your abilities, but rather as an opportunity to improve. If you think negatively in a fixed mindset with thoughts such as ‘I suck’, ‘I’m dumb’ or ‘I will never do better’, how are you meant to give yourself the space to improve? It is best to always be kind to yourself and think positively. For example, a growth mindset may look like ‘I may have not done as well as I thought this time, but I am going to use this as an opportunity to better myself and skills so that I can achieve my full potential next time’.

Try to identify when a negative thought slips into your mind and counteract it with a more positive one. Train your brain to think positively rather than negatively. It is much more difficult to find the motivation to study when you are feeling down about yourself. Believe you can and will do better next time!

Review your study techniques

Once I changed my mindset after receiving back-to-back disappointing grades, I took a look at my study skills and environment. I remember doing some research on more efficient ways to study. At the time, I was just copying down information in textbooks and re-writing them the night before a test or exam. By doing this, I couldn’t recall any information in the test and was left scratching my head at each question. This was not a good feeling at all. After doing my research I concluded that study techniques using active recall are best. For test or exam revision, try using flashcards, making your own practice tests, drawing and labelling diagrams or teaching the information to a friend. Spaced repetition is also something to consider. You will learn best when you review the information every couple of days or weekly.

For written assignments, make sure that you are closely following the rubric and understanding the task requirements in full. Double check your spelling and grammar as well as your fluency and clarity of sentences. Get a friend to read your work as they will have a different perspective and can provide new feedback. You should also write assignments in small chunks and come back to them the next day as you will have a fresh mindset and new ideas.

It is best to experiment with different study techniques and find which ones are most suited to you. We are all different learners. You may learn better hands-on, visually, with audio or through a combination of all. For further help with looking at your study techniques, you can always find your best local tutor at: https://kisacademics.com/find-a-tutor. Our tutors here at KIS academics are more than happy to help you unlock your full potential and achieve the grades of your dreams!

Set goals

Once you have looked at your study techniques, it’s time to set some goals! When I was in high school I started small and gradually made my goals more complex. Start with some small short-term goals and gradually make long-term goals. By achieving your smaller goals, you will build up the confidence to achieve your long-term goals. This, in turn, will help your positive thinking, resultantly boosting your motivation for study.

A short-term goal could be to set aside 45 minutes of study each day after school for two weeks. A long-term goal could be to achieve an ATAR of 80 and above at the end of year 12. Remember to make all of your goals specific so that you know how close you are to achieving them and when you have achieved them.

Above all, keep this in mind

School is not always easy. At some time or another, you will experience a challenge you will need to overcome. When this challenge is a disappointing grade, it is important to stay positive and see it as an opportunity to grow in your skills. If I never experienced this disappointment in years 10 and 11, I would not have worked nearly as hard in year 12 to achieve each of my goals. Just remember in all of your tests and assignments to double-check yourself before you double-wreck yourself!


Written by KIS Academics Tutor for SACE English, Biology and Psychology, Charlotte Kenning. Charlotte is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Speech Pathology at Flinders University and has received stellar reviews from her past KIS Academics students. You can view Charlotte's profile here and request her as a tutor.

Spread the word

Keep reading