School can often feel like an exhausting and constant grind. And it seems to be, that no matter how hard you study or how much effort you put in, those marks just seem impossible.
This is the reality for many if not all of us.
My first truly confronting ‘bad mark’ experience happened in Year 11. For context, maths was a subject I found a lot of joy in. It was routine and had clear-cut answers so I could always keep track of my progress. In the first term of my senior year, however, I received a D in my exam. I thought this was the end of the world. What hurt most wasn’t even the mark itself but it was the thought that all my efforts could only accumulate to such little results. I felt like a failure. I felt like I would never be good enough. I felt like giving up.
Flash forward a few years and now I am studying a Doctor of Medicine at my dream university. So yeah, I didn’t give up. And now I know what I wish I had known in year 11; marks do not define us, it’s how we respond to those marks and the lessons we can take away that do.
Any good student can get good marks but only great students can turn bad marks into great successes.
It’s important to remember that the ATAR is a year-long marathon and NOT a sprint. It has its ups, downs, speed bumps and detours. And from my experience, the ones that win are always the ones that pace themselves, stay consistent and never let things such as 'bad marks' bring them down. Hard work always pays off. Even if it doesn’t seem to right now, it will, I promise.
THE ULTIMATE ACADEMIC COMBACK CRASH COURSE
MY ACADEMIC COMEBACK CRASH COURSE
Take a day or two to completely reset yourself from a fixed into a growth mindset. When we receive 'bad marks' we often dwell and get frustrated and angry at the world. Spend the day outside with friends and family. Take a spa day, have a game night, watch your favorite comfort movie, or whatever it is that helps you take your mind off school. Remind yourself that there's more to life than your ATAR. That exam, as important as it feels right now, will be a long-forgotten memory once you graduate high school (Seriously looking back I can’t believe how dramatic I was about my marks).
Once you feel ready to face your demons (the bad exam mark) the next step is to understand your feedback. This involves going through the exam or assignment and trying the understand where you went wrong. If the feedback you have been given is unclear, ask your teacher if they could give you more clarification and help you improve. Remember they aren’t the enemy here, they want to see you succeed too!
3. Create a plan
Okay, now you know where you went wrong it is time to target your weaknesses. If it was a topic test, print out the syllabus sheet and highlight the areas you struggled with in red, the areas you did semi-okay in orange and the areas you aced in green. This is the traffic light system and it helps you narrow down your focus on which syllabus dot points need more attention. Now you organize your study time turning as many parts red as possible. For essays, it's a bit trickier. They're a bit more abstract and less clear-cut. As much as essay writing sucks, to improve it’s really just practice makes perfect. Go over your notes again and form a stronger argument. Then attempt writing your essay out again implementing teacher feedback. Show it to your teacher again and see whether you’ve improved or not.
Now sometimes ‘bad marks’ result because your study methods have just been ineffective. Everyone learns differently and it's hard for teachers to modify their teaching style to all thirty students in the class. It’s up to you to experiment and find what works for you. Okay, so your prep for the last exam didn’t work. Go over the things that you did and think about how you can modify them.
- Are you practicing active recall or just reading over your notes?
- Did you do practice papers under timed conditions or just textbook questions?
- If you were studying alone and found it hard to focus try a study group. If you were in a study group and found that distracting try studying alone.
- Change up your scenery. Maybe a public library surrounded by other students will encourage your brain to study too.
There are hundreds of different study techniques out there: flashcards, Pomodoro and the 2345 method. Research and find what works best for you.
I think my bad-mark experience in high school was actually the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It forced me into this growth mindset early on allowing me to face my battles in med school with resilience and experience.
Trust me when I say bad marks in high school made me a better person and honestly helped me get to where I am today. No one – I repeat, no one – will go through life without ever having a dip. And I know, it is hard to separate yourself from your marks, especially in high school where it feels like they hold so much weight for your future. But there are always so many ways to get into your dream course that as long as you keep trying your hardest you will always get to where you want to be.