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Disappointing Exam Results: An Action Plan

Disappointing Exam Results
Written by Channon Gray

It’s the time of year when dreams are either met or crushed with the release of results from GCSEs to A-Levels; and whilst most celebrate, others will be facing disappointing exam results.

Nowadays there is an overwhelming pressure on students do well; as there is a common misconception that exam results are what determines one’s future life prospects and plan of action for college, university and beyond. However, despite how it seems, this is simply not true. They are important but not absolutely everything. Most crucially, they do not have to define the person you are, if you do not want them too.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, whilst I recently graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in Social Anthropology, from my firm choice university, The London School of Economics. But the road was bumpy as I didn’t get the initial grades asked of me when I was offered my place. I needed 37 out of 45 points on the International Baccalaureate (IB), I got 34. Now, this might not seem like a lot, but in terms of the IB grades, those three points are what makes the difference in confirming one’s university place. Luckily, after a remark, I gained 1 more point. This brought my final total up to 35 overall; and with a lot of persuading LSE eventually accepted me (alongside UCL, my insurance choice).

Study Session // Advice: How to Cope with Disappointing Exam Results // heythereChannon

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Are you experiencing Disappointing Exam Results from school, college or university? Don't worry. I've got a guide full of advice on what to do and how you can move positively forward - // heythereChannon - University, Student, #Exams #Revision

How to Cope with Disappointing Exam Results…

First things first, try not to get too caught up in the exam results day hustle and bustle. If you are really disappointed with your results then remain temporarily off of social media; this will help you to focus on creating an action plan that you are happy with.

Next, allow yourself to show emotion. It is okay to feel angry, upset and frustrated when it comes to disappointing exam results. It is not good to bottle it all up; cry, scream, shout and let it all out. This will allow you to approach the situation with a clearer, more focused mind.

Talk, talk, talk; this can be with family, friends or tutors. They are there to help and support you throughout this stressful time. It helps to discuss your options as well as your “failures”.

GCSEs/Secondary Level Education

As of 2017, all individuals in the UK must remain in education (of some kind) until they are 18. This means that GCSE results matter for everyone wanting to enter into full-time education whether it be A-Levels or an Apprenticeship. However, disappointing exam results do not have to hinder your life-long dreams of studying a particular thing.

Contact your School/College

If you are not happy with your GCSE results, then, first of all, you should get in contact with your school/college to discuss your options, explain the situation and see how to move forward. Also get advice from your family and friends not just professionals in education; as those who know you best will be able to provide useful advice on where to go next.

Re-Sit’s whilst at College/Sixth Form

Whilst in further education, you will be given the opportunity to re-sit both Mathematics and English if needed. Take Kate for example, despite the fact that she revised for her GCSE maths on a daily basis, she only managed to obtain an E in her final exam. However, now at college, she has been given the opportunity to re-take the exam and whilst she is skeptical, she remains positive that it will all work out the second time around.

Consider something different!

I feel as though the most useful piece of advice that I could give to those disappointed with GCSE results is: consider something different; as one door closes another door options. You have your whole life ahead of you and it never hurts to try something new maybe you’ll find an entirely new passion that you hadn’t yet thought about.

This was the case for Katie, who did achieve her desired results needed to study a particular set of A-Levels. She was incredibly upset and devastated on GCSE results day, however, it made her realise that perhaps, “it wasn’t what [she] was destined to do, … [and it] gave [her] a chance to pick a new A-Level” and learn new things. What seemed like the end of the world, actually turned out to lead Katie onto a different, if unplanned, future of which she now studies subjects that suit her. It has broadened her horizons and allowed for different opportunities at degree level.

More information regarding what is to be expected from the actual day can be found here.

Disappointing Exam Results // heythereChannon

A-Level/International Baccalaureate/Other Further Educational Courses

Disappointing exam results for further education courses, such as A-Levels, can be incredibly disheartening as often they determine one’s future university choices with regards to institution and course. However, unexpected grades are not the end of the world.

First of all,

…give yourself a pat on the back; at the end of the day, you have managed to get this far. You completed exam season and that is a massive achievement in itself.


…breathe and focus on the present. Try not to panic. It is going to be okay; I can assure you that. There will be a pathway for you to continue education; it just might not be the one you had initially planned.


…don’t assume and instead seek advice. Talk to a representative from your school or college; they will be able to give you more specific help regarding what to do next. Discussing your options can not only help to cope with the stress that disappointing exam results bring but also open your eyes to a large range of opportunities that you might not have thought about.

However, I’d recommend getting in contact with your firm and insurance choice universities (or future place of work, etc). You should both email and call them personally. Do not rely on your college tutors to do this for you; it is your time to shine and prove how much you want to study at their institution.

International Baccalaureate results are released ahead of time, so therefore I had several weeks of which I used to call/email both LSE and UCL on a daily basis. I spoke to the admissions tutors for my subject area as well as the head of the department; they kept me in the loop and appreciated my dedication. There is absolutely no harm in asking and the worst they can say is ‘no’. In fact, use their resources, advice, and feedback to guide you towards an alternative action plan if it doesn’t work out with them in particular. When I started university, several of my Professors recognised, remembered and acknowledged my persistence prior to starting.

UCAS Clearing

There is always UCAS Clearing; whereby universities open up their spare places and allow for those disappointed with their exam results to resubmit an application. I have written about this process in the past if you’d like to know more.

Don’t forget, another option: take a year out and resit!

If you really set on a certain university or subject area, then you can always resit the year. This will not only allow you an another chance to fully understand the course material but also more time to decide where you’d like your pathway to guide you.

Disappointing Exam Results

You should always focus on your strengths, not weaknesses. Draw people’s attention away from your grades and towards what makes you, you. Always emphasise your skills and personality traits. But most importantly, believe in yourself as confidence is something that others notice first. Bunnie told me over email that,

“I think I might need to learn that my level of intelligence isn’t based on academics or remembering facts… I’m not stupid. I’m creative and strong after dealing with all [a lot of rubbish at school/college] and coming out passing each [of my exams]”.

Likewise, as a friend recently told me, receiving disappointing exam results opened her eyes and made her “…realise [that] the education system [doesn’t] have to be an escalator from school to college to uni – there’s room to fail and try new things”. Following her particular college course, she began a 12-month apprenticeship to be a software developer; this meant that she was able to gain “invaluable experience in the industry and added confidence to pursue a degree in computer science from September”.

Be determined, be strong and be you.

Importantly, don’t give up!

Disappointing exam results will not stop you from achieving your goal, for as long as you are passionate enough to never give up chasing what you want in life. Remember, there is no one ‘correct path’ but simply, your path and if it right for you, then that is all that matters.

As Jodie puts it,

“To anyone who isn’t getting the results they wanted for any reason, whether it is because they weren’t ready, found it too difficult, needed more revision, home/work problems or something else, there is always help available. Stay focused but do be kind to yourself as well. It’s annoying but also not the end of the world!” 

I hope that this post has put you at ease, everything is going to be okay. If you’d like to contact me personally for further advice, then you can by clicking here or leave a comment below! I am more than happy to help.

Good luck, you’ve got this!

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About the author

Channon Gray

I'm Channon and yes, it's spelt wrong, but that is interesting right? I'm 23 years young. I like to write, create art and travel. Cornish bumpkin who studied in London then Cambridge. I'm now a Postgraduate Student, Stationery Addict and all-round Life Enthusiast.

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May 4, 2018 13:44

This post is going to be so helpful to me on results day, I am really hoping to get into my firm choice but if I don’t I am going to go through clearing. Whichever university I end up at, I’ll grow to love especially if I am studying I course I am passionate about. LSE is such a good university, bit late but well done for getting in and making it to graduation!

Fran |

August 18, 2017 12:09

Great article! I didn’t got to college because of my frustration the final year of high school here in the states. Finding what you are passionate about is key to moving on in life!

August 17, 2017 15:46

This is such a great article! I’ll definitely be sharing it with my students!!

August 14, 2017 23:22

So happy to hear that your persevered! Passion is a great fuel, as it can lead you far in life if you let it! Kudos to you for following yours!

August 14, 2017 22:17

Not getting the results you want doesn’t have to be the end of the world, these are some great tips for what to do if you don’t get the results you’d hoped for. I really like the focusing on the strengths not weaknesses reference, having confidence in your skills and personality traits is so important. Great article.

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