How to deal with disappointing grades

Disappointing grades can be tough to deal with, but there are ways to handle the disappointment.

Written by spunout


Many people will experience a disappointing grade or exam result at some point during their time in school or college. This can be hard to handle, especially if you have put a lot of work into studying or preparing for an assignment.

Regardless of how much preparation you did, a disappointing grade can affect your self-esteem and your motivation to keep working. Knowing how to handle this disappointment can help you to pick yourself up and move on from the experience.

How to handle exam disappointment

It is normal to feel disappointed when your grades aren’t as good as you had hoped. How you deal with disappointment is important. View this as an opportunity to work on your resilience.

Give yourself time

It is important to give yourself time to come to terms with disappointing grades. You might feel shocked and upset about your results. Know that this is completely normal. By giving yourself time and practising self-compassion, you can move past and learn from the experience. 

Look for learning opportunities

How you choose to view a difficult or unpleasant experience makes a difference. It is completely normal to feel upset, angry or disappointed when you don’t get the grades that you hope for and it is important to acknowledge and feel those feelings. However, it is also possible to view your situation as an opportunity to learn. This can help you to move on from the experience and adjust how you approach exams in future.

You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What went well?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What could I do differently next time?

Write your answers down and use them to determine how you approach your next exam. Read more about how to improve your grades. Your teacher might also be able to give you tips on how to improve.

A very good phrase that can be useful to put things into context for you is the following: “There is no such thing as failure, there are only results”. From this we can take the focus away from the grade, and almost treat the exam results as an experiment. This can help us to remove the emotion from the result and allow ourselves to focus on how we can improve.

Know you have options

Some exams have a greater impact on your life than others. For example, the points that you receive in your Leaving Certificate exams are linked to the offers that you will get through the CAO. However, it is important to know that you always have options, even when it comes to Leaving Certificate results. 

If you think you should have received a higher mark in a particular exam, you might decide to appeal your result. If you did not receive enough points to secure a place in your chosen course, it is still possible to get into the field that interests you. You could consider accepting another offer on a similar course, applying to colleges abroad or doing a PLC. If these options are not appealing or accessible to you, it is also possible to repeat the Leaving Cert. Find out more about what to do if you don’t get your first choice on the CAO.

Take care of yourself

Dealing with disappointment can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. Regardless of what your next step is, it is important to take care of yourself during this challenging time. 

Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. When you have a lot on your mind, it is best to focus on the basics such as getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, taking part in any form of movement and spending time with others. Practising mindfulness can also help you to boost your mood and learn to approach your challenges from a new perspective.

It is important to know that your success and worth are not defined by your grades. You deserve care and compassion regardless of the outcome of your exams.

Talk to someone

If the grades you’re getting are starting to affect your mental health in any way, there are people that can help. It is important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This could be a trusted family member, a friend, teacher, lecturer or counsellor

Many colleges will offer a free or affordable counselling service. Similarly, most teachers and lecturers will be happy to talk to you about your results. A supportive teacher or lecturer will be able to support you in moving through these challenges and offer advice on how you can improve your grades going forward.

You can also contact our free text, 24/7 support service 50808:

Feeling overwhelmed or anxious about disappointing grades?

If you feel overwhelmed and need someone to talk to, our anonymous, 24/7 text line is always open. You’re worth talking about and we’re here to listen and support you.

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