Bouncing back from a bad mark: Part A

We all know the feeling of waiting anxiously on our major assessment results – you know, that horrendous thing you handed in, scorched and bruised, right at the last minute before collapsing into bed with exhaustion?

For some of you, it may have been your first major university assignment and you have no way to judge how it went or what marks may be emblazoned on the thing.

Today we’re going to talk about what happens when those marks don’t represent what you expect, wish for, or are capable of. What happens when you fail?

Failure may mean different things to different people – many of you may be happy to scrape through with a pass, quite a few of you reading this may descend into an abyss of self-flagellating woe at the mere sniff of a credit. Either way the bite of failure can be savage and make you question why you bother inflicting university upon yourself when the local KFC has a vacancy listed in the window.

What if I told you failure could be good for you? I don’t mean as a life goal or long-term strategy, but a little bit of a shock every now and then can be a good motivator and teacher.

Here’s a few tips for navigating failure.

Step One: Release the angst

It’s OK to be emotional.

Have a sulk, curl in a ball, have a weapons grade tantrum; do what you must do to give yourself some time to grieve. Hide under a blanket, binge your favourite comfort television and crush food into your maw. Enjoy the misery for a day or two. Make sure you don’t extend your stay too long, a sweet little indulgent morsel of anguish is enough; you have work to do.

Step Two: Straighten up

Now you’ve enjoyed a day of mourning, it’s time to get to work.

Don’t dwell on the failure; procrastination is not your friend. You’ve got that out of the way watching cat videos in YouTube and snorting Maltesers, use it to extract some lessons.

Yes, there’s a reason you failed, but it’s important to keep in mind is that it’s not because you’re stupid or you don’t belong here. These are common, dark thoughts that like to creep into the student brain and set up camp. It may be hard to ignore the curdling screams of the Imposter Syndrome lodged deep in your subconscious, but let’s assume that the fact you are an enrolled student at a university is proof enough that you are intelligent and deserving enough to be here.

Step Three: Reframe the failure

People who never try something new never fail.

Experiencing a failure means you are stretching yourself and branching out, you’re experiencing life and progress. Anything worth doing has a potential for failure, so take this as a sign you’re forging ahead in life. I know it sounds trite, but people who experience things easily or who excel with little effort, either aren’t pushing themselves or aren’t really learning a lot of deep life skills.

University is hard. It’s meant to be a challenge. Making mistakes is instructional and an important aspect of the learning process, experience of failure becomes a very strong, very concrete foundation on which to build your knowledge – not just about a subject but knowledge of yourself.

Without failure to ground you once in a while, you can feel like you’re riding an unstable wave of good luck.

Step Four: Identify why you failed

First, look at the feedback provided by the marker and let it sink in.

Was the assignment rushed (hot tip: markers can always tell when you grind something out in a hurry)? Did you do enough research? Perhaps you are having trouble with the conventions of academic writing, such as referencing, essay, paragraph or sentence structure.

Possibly, between beginning and finishing the assignment, you lost the thread somewhere, and wandered off on a tangent, forgetting to actually answer the question. It’s also common to struggle grasping some of the more advanced concepts university throws at you and to wander blindly through an essay too scared to ask for help.

It could be that you’re a few years deep into a degree that has vaporised your will to get up in the morning, your motivation now buried somewhere along with your career goals (I’ve been there).

It may also be helpful to be honest with yourself about your mental, physical or social health. University can be stressful – but it is also just one aspect of your life. If you are suffering outside of university this will affect your time here. Family, relationship, medical or personal issues can take an enormous toll on your ability to perform academically, and even the most brilliant or dedicated student can collapse under the weight of poor mental or physical health.

The good news is that there is nothing that can’t be fixed, you just need to know where to go.

Step Five: Get help

Sometimes university can feel a bit lonely. Surrounded by crowds of harried students, desperate postgrads and overworked lecturers feeding Mylanta to their marking-related ulcers, you may feel that no one has time to help you.

This is wrong.

The reality is that not a single person in this vast institution wants you to fail or to leave.

There are armies of people here who genuinely care about your success and well-being. This blog is run by a whole bunch of them.

For academic advice, your first point of contact should be your tutor or course-coordinator; ask for a meeting and soak up any advice and guidance.

You can also take your assignment to a Peer Writing Mentor and have them go through it with you. Another tip is to find the marking rubric on Blackboard, this will show you exactly what was expected for the assignment. Compare it to what you handed in, and piece together where it went wrong. It’s a good idea to use these rubrics when planning future assignments as they signpost the effort required of you and the expectations of the marker.

If you are still feeling disheartened, consider talking to one of the University counsellors. 

READ MORE Bouncing Back From a Bad Mark: Part B

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