Why Failing Exams Can Lead to Success

With the A ‘level results out today in the UK and GCSE results due out next week, many young people and their parents will be holding a collective breath in anticipation. In a way, the exam stress they experienced whilst revising and taking their exams, will resurface with a vengeance.

It is likely that the dominate thoughts of the day will be: “Have I passed?” or “What if I fail?”, as well as, “Did I do enough to get into University?”. And this isn’t just the province of students either – their parents and teachers will be right there with them. Naturally, there will be some who fail to achieve the results they want and tears, upset and disappointment might be the only things they end up with.

Consequently, how parents and teachers respond to this, is extremely important. Sometimes, in a bid to be supportive and help them get over it, we can reach for stock phrases like, “never mind, you’ll do better next time” or “it doesn’t matter, you can always retake” rather than taking the time to truly listen and hear what they are expressing, without commenting, agreeing or disagreeing with what they are expressing. In our bid to be supportive, we can often make them feel worse than they already do because we are not truly listening to them. So how can we support our children with accepting and allowing what they are feeling?

The greatest gift that any parent or teacher can give is their time and undivided attention. For those students who have failed, their self-esteem will be at an all time low and they will need to feel nurtured whilst they process what has happened. Some might want to be left alone, whilst others might appear as if they just don’t care. Just gaged their mood and respect their needs. Just being someone they can simply offload to, without offering your opinion is such a gift.

It’s also important to remember that your child’s acceptance of their failure might not happen instantly, this process can take longer. As parents, we often want to fix what has happened, or find the solution for them, so do not give our children the space and time to process failure. It is crucial that your child take ownership for their failure, because in so doing, they will be more open to finding their own solutions. That’s where you as a parent or teacher can be useful, as you can provide them with the tools they need. But, let them do the talking, let them consider what steps they need to take, only offering guidance if it feels appropriate. Let them be the leaders for their own progress and support them on their journey to discover their inner-resources and resilience.

Failure needn’t be the end of the world either. In fact, it can be the making for greatness. Yet it is the one thing that we do not allow room for. We have become so fixated on progress, success, achievement that we fail to see that the road to success isn’t always smooth or straightforward. If we think about the great innovators and risk takers of our society: Albert Enstien, Thomas Eddison, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, then we begin to realise that failure is the essential ingredient for success. If you look closely at failure, you begin to realise that it isn’t about a lack of intelligence or ability; it is simply information that another approach is needed. It is only our human judgement that failure is bad and to be avoided at all costs that prevents us from seeing the gift that failure brings. So, is it any wonder that our children go to pieces and give up so easily when they are faced with failure?

If we are to support our children to become resilient and persevere in the face of challenge and obstacles, then, we must stop making failure such a shameful outcome. There are no winners here. All you end up creating is a nervous, anxious child who will fear to take risks due to their fear of failure.

Inevitably, we all experience failure at some point in our lives, it is a natural process of life itself. But the gift in being knocked down, is in getting back up and this is a gift we can pass to our children.

The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress is available from Amazon:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laid-Back-Guide-Exams-Stress/dp/1628652756/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534430032&sr=8-1&keywords=the+laid+back+guide+to+exams+and+stress

Naseem Ahsun

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