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How to overcome exam failure

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No-one sets out to fail their pharmacy course or exams, so it is natural to run the full gamut of emotions if you find out your own exams have not gone the way you wanted them to, including feeling disheartened and distrusting your own abilities. It was a situation I found myself in last year — having underperformed in a number of my exams in May, I went through reassessment in August. If you find yourself in this position, there are things you can do to help you decide what happens next.

Everyone responds to this kind of bad news differently, so do not feel that you have to bottle up your emotions. It is worth taking time, once you are ready, to consider what happened during your revision period and exams that meant you were not successful. Different strategies may assist with this, including writing down how you feel about the situation and what may help you rectify this. Many universities also have a dean of students office open over the summer that will help you to manage your emotions at this time. Alternatively, Pharmacist Support offers a “Listening friends” service which can help by listening to you and offering advice in confidence. Its telephone number is 0808 168 5133. Alternatively, visit the website.

Once you have taken some time to clarify the situation and feel ready to prepare for your reassessment, you could try to think about the reason you did less well, and how you can approach this differently in future. Whether this was, for instance, illness during your year or not understanding a particular part of the course or the exam layout, working out why things did not go right first time can help approach your reassessment with a positive outlook.

Secondly, talk to your friends, family and university tutors. They can all advise and help you in different ways, so use them to your advantage. Your adviser and tutors at university will be able to help you through the process of applying for reassessment in the summer or applying for a delayed first sit if you had extenuating circumstances that meant you couldn’t sit the exam the first time round. Also, they will be able to help you review your exam and identify areas where you can prepare for the reassessment. Friends in your year (and, indeed, those in years above you) are a useful source of information, so do not be afraid to ask them for help on course content, revision techniques and exam techniques. Your family and close friends can also be helpful — try to keep them in the loop, so they can reassure and encourage you to prepare to pass your reassessment.

When it comes to preparing for reassessment, you may be tempted to “tie yourself to the desk” and work for as long as possible to maximise your chances of passing. Although it is important to revise, do not be afraid to take frequent breaks. Additionally, if you have holiday plans already in place for during the summer, do not feel compelled to cancel them. It is important that there is also an opportunity to enjoy your summer holiday, whether that is working, completing a placement or taking a break. These can help encourage you to revise and give you a chance to rest, as you would if you were not resitting exams. As you prepare for your reassessment, it can also be tempting to focus solely on the areas where you demonstrated less confidence during the initial assessment. Although it is important to improve those areas, it should not come at the expense of the rest of the syllabus. In fact, revising for your assessment fully could make that module an area of personal strength.

It is, of course, initially disappointing to find out you need to resit exams. However, it is a challenge that will enable you to continue studying to become a more resilient pharmacist.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Good article. Hope it helps our young people. Coaching (cf mentoring) can help regain balance and focus on a meaningful and doable purpose. Apart from learning stuff, and learning to answer exam questions (which is a little different) managing self-esteem and emotions is important. Expectations of parents and siblings is also an issue worth considering. Key is roger them to be your allies rather than your fiercest critics.
    Pls consider coaching. Willing to help if you contact me @hemant1patel. Just tag #pharmacysuccess

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