Not doing as well as you expected on your exams can be really tough, especially if you need higher grades to get into a particular college, graduate school or career. It can also be tough if you feel like you didn’t meet your family members’ or teachers’ expectations.
You might be feeling a variety of feelings, including disappointment, anger, numbness, guilt, confusion, sadness, physical sickness or hopelessness. Getting a bad grade can be especially difficult if your friends are celebrating and are happy over their grades—or if you feel you really studied hard for the exam.
Tips for coping with bad grades
Even though your grades might not be what you were hoping for, they don’t mean that your future is hopeless, that you’re a failure, or you won’t be able to achieve great things. Here are some suggestions that can help you manage the situation:
Talk to someone outside the situation. Talking to a friend, teacher, professor, or school or college counselor can be a great way of expressing your feelings and exploring other options. A teacher or professor in particular might be able to help you brainstorm ideas to boost your grades, like extra credit or tutoring.
Talk to people who are setting unhelpful expectations. If you’re feeling academic pressure from the people around you, try to talk to them. Discuss the pressure you’re feeling without laying blame. For example, try using phrases like “I feel like anxious/stressed when you…”
Challenge and reset your expectations. Sometimes, the biggest pressures we feel come from our own expectations. It can be helpful to re-think your own expectations to help you decide if they’re realistic and achievable. A useful question to ask yourself might be ”What would I suggest to a friend in this situation?” For more information, check out the Managing expectations fact sheet.
Explore other options for the future. It's likely one bad grade won't change the course of future. Sometimes expectations are only focused on one outcome, and if you don’t meet that outcome, you might feel disappointed or like you’ve failed. Usually there are a number of ways to achieve a goal. It might help to talk to someone you trust about what some different strategies might be. Try talking to friends, family members, teachers or a counselor.
Chill out. Sometimes getting some space and a change of scenery can be helpful, and it’s important to give yourself permission to do this. Try going for a walk, listening to your favorite music, reading a book or going to the movies—whatever makes you happiest.
Express your feelings. Write down your feelings in a journal. This can be a great way to help you understand a situation and your expectations for the outcomes. Journaling can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems. You might want to also try expression yourself in other ways, like yelling, crying into a pillow or dancing around your room to loud music.
Look after yourself. Expectations can lead to a lot of stress. It’s important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself physically as well as mentally. Even though you might not feel like it or think you don’t have time, exercising and eating well can help you feel better. Making sure you are getting enough sleep can also help.
Exercise helps stimulate hormones that help you feel better physically and emotionally. If you haven’t exercised a lot before, it might be a good idea to start out by doing something small a couple of times each week, like a 15-minute walk or a few laps in a pool. You can also visit your medical doctor for a check-up to make sure you’re physically healthy.
Avoid drugs and alcohol. Try not to use alcohol or other drugs—including lots of caffeine or other energy drinks—in the hope of feeling better or forgetting about expectations and pressure. The feeling is usually temporary and after the substance wears off, you often feel worse than when you started.