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Failing a course or subject can be pretty rough. The most important thing to remember is that failing doesn’t make you a failure.

This can help if:

  • you failed something at school or uni
  • you’re worried you’re going to fail
  • you feel like you aren’t keeping up with other students.
Boy at picnic table

Failure feels like crap

Failing a subject can put a pretty big dent in your self-confidence. Even though it’s a huge disappointment, it’s worth keeping it all in perspective. Recognising that failing assessments – or even whole subjects/courses – has little to do with your talents and abilities as a person can be the first step in rebuilding your confidence.

Common reasons for failing

Understanding why you failed (or think you’re about to) may help you prevent it happening again.

  • You’re struggling to get work done. Sometimes there’s too much going on. You’ve got friends, family, work, relationships and other life stuff going on. It’s hard to find time to fit studying into your hectic schedule. If this is the reason for your failing, it’s a matter of working out how to balance it all. The key is to decide what your priorities are, to manage your time, and to know when to step back and say ‘no’.
  • You don’t like your course. You chose your elective or course thinking it was just the thing for you. Then you found it wasn’t what you expected. This happens! Just because this one isn’t for you doesn’t mean you won’t find something that you do like. Have a look around, check out your options, and see if there’s another course or subject that appeals to you more.
  • You’re not keeping up. The challenge with school and higher ed is that each person in the class has a different learning style and speed. Teachers and lecturers often try to aim their classes at the majority – the medium-speed learners. If you feel you’re lagging and not able to keep up, talk to your teacher or lecturer about it. The sooner you address it, the easier it will be to resolve. Your speed of learning doesn’t reflect anything about your intelligence or ability.
  • You can’t complete the course. For whatever reason, sometimes we just have to bow out of a course or a subject that’s not working well. Whether it’s to do with personal stuff or just generally feeling overwhelmed, it’s nothing to feel bad about. If the reason has to do with how you’re feeling, or if you’re just too stressed to complete it, you might be experiencing something that won’t be cured with a quick fix. You might benefit from reading about how to manage stress.

Hear about other people failing

Remember, you’re not alone! Everyone fails sometimes.

Read the transcript.

How do I cope with failing?

The important thing to remember is that failing doesn’t define who you are. In fact, failing something can be a pretty great way of working out the things that don’t work for you, so you don’t do them again. Instead of beating yourself up over the failure, try:

  • celebrating that you worked out how to not do something
  • thinking about how you can turn this into a lesson that you apply not only to your study, but to other parts of your life. If you realised that time management was an issue for you, maybe you can improve this elsewhere, too
  • remembering that everyone fails. Even super successful amazing people. Have a look at this video on famous failures and remind yourself that this failure is just one moment in your life.

What can I do now?