Failing a course or subject

If we never failed, we’d never learn and if you look at the history books, some of the best and brightest have stumbled before they’ve found their feet.

In high school, Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team because he wasn’t good enough. Fast forward to the present, and Jordan is one of the greatest to ever play the game.

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

The take-home point is: failing doesn’t make you a failure. But crashing out of a course or flunking a subject can still take a toll and leave you feeling rough. Learn how to process the failure, and come back stronger with these tips.

Failure feels like crap

Failing a subject can bruise your ego and dent 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 from happening again. These are some common causes of failure at school:

  • You’re struggling to get work done. Sometimes there’s too much going on. You’re juggling friends, family, work, sport and everything else life sends your way. It’s hard to find time to fit studying into your hectic schedule. If this is the reason you failed, it’s a matter of working out how to balance it all. The key is to decide what your priorities are and know when to step back and say ‘no’. If skipping footy practice one night helps you get ahead on your next assessment, then recognise that as the right call. Talking to other people about your time management is a good way of sticking to your decision. Failure is less likely to occur when you’ve got other people looking out for you too.

  • 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 bring it up, the easier it will be to fix. 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 tap 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.

Our favourite failures

If you’re slipping up, you’re in good company!

How do I cope with failing?

First up, remember that failing doesn’t define who you are. In fact, failing something can be a pretty great way of figuring 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.

  • Appreciate your own effort: Failure is a sign that you’re challenging myself to do something difficult, not everyone is capable of that.

  • Turn fear of failure into resilience: once you’ve failed and lived to tell the tale, you’ll always know that failing is never as scary as it once seemed.

  • Don’t forget: everyone fails. Even super successful amazing people. Remind yourself that this failure is just one moment in your life.

What can I do now?

  • Check out our study hacks.

  • Have a conversation with your teacher/lecturer about where you went wrong.