Failure need not be fatal
There is a fantastic scene in Charlie Wilson’s War where Philip Seymour Hoffman tries to explain to a rather drunk and jubilant Tom Hanks that it is a mistake to get too high after a success or too low after a failure, as you can never be sure what either will lead to.
For many students, disappointing exam results may well be life-altering, but they need not be life-defining. It may even be the making of them.
Those who have experienced some setbacks in their life often perform better under pressure than those who haven’t been fully tested, suggests recent research. Teachers should encourage students to reflect on how well they prepared for their exams, what they would do differently next time and what they want to achieve in the future – regardless of what grades they achieve.
A sense of perspective
Keeping a sense of perspective is essential to success, according to a recent study on student resilience. The key is to consider the big picture as well as the small details. Keeping the end goal in mind will help students to stay motivated if their results weren’t what they were hoping for, while concentrating on the next steps helps maintain focus.
Keeping a sense of perspective is also helped by being flexible. “The human capacity for burden is like a bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance,” writes Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper. Encouraging students to be adaptable is a life skill that pays dividends long after results day is over.
Positive visualisation may not help
Most self-help or pop psychology books encourage people to visualise their dream outcome as a way of managing any nerves or doubts. But when researchers from the University of California put this to the test, they found that those who visualised a positive outcome were more likely to report higher levels of anxiety. Similar studies have found that students who visualise their dream job after school were less likely to receive a high number of job offers and were paid less once in employment.
Excessive time spent fantasising about an ideal outcome can often lead to being ill-equipped to handle setbacks. Strategic planning around “hoping for the best but planning for the worst” will ensure a balanced approach and reassure students that they have a back-up plan. Students should go into results day knowing the potential implications of different results and with a clear plan of action of who to call if they haven’t achieved their goals.
View decisions as active choices, not sacrifices
Teachers should also encourage students to view important decisions as active choices and not as sacrifices. This approach will keep motivation levels high, especially after a setback, as it encourages students to focus more on what they are trying to achieve and less on what they are missing out on.
Don’t do it alone
The more students isolate themselves, the more likely they are to brood over bad decisions. This leads to an increase in stress and frustration, but students who surround themselves with good people and ask for help are better equipped to handle stressful situations.
Teenagers often see asking for help as a sign of weakness, but encouraging students to use the support available may help them see things from another perspective, and make more informed decisions at a crucial junction in their life.
If you're already thinking ahead to the next round of exams, who not check out our blog 5 Proven Hacks to Help Students Tackle Revision?