Exam season is well and truly in swing and up and down the country. Many of you will be nervously highlighting facts you’ll instantaneously forget, trying to capture mnemonics in your brain, reciting Pythagorean theorems or struggling to recall quite what Ophelia ever saw in Hamlet in the first place.
It is a nerve wracking time, no doubt about it – an excruciating rite of passage that you just need to knuckle down and do. Unfortunately your life up until now has horribly underprepared you for this – in a society and education system that cosies up to failure like it’s the awkward second cousin of success but no one wants to hurt its feelings. We are raising generations of students who are broadly acquiescent to failure as throughout their schooling none of it has much mattered. Not being right is only wrong adjacent, you don’t fail, you don’t meet expectation. You don’t lose, you’re joint 19th. Only now when you do your GCSEs or A Levels, there’s no workaround, in fact it’s really pretty stark. You get good grades or you don’t. You can’t mitigate the outcome, it’s black and white, stark and uncompromising. Which is what life is like and this unpleasant coppery taste in your mouth when you emerge from an exam feeling as though you’ve gone ten rounds with a Klitschko or don’t get the grades you need or want is the most important thing you’ve learnt in school so far. It tastes bad – bitter and unpleasant and should serve to encourage you to understand that what you do has consequences and that you don’t want that taste again.
Now, I’m not saying that to be mean nor am I suggesting it is everything – indeed working clever can often be as effective as being clever. There is more than one way to skin a cat and good grades whilst immeasurably helpful and by far the easiest route to success is not the only way. Take a year out, do resits, volunteer, get work experience, opt for a related course and transfer if possible. There are lots of practical things you can do to get yourself back on track and not only will you look to be a more interesting prospect with your enhanced experiences you will also hopefully remember that coppery taste that will urge you on to greater success.
Failure at some point is inevitable, embrace that, know that and accept that and you won’t be caught unawares. It’s less important that you failed than it is with how you deal with it. It’s like Churchill said, ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of optimism.’ If no less feted a fellow as Churchill accepted certain realities then it would behove you to do so too.
So as you go into your exams, no matter what happens, good or bad just know you’re either going to be embracing failure today or deferring to a later date and much like with getting your heart broken it’s better to get it out of the way earlier. So, do what you can, hope for the best, prepare for the worst and know that no matter what, you can always find an alternate route to achieving your dreams even if it’s not the straightest one.