• Abbie Tibbott

Dealing with Disappointing Results


We all have results, marks, or feedback that we are unhappy with. This may happen every now and then, or more frequently if you’re struggling on your course. A bad result can hit you hard, especially if you thought your work was of a good standard, and can really damage your confidence when it comes time to submit the next piece of work.


Last year I received a mark that made me feel terrible. I had written an essay during the first lockdown with a makeshift workstation and had spent hours navigating difficult reading and trying to understand a topic I had had limited teaching on due to strikes and the pandemic. After spending weeks trying to construct a 4000 word piece, I received a mark which really shook my confidence levels and made me worry about my competence for writing a dissertation. I spent more hours on that essay than I did on an essay of an equivalent length that same semester, and the latter essay was over 10 percentage points better! I wrote the both at the same time with the same mindset, and yet the one I poured more effort into got a worse result. I still feel like it was all wasted effort, but I had to move on somehow.


Negative, destructive thoughts that follow a bad result can really impact your learning experience, no matter your age or level of education. Working hard, especially in these difficult times only to receive negative feedback can feel demoralising, so it’s important to process your emotions and channel them into something more positive.


1. Be upset


This may sound counterproductive, but it’s important to allow yourself to feel disappointment before you begin to move on. Spending time and energy on an assignment for it to backfire is understandably going to make you feel upset. If you’re struggling, I’d advise a chat to someone on your course that you’re close with so you can express how you feel and feel validated. Good friends make life so much better, so sharing your emotions with someone you trust will help you to offload your disappointment, even for a short while. Make sure you’re there for your friends too though! After I received my result I had a good rant to a few friends in a similar situation, who made me realise I wasn't on my own.


2. Make a plan of action


I wouldn’t recommend immediately starting on your next task or assignment without first making a plan of how you’re going to deal with the disappointing result. Sweeping your marks under the metaphorical rug will only allow your upset to fester and infiltrate your mood. I was sad for a few days and felt pretty low, even though I played it off to friends that I'd be fine. I didn't feel like diving into more essay writing for about a week afterwards, and I allowed myself to drop my productivity levels down in order to distract myself. As well as talking about your disappointment with friends, write down a list of things that will help you feel better and make sure this doesn’t happen again.


I’d suggest:


· Reading feedback through again, making sure that you have a good understanding for the reasons that you were given that particular score

· Looking at this score in relation to the rest of your results, as you may find this particular assignment isn’t worth much overall

· Deciding if it’s worth your time repeating the assignment

· Making plans to speak to the lecturer or staff member

· Considering reaching out to support services if your feedback concerns referencing, researching or plagiarism


3. Access the support you need


Approach the lecturer for a chat, just do it. It may seem like a great way to rub salt in the wound, but a meeting may offer you extra insight into your feedback. Staff want you to do well and progress throughout your course, so will hopefully seek to reassure you that this isn’t the end of the world and give you some advice into how to achieve better marks next time. If you’re uncomfortable, try approaching your academic tutor instead for some more general advice, or a course director. They’re meant to keep an eye on you throughout your degree, and you may find that they reach out to you first if they’re worried about your progress. I was reassured by my course director that my result wouldn't affect my chances of getting a good overall result, and she told me that she would keep an eye on my progress and alert me if she thought I was at risk of underperforming. Having someone at university understand my frustration made me feel justified in feeling upset and also more confident that this wasn't the end of the world.


Please remember that universities don’t want you to drop out, so in theory they should do everything to keep you progressing. However, you’re an adult, so it’s your responsibility to take ownership for your mistakes and reach out for support if you need it. It can be daunting to admit you need help, but it’s better to ask for assistance as soon as you can.


4. Build yourself up


After processing your feedback and seeking help, it’s time to start again on your next assignment and put everything into practice. Remember that applying feedback is the easiest way to improve, so print it off and display it in a prominent place while you’re working. If your university’s feedback system is a bit clunky, feel free to download my free resource on my site. You can copy in your feedback, enter your mark, and extract the main things you need to do to improve. Holding yourself accountable is the first step to self-improvement, and identifying patterns in your feedback will give you clear and precise goals to achieve. I really do swear by this method, I used it throughout my degrees, whether my marks were good or bad.


5. Make peace with your mistakes


This is definitely the hardest step, and it really does take time. Knowing that you’ve made the effort to self-improve will let you begin the process of letting go of your disappointment. It’s important not to hold a grudge against yourself forever! You are a great student, and a bad mark will not define your future. If it is something major, a retake may be suitable but only if it means that your other work will not be compromised. Your confidence may have been damaged, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be at university.


I do want to say that if bad scores are getting you down, it may be necessary to speak to your tutors or lecturers about sorting some serious academic help for you. Constant bad results will perpetuate frustration and you may need some intervention to save your degree. This is definitely an extreme scenario and probably won’t apply to the majority of you, but if you are sinking, please reach out!


Happy studying!