How to get over failing a huge exam

tejaswini asks: I am a student. I am very much depressed. I try to be normal but bad thoughts keep coming back over and over again. A year ago, I started taking coaching for an entrance exam. I slogged very much, and gave up many things. I didn’t care much because all the way I was thinking that all this work would get me into some good college. I don’t know why, but unfortunately I couldn’t crack the exam. I flunked it. It’s really taking a long time for me to get over it. Even now, when I start anything new or try taking up a new task, the first thing that flashes in my mind is “I am a loser, I can’t do it, so there is no point in trying for it!’ I feel so stupid for not being able to pass after a year preparation. It keeps flashing in my mind all the time and it pulls me down. I don’t know how to come out of all this and start something again with new energy. Please help!

Hi tejaswini –

I am so very very sorry for you, having to go through this.  As a dog, I’ve never had an experience like yours, because I never focus on the future.  But I’ve seen humans go through this sort of thing many times.  When their marriages (or hoped-for marriages) break up, or the book or movie or play they spent years on doesn’t catch on, or when their business fails.  Or, yes, when they take an exam they’ve prepared for for months, and fail.  It’s devastating, I know.

The big problem, I can tell, is the time involved.  If a squirrel walks through my yard, and I bolt to catch him, and he gets away from me, I don’t feel like a failure; I just wait for my chance to chase him again.  I know that eventually, I’m bound to get him!  But when that happens, I’ve only waited for a few minutes before I jump.  It’s not like I studied and invested and worked and rewrote and did all those things over and over for months or longer – as you did.

So for me, or any other motivational sort, to sing you the old song “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!” just doesn’t cut it, I know.  You need to undo the damage that failing that test did to you.  Truly, you’ve been traumatized by the experience, enough that you’re terrified of having it again.  And we need to work through that.

A human friend of mine failed a big exam like that a few years ago, and was as upset as you (And, I’m sure, just as in your case, he was surrounded by friendly people who couldn’t understand why he was so upset, and who were always telling him to get over it and move on… which he simply couldn’t do!).  The way he dug his way out was to do three things.  Well, four.  The first was to study like crazy in hopes he’d do better next time.  But the other three were:

1)                    He needed to see some reason for this failure to have happened.  Even if it was a bit imaginary.  Soon after he’d failed, he found out that a dear friend of his was going into the hospital to be checked out for cancer.  All her friends and family were very worried about her.  But when she talked with him about it, she said “I’m going in for some tests.”  And he thought, “Hey, that’s great!  I’m going to give you a gift!  I hereby say that I failed my tests, so that you can pass yours!”  She thought it was a wonderful idea, and went in with a positive attitude.  And the tests came out clear – she did pass!

2)                    He also needed to feel that there was something in it for him.  So he spent the next six months (till he could take the test again), examining his own pain, learning about what it was in him that made him so vulnerable to this, while other people failed the same exam and went on with their lives just fine.  He learned a lot, which has helped his life ever since.

3)                    He was so angry about the test, which he found highly unfair, that he decided he would change it!  And sure enough, after he took it again, and did pass it this time, he joined a committee to work on the exam and improve the questions, so they weren’t so ridiculous.


Now I’m not saying you need to do any of these three things.  But my point is that he found his own way to get past his trauma.  What you need to do, tejaswini, is look very closely at yourself and ask what failing this test means to you?  It sounds like it’s helped a very nasty voice inside your head tell you that you’re a failure.  Well, I’d love to see you find out what that voice is all about, and why it’s there.  Maybe it’s a part of you that’s scared you’ll succeed and think too highly of yourself.  Maybe it’s just a part of you that hates difficult situations and would rather you avoided them.  It could be anything.

Whatever it is, as awful as this experience has been for you, it can be a gift – but you’re the only one who can figure out how to make it one.

It might be a good idea to hire a therapist to help you through this; a good one can really help you find what’s underneath all this pain.  But regardless, you need to look inside yourself so that you can move past this awful sense of failure.  I’d love to help in any way I can, but it’s you and only you who can look into your own soul and see what’s beating you up.  And then chase it and shake it around, just as I would that squirrel!


Okay, two more points.  The first – hey you know how I love great old songs.  And I said above that it isn’t enough… but it does help.  Here it goes (the tune’s great too – check it out online!)


Nothings impossible I have found

For when my chin is on the ground

I pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again

Don’t lose your confidence if you slip

Be grateful for a pleasant trip

And pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again

Work like a soul inspired

Till the battle of the day is won

You may be sick and tired

But you’ll be a man my son

(or you’ll be a woman my daughter, but that doesn’t rhyme!)

Don’t you remember the famous men

Who had to fall to rise again?

They’d pick themselves up

Dust themselves off

And started all over again!


And second…  Did you know that Albert Einstein failed his college entrance Math exam?  It’s true!!!


Good Luck my friend!


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Edak - May 20, 2012 Reply

I must confess this really got me inspired…Truly we have to look into our failures and mistakes, and dig out the good out of bad experiences.

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