What To Do If You Fail Your Mocks

The mock exam season is ending and soon your results will be available - if they aren’t already. If your grades are not what you expected, do not be discouraged. You can turn the situation around by using the results to your advantage. Every turn has a lesson to learn!

Receiving a failing grade or not getting the score you desired can be disheartening, especially if you have put in effort in studying and are confused about where you went wrong. However, it's important to remember that mock exam results are not the only predictor of your final grade - you are only halfway through the year!

There is still plenty of time to implement new study strategies and exam techniques to improve your performance for when the summer term exam season comes around.

Take the time to process and decompress

Don’t panic! Yes, that's right. I am sure you are feeling a whirlwind of emotions right now but do not despair. Failing is part of the process. Before you make any plan of action, make sure that you take the time to decompress and process your emotions. 

Acceptance is the first step towards moving forward. It’s always worth speaking about how you’re feeling with someone you trust such as a family member or close friend, and it can be natural to want to take some time for yourself, especially if you have friends that are currently celebrating, or you might find spending time with friends lifts your spirts. 

Everyone is different - it’s all about understanding what works for you. Stress-relieving activities can go a long way at a time like this, especially activities that you enjoy that either require your focus or you always find relaxing. This could be playing sports, video games, meditating, taking a bath or taking a walk in nature.

After that, remember that what has happened is in the past. While it is easy to dwell on all the things that you could have done differently, remind yourself that there is absolutely nothing you can change about what happened. All you can do is look to the future. There is something very inspiring about that. All the opportunities in the world to make it right are in front of you…so don’t look back!

Be aware of your mistakes

Failing at something is nothing to be ashamed of. Actually, it just shows I was your First Attempt In Learning! It may or may not be clear what led to a disappointing mock exam result - so it’s important to reflect while in a positive mindset.

This could be due to factors such as insufficient revision, not thoroughly reviewing the exam requirements, stress during the exam causing a loss of focus or lacking a full understanding of the material. Sometimes you just didn’t read the question properly and the mistakes can snowball from there.

The key to identifying these issues is to reflect and assess: 

  • Be honest with yourself 
  • Ask your teachers for feedback.

Let's be clear, being honest with yourself does not mean being overly self-critical or blaming yourself entirely. It means acknowledging that perhaps you didn't study enough and identifying any gaps in your preparation. Try to write a list and pinpoint some decisions you made that maybe prioritised something other than your exam performance. This could be staying up too late, not doing any past papers or ignoring a topic you struggle to understand. 

Keep this list by your desk and think twice every time you catch yourself prioritising something unproductive over revision. Don’t worry, you still need to have fun around school, but it helps to make a note of how often you prioritise other things which will help you carve out more time committed to revision. This is step one of your road to smashing exams in the summer. 

Target your weakest areas

With three to four months until your mock exams, you have ample time to devise a plan of action and improve your study techniques.

As mentioned before, step one is to focus on what you can change (your future grades) and not on what you can't (your current grades). This means targeting some of those areas you didn’t perform well. Now you’ve made a list of some priorities to getting back on track, it’s time to get specific about what topics you feel you need help in.

Step two is to talk to get feedback on your paper. Do this as soon as possible so your thought process as fresh as possible. Good teachers generally provide valuable feedback. Although receiving a marked paper filled with red corrections can be disheartening, it ultimately proves beneficial.

You are looking to make notes on what questions you lost marks in and why. Did you understand the question or read it too quickly? Did you lose out marks on showing the steps of working? Did you take a guess and maybe need to mark that down as an area to commit more revision too?

If the teacher's corrections are unclear or illegible, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. The teacher is there to help. Utilizing constructive feedback to improve one's work is one of the quickest ways to enhance skills and performance. Continuously seek as much feedback as possible, as it will lead to significant learning opportunities.

Step three is to make a plan of action. Using your feedback from the mock exam, go through every topic in the subject and create a traffic light system for how confident you feel in each topic. If you are confident in some sections of the topic and not others, make a note of the areas you are not confident in. This will help you prioritise these in your revision timetable which you should work on next. 

Create a Revision Timetable

This is not a fun part of the process either I understand, but it is arguably the most important. Making a revision timetable based on your feedback and confidence in areas not only makes it easier to decide what to work on, but it puts the scale of the work ahead in perspective and stops you from leaving it too late - which leads to a lot of stress and cramming.

Plan what you need to study to ensure you cover this sufficiently in time for the exam – picking random chapters in a textbook to read probably isn't the most productive use of your revision time.

This video describes how to make a retrospective revision timetable. They are a great way to organise each topic in terms of how much you have revised and how much you need to do. Using your list of weaker topics plan a timetable for each subject.

You can input your review of your mock exam at a starting point with your traffic light data. You can do this with your teacher to make sure they agree with your revision plan. Remember feedback is your friend! 

After each revision session, log what topics you covered in the relevant space and how confident you feel after it. By exam time we want them all to be green!  

Consider using alternative revision techniques like the ones described in our blog, they will help keep revision fresh by using a mixture of high and low energy revision techniques to avoid burnout and boredom!

Using different methods of learning enhances your memory retention of the same topic and keeps it interesting. After all, questions come up in all different shapes and sizes in the exam.

Make sure once you have a topic “green” and feel confident, you test your knowledge regularly by doing past paper questions under exam conditions and logging them as revision in your timetable. That means no music or distractions and try to time yourself per question. 

Improve your exam technique

The next thing to consider is that it may not be your revision that let you down but your actual exam technique. As if you didn’t have enough to learn, it’s important to make sure the examiner is seeing what you were thinking and it’s tough to remember in a stressful exam period. 

Some of the most common mistakes students make are:

  • Time management: did you set enough time for the questions worth more marks? If not, learn to keep an eye on the clock and identify the sections where you can get the most marks quickly. It’s not always best to do questions in order. Use the total marks divided by the minutes available in the exam to find out roughly how long you are expected to spend on each question. Check out our blog on time management techniques to help you improve on this during revision.
  • Misreading the question: the pressure of an exam situation can do funny things to you, and misreading a question is a common one, even if it seems really silly. In the real thing, don't pick up your pen until you've read the question two or three times. Underline keywords and prompts so they stand out. 
  • Not showing calculations: a common one in maths exams especially, where your final result isn't always what the examiner is looking at. If your method is sound, you can still pick up marks.
  • Not providing evidence: correct sourcing is important in subjects such as history or psychology, where there are lots of dates, names and case studies to remember. Making wild claims or arguments isn't enough; you have to show evidence to back up everything you say.
  • Learn from how things are marked: If you are surprised by your mistakes, the chances are you need to improve the way you answer questions. The best way to do this is by working on past papers under time conditions. Read the examiners' report for the paper to understand what examiners want to see from students, or give it to a teacher to mark and talk you through what they look for.

Luckily, there are often repeated patterns or themes to questions. Science papers might ask similar questions but in different ways, but even if you know all there is to know about how the kidneys work, you can only be rewarded if you say the sort of thing the examiner is looking for. 

There are common questions asked on each set text in English. There are also similarities in other humanities subjects. English or History questions are often phrased in similar ways despite rarely being exactly the same (e.g. ‘Examine the view that X’). If you practise responding to different kinds of questions, you’ll be best prepared on the day.

Seek extra support

To improve your results, you may need to seek help in addressing these shortcomings. This could involve seeking assistance with topics or types of question you struggle with during revision, improving your revision strategies or improving your exam techniques. 

Your teachers often don’t have a lot of time to help you one-to-one but Sherpa has thousands of online tutors ready to help, including qualified teachers that work in schools.

Visit our Find a Tutor page today or use our search wizard for help in finding someone that can help you improve your grades.  We also have group classes running weekly and during holidays for some intensive revision sessions with a teacher in your subject. It's a great way to ask a professional for advice for less than a one-to-one tutor.

Online resources can also help you improve your grades and exam technique. Firstly check out our blog on the best online resources available to help boost grades.

We also have a great revision guide for English language paper 2 and a blog about the Do’s & Don’ts of the exam written by one of our top tutors, a qualified teacher.

Check out our free GCSE Maths video lessons created by our tutors too! We have more free lessons on our youtube channel.

There are also a lot of Study Tubers on YouTube who offer up subject help, revision help and exam technique help for GCSEs, A-levels and more. Don’t rely on this too much as it can be distracting to be on youtube and often listening to someone explain a topic does not commit to memory very well. Be proactive and use it to answer specific questions, take notes and test yourself on your own.

Lastly, don't forget your fellow students - studying and sharing knowledge with peers is a fantastic way to get motivated, improve retention, and test yourself to know you are going in the right direction. Together you will have a range of strengths ad weaknesses and the best way to prove you know a topic well is to teach it to others. Set up a weekly revision session with your mates and see how it goes!

Now all that is left to do is wish you the best of luck! And remember, if you ever feel like it's getting too much, start this guide from the beginning and decompress!

Listen to your mind and be kind to your body. All you can do is try your best and make yourself proud, the rest will fall into place!

Author's profile picture

Russell Kilgour

3rd February

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