Studying Medicine,  Updates

Coping with failing exams

One year ago I had found out I failed my first sit written exams by 4 marks on the SAQ (short answer question)  paper but passed the MCQ paper (see screenshot below).

One of the many heartbreaking screenshots from that day

This however meant that I needed to pass my second sit exams and retake all  components of the written exams (1 3 hour SAQ paper and 2 1.5 hour MCQ papers). For anybody  who has ever failed an exam and needs to resit, you will understand the pain and frustration that goes with it. You’d expect yourself to just be able to dust yourself off, and start revising at 100 miles an hour, just like you were doing before your first sits…. but  unfortunately  it really isn’t like that. I know that a lot of people at Warwick Uni and other universities across the country will be in that time where they’re feeling pretty down because they’ve failed but still quite guilty because they know the HAVE to revise in order to  pass. It isn’t easy, of course it isn’t, but I thought I’d make a list of things that might help you get through this time and help you get back into the swing of revision, as that is the most important thing for you to focus on at the moment. 

5 Tips to Cope with failing an exam in med school:

  1. Be kind to yourself! 
    So often we are our own worst enemies. We tell ourselves how we’re stupid, a failure, and how we’ve not only let ourselves down, but everyone  else down. STOP IT!! I mean  it….  The  issue with negative self talk is  that the more you say it, the more you’ll believe it as it reinforces the irrational ideas you already have. So as  soon as you  catch yourself about to put  yourself down, turn it into something positive. If you think you know  nothing, then think about the questions that you got right in the exam! Remember the areas that you’re good at – that will show you that you do know something! 
  2. Make a plan
    One of the issues I faced when i was revising for resits was that I had 3 weeks between first and second sits. This is actually longer than it feels and you can achieve so much in this time! My friend even managed to increase his marks by  30% on one of the papers in that time! So use that as motivation you can do this! But the key thing to remember is that this won’t happen overnight, and unfortunately you do need to work for it! I highly recommend making a plan – focus on your weak areas, whilst ensuring you don’t forget the knowledge of your stronger areas – hard I know but both are equally important. If you’re given feedback, use that to help guide you in making the plan. Also, remember that your plan is not set in stone! It can and probably will change, so be prepared for that – I even make time in my plan for ‘catch-up days’ where I know i’ll probably have gotten behind and will need time to get back on track! The plan might be scary, but the satisfaction of ticking those topics off should be great motivation, and will ensure you get  through  everything you need to. 
  3. Don’t dwell on what went wrong or how you could get more marks
    Looking over your paper and seeing where you went wrong can be used in a really positive way and can help you succeed. There is however a danger that you will keep dwelling on why you “didn’t get a mark for saying this”, or “my answer was technically correct, just not what they were looking for exactly”. It can really help you improve but use it as a tool to help you in the future. In revision sessions, don’t keep asking about how you could’ve gotten an extra mark – use them productively – ask tutors to explain topics you don’t understand, the best way to approach certain question types. This is especially useful for the SocPop i.e. social or VLE (i.e. ethical and legal) side of things.
  4. Keep going! …but give yourself breaks if you need it
    Medicine is a marathon and not a sprint. Doing a little bit on a regular basis is so much more effective than trying to cram everything in one week. It’s tough but it will be worth it in the end! Also, by revising everything for an extra 3 weeks, you’ll remember more of medicine when you start second year (or 3rd/4th etc) so it actually puts you in really good stead! I completely understand that motivation can be hard to find, but having a plan will help. If you’re feeling completely down in the dumps, or just can’t focus, then take a break and try again! There were definitely days where I just wasn’t in the right headspace and no amount of staring at my notes or books would encourage me to revise! So i would take a few hours off, do something fun or relaxing and try again! If that didn’t work then I would just accept that it was an off-day, and just chill, be sad, be lazy, do whatever I needed to do, so that the next day I could start afresh!
  5. Remember that failing 1 exam does not mean you’ve failed medical school!
    Medicine is hard. Let me repeat that. Medicine is HARD. In order to get into medicine, you were probably among the top 20% of your cohort, whether in school or in your previous degree. So you are going to be surrounded by people who are also very clever. The biggest downside to being at the top, is that failure isn’t something you’re necessarily used to, or have experienced. For a lot of people, failing a med school exam is the first time they’ve ever failed an exam… and that is okay. Pretty much everyone in the medical profession has failed at least once throughout their careers. The vast majority of people pass on their second sits, and carry on through their career just like everyone else, except from you now know how to deal with failure. It is difficult, and it will always be hard, but you’ll have learned tools to help you carry on, even if it’s subconsciously. You learn that it really isn’t the end of the world and that you can do this. Finally, remember that the medical schools don’t want you to fail, in fact they want the direct opposite – they really want you to pass! They are not trying to trick you, and they’re not working against you! You can fail multiple times and still get through medical school (policy-permitting of course).

If you are resitting exams, stay strong! It will be worth it in the end. I hope the advice above is useful – I failed one of my exams in the first year of medicine and it was SO tough, but it was a horrible experience but a super important one. Good luck with everything and I truly wish you all the best. Hopefully you will soon find out you’ve passed and are able to carry on to the next stage of your med school journey!

Me, seconds after I found out I’d passed my resits and had made it to second year!

Jo x

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