Here’s what to do if you’re disappointed with your A-level results

‘OMG, I’ve failed’. Ana Ado/Shutterstock

The saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and while that may well be the case, you still need to have the right mindset to turn failure into success – especially on exam results day.

This means rather than being overwhelmed by a challenge, you need to find a way to overcome it and learn from the experience so you can succeed in the future. This builds what psychologists call “mental toughness”, which basically means that you are able to deal with challenges, pressure, and competition irrespective of prevailing circumstances.

People with mental toughness bounce back after a disappointment and see failure as a challenge and a learning opportunity, rather than a setback. The good news is mental toughness can be learned through experience, so there’s no better time to start than on exam results day – when mental toughness will help you get through the day and help you to assess your future options if you haven’t done as well as you expected.

Time for self reflection

You first need to reflect on why you missed the grades. Look at what went wrong and how you might learn from that. Think about Mo Farah in the Olympics 10,000 metre final. He fell badly and it could have cost him the gold medal. But he got back up, put it behind him and carried on – eventually winning the race.

Don’t dwell on the “failure”. Work out what went wrong, put it to one side, and then start to look forwards.

I have so much to do today, I will need to meditate for twice as long – so said Gandhi. Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior//wikimedia commons

It’s good to talk

However, the worst thing you can do is sweep a bad result under the carpet. Once you’ve worked out where you think you went wrong, it’s important to discuss what’s happened and why.

It’s natural to feel nervous about the future, especially if things haven’t quite worked out how you imagined, and chatting these thoughts and fears through with someone close to you can really help to take a some of the weight off your mind.

Parents, this is where you can step in and encourage your child to open up and let them know you are still there for them.

Trusted opinions can give invaluable support. Moiggi Interactive//Flickr, CC BY-NC

Don’t be overwhelmed by emotion

It’s hard not to panic when your social media feeds are full of excited friends off to their first choice of uni. Results day is a big deal, but wallowing in emotion will affect your ability to make all those important decisions yet to come.

Speak to sensible people around you for practical advice and try to think positively. It might feel like everything rests on your grades but actually many universities look at the whole person.

At times it pays to ditch social media. Patrik Jones//Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

But don’t trivialise

This might be the first major failure you’ve experienced and with emotions running high it is easy to feel like this is the end of the world. Parents can help here by remembering the importance of taking the experience seriously without making things worse.

At this point it might be good to talk about how far you’ve come and how much there is still left to achieve. Not only is this good for confidence all round, but it could also help formulate some interview answers when you speak to universities.

The right path might not be immediately obvious. Richard Leonard//flickr, CC BY

Work out your strengths

Think about other achievements which show commitment and success, such as playing an instrument, being in a sports team, having a part-time job. Write them down and use them when you speak to universities.

If you’d been predicted high grades but were crippled by nerves on exam day, you’ve obviously got some academic ability and exams only provide a snapshot. Figure out what your strengths are and what makes you stand out against your peers.

Achievement, focus and dedication have diverse sources. Hernán Piñera//flickr, CC BY-SA

Think outside the box

You may feel helpless but it’s important to use your time wisely and try and figure out some alternative options. If you’ve fixated on one particular university, does it offer other courses, or is there another university which has a similar feel?

If it’s all about the course, where else offers that programme or can you explore alternative routes like foundation degrees? The process of school, exams and results can feel like a treadmill and clearing can be an opportunity to step off and change direction.

Lateral thinking often holds the key. Craig Roday//Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Do lunch …

Or dinner, or a film. Don’t stew at home alone all day as your friends post happy pictures on social media. Plan something low key but positive for the day like a meal at a favourite restaurant with your family – that way you can still have a nice time regardless of the results.

This will also give you a chance to take your mind off things and unwind a bit after the stress of the last few days.

Matthew G//flickr, CC BY

Realise how far you’ve come

If you’re struggling to get past your disappointment, think back to when you were doing your GCSEs – maybe even read an essay you wrote back then. See how far you have come. I get my students to keep one of their first year essays then re-read it in class in their final year. They cannot believe how much they’ve improved.

Your A-levels are a big leap from GCSEs and your degree is another step further. As hard as it feels now, once you are at university and having an amazing time this day won’t feel nearly as painful. Just make sure you learn from the experience and build that mental toughness.