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26th Oct 2023

Three quarters of students in the UK worry failing exams means they won’t get a job

Brought to you by Quizlet

Callum Boyle

A study has found that academic failure is the second biggest fear among UK students

A recent study has discovered that the worry of failing exams is the second biggest fear among students in the UK.

Half (48 per cent) of the 2,000 adults asked as part of the study admitted to suffering from academic anxiety – a figure which rises to two-thirds (66 per cent) for Gen Z while three-quarters (75 per cent) believe too much pressure is placed on students ahead of exams.

Furthermore, 45 per cent have made themselves physically sick with worry ahead of receiving their results. 23 per cent have even dropped out of a class after worries about failing the class/exams.

The aftermath of exams is also taking its toll on students, with 45 per cent of adults saying that they used to feel more confident before taking their GCSE’s with a further 37 per cent admitting that they felt more confident before A-levels, BTECs and university.

Academic failure is one of the biggest fears among students in the UK, with the fear of spiders the only thing ranking higher. Other fears in the top 10 list included visiting the dentist, heights, spiders and horror movies.

With 75 per cent of respondents agreeing that the mentality around failure and the pressure put on mock exams affects their stress levels and mental health, Quizlet, an online learning platform that provides a wide range of study tools including flashcards, practice questions and activities, has partnered with Elizabeth Day to help change the narrative and make the UK a more positive space.

Elizabeth is an award-winning author and broadcaster. Her chart-topping podcast, How To Fail With Elizabeth Day, is a celebration of all of the things that haven’t gone right.

To help students change their way when it comes to thinking about failure, Elizabeth has worked together with Quizlet to comprise a step-by-step guide on approaching the subject of failure:

Elizabeth Day’s top tips on how to approach failure: 

1. Remember that just because you fail, does not make you a failure. Your response to a failure is what truly defines your character, not the failure itself. Look at Steven Bartlett – he was kicked out of school and quit university after one seminar but instead of letting those failures define him, he used them as fuel to set up his own business, becoming a millionaire in the process. He took what he had learned and used it to create conversations. He now hosts one of the world’s most successful podcasts, Diary of a CEO, and is a Sunday Times bestselling author.

2. Sometimes too much value is placed on results. It’s the time spent acquiring knowledge – the process of learning – that we need to remind ourselves to value. While good grades and accreditation have their purpose, it’s the journey we’ve been on to educate ourselves that will prove most important in the long term.

3. Every setback is a set-up for a comeback. If you’ve failed, ask yourself what you can do differently next time – it might be preparing more for an exam or it might be chatting to your parents, your friends or your teachers, recognising your strengths and choosing another subject. If you have the right mindset, failure can be data acquisition. After all, if you only ever win at something, then you never have the opportunity to learn!

4. You are not your worst thoughts. At your lowest points, your brain will be telling you all sorts of critical things about yourself. Remember that these aren’t necessarily true. You exist separately from your failure and you exist separately from your anxious thoughts. I always remember interviewing the journalist Matthew Syed for my podcast, How To Fail, and he spoke about falling apart under pressure as a table tennis player at the Sydney Olympics. It was one of the most humiliating moments of his life and he got through it by reminding himself that whatever else happened, his parents still loved him. Is there someone like that in your life that you can remind yourself will love you however you’ve done in an exam?

5. Failure is what makes us human. None of us are perfect and we connect more deeply when we take the risk of being vulnerable and sharing what’s gone wrong with others. If you’ve just failed, have the courage to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. You might be surprised how close you feel to them when they start opening up in the same way. After any conversation like this, you have more empathy for others and more understanding of what it is to be human – and that’s amazing.

6. Life doesn’t go according to plan. But sometimes the curveballs and surprises can end up being even better than what you’d imagined. The actor Jamie Dornan told me that his failure to do well at school was ‘probably the best thing that ever happened to me’ because it forced him to take a different path and discover his true passion. The broadcaster Fearne Cotton failed most of her GCSEs but went on to have an incredible career owing to her skills as a listener and interviewer which weren’t necessarily skills taught in the curriculum. Failing an exam isn’t the end: it’s a nudge from the universe to do something differently next time.

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