How to Offer Encouragement to Someone Who Has Failed an Exam or Test

A great sense of humiliation and expression of self defeat can come from failing an important test or exam. When helping someone through this crisis, it's important to deal with the situation without resorting to criticism, rebuke, or making the person feel inadequate or confirming their sense of being a failure. Success is crucial yet at times failure can be linked to many an external cause, a state of mind, and not necessarily to any internal cause of intelligence or aptitude. Seek to encourage and help the person rise above this setback.


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    Remind the unsuccessful candidate that he or she is only human. It happens to all of us some time or another. Sometimes a sensible reminder of the reality that we all err or make mistakes, helps calm and stabilize the situation. Many great and distinguished icons in society have used their failures as a stepping stone to success.
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    Show the unsuccessful candidate the advantages of not letting things slide. Encourage him or her to look to the positive side and to embrace practicing persistence. Remind them that the only real failure is to give up too soon. If it seems that the unsuccessful candidate lacks the motivation or the determination to continue trying, overcome this by focusing on their previous successes in exams, tests, and other challenges, and the strategies they used in those situations.
    • Take a moment to help them identify the benefits of continuing to stick with their goals over abandoning them - this makes an excellent writing exercise as creating a list can help them to see things more clearly.
    • Listen to all they want to say.Let them open up and put out all the frustration. It will surely make them feel good. Tell them that failures make us stronger.
    • If you have time, have a look online for stories about people who have taken exams or tests more than once. You might be surprised how many people have done so! But more to the point, these people eventually succeed because they don't give up.
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    Refrain from mockery and damaging comments. Nobody benefits from being called useless, stupid, or having it insinuated that they're incapable of ever getting a thing right. Those kinds of barbs stick and are not motivating; worst of all, saying such comments will assure the person that they are a failure in someone else's eyes, causing them to believe it. If you're already emotionally involved with the person in question and feel a sense of anger or annoyance that they didn't pass (as is the case with some parents), take some time away to calm down before broaching the subject.
    • You're more likely to be upset if the exam or test involves monetary losses on your behalf. Try to see this as being about the person, not the money. And the money needs to be something that you believe will return to you some day even if it doesn't seem so now. Your support of the candidate will be beneficial in the long-term, whereas going on about lost money will only further rub in the pain for the candidate who is already more than aware of the costs involved.
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    Become directly involved in trying to remedy the situation. Be sensitive to the needs of the candidate when seeking to implement solutions. For example, adult education often involves juggling other roles and responsibilities while trying to achieve a college or part-time degree or diploma and this can eat up a lot of the person's study time. Are there ways that you can help practically? Offer assistance where you can. This might involve helping run errands, helping with household chores, driving them to the exam center etc. Lending a helping hand in small ways can lead to better exam success.
    • Something to consider is to suggest that the student take a break to refresh before tackling the learning process again. Getting away from it all can restore a battered sense of confidence as new sights, sounds, and experiences bring back their sense of purpose and drive. If you can accompany them and this would be a pleasant thing for the student, then do so.
    • For all students, consideration to more intensive tutoring might be useful. Talk to the student about his or her feelings concerning such tuition and work from there.
    • If there is a chance to sit exams earlier than other students, be supportive and alleviate the student's workload elsewhere so that he or she can concentrate just on studying in the lead-up to the exam. This also includes being thoughtful about how you spend your time, such as not making too much noise around the student, or rubbing it in that you have time spare to enjoy yourself while he or she is knuckling down.
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    Build and work on the person's self confidence. If the student lacks in self esteem and confidence, seek ways to enhance their feelings of self worth. This can be easily achieved through motivational and self help literature and books. This kind of inspirational material is freely available at public libraries or from friends. Of even greater value for many people is the gift of your time to listen to them and to help them through challenges by talking together. Often we are so busy that we don't realize that simply having the chance to talk things through can make a huge difference to a person's self-esteem and can help them identify ways of fixing things for themselves.
    • In addition to building personal self-confidence, be sure to help them with building exam or test confidence. They did something wrong in order to fail and it's important to pinpoint what that was so that they don't repeat it again. Encourage them to talk to the teachers or lecturers, to read reviews of the exams or tests, and to purchase books that can help them improve the studies in that field.
    • It might also help to ask them if they feel calm and confident when taking an exam. If not, it may be necessary to focus on some calming skills.
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    Encourage consistency and commitment. To pass a difficult test or exam, being committed to this success is vital and important. Ultimately the amount of time spent on learning material will ensure if the student passes or fails. Encourage them to break away from a "fixed time and schedule" for studying. Learning and revising the test material can be done at any place and at any time.
    • Consider making some short-term personal sacrifices if these would help. Things such as not having the TV up too loud while the student is studying, and turning off your light earlier when it's bedtime so that he or she can get a full night's sleep.
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    Help the student to create stirring visions for his or her future. Success breeds success and once the student has a good handle on how to study successfully, this habit becomes part of his or her entire educational cycle. Ultimately, learning how to handle failed exams helps the learning process about failure in general; this leads to a better quality life and most importantly gives the person dignity and independence as an individual.


  • Be supportive. This is the very best approach there is; an understanding, caring, and helpful attitude will work wonders.
  • Be patient. Some people respond more positively to help and encouragement when you show respect and understanding.
  • Help them to study and be a good influence to them.
  • In most learning institutions, there are no penalties for trying again and even where there are, a student can usually find a way to manage around this, such as looking to another institution. Moreover, employers don't care how many times you took a test or exam, provided that you did and succeeded, so perhaps reminding the student of this can help boost their confidence.


  • Avoid being a nag. Acting superior and displaying a "holier than thou" attitude lacks compassion and empathy and will only set the unsuccessful candidate against you. Indeed, it can result in them feeling more rebellious and cause them to throw it all away just to spite you.
  • Avoid angry outbursts. If you have any disappointments, contain them. Giving voice to what you wanted from the other person's efforts will not help them any and it will often end up eroding their self-confidence and make matters worse.

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