Bad exam results: What next?

Bad exam results: What next?

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 16/08/12

Finding out you didn’t get the grades you wanted for GCSE, A-Levels or degree final exams is gutting, but it’s not the end of the world. Your career is only beginning. We hear from people who didn’t let a few flunked exams stop them getting ahead in the creative industries… 

Failure is relative. Just ask Einstein, who scored spectacular marks in the Science and Maths elements of his university entrance exam but totally flopped the rest and had to resit. What one person considers success might be a devastating blow to someone else. But whether you’re freaking out because you didn’t get a First at Oxford or because you didn’t get the C in GCSE Maths you needed to go to sixth form, the same is true: exams alone won’t determine your future. And the following stories prove it. 


Hannah Joss, Theatre Director

Expecting A in Drama, A in English Literature and B in Philosophy, come A-level results day Hannah found out she had got BBD. “I worked hard but panic and nerves got the better of me,” she recalls. “I cried so hard the night before the exam I was sick!” Hannah finally got the result she needed to study at her chosen university after retaking Drama twice. “No one knows Hedda Gabler as well as I do.”  

Hannah’s advice: “Don’t let a failed exam knock your confidence. I went to uni thinking I wasn’t meant to be there because of my twice-flunked exam. However, I was lucky to be on a course that nurtured each student, my confidence was rebuilt and I was encouraged to pursue a career as a director.” 


ITV social media producer Calum King

Calum was disappointed when he got a 2.2 in the final exams for his Philosophy and Creative Writing degree, but turned it into a positive. “I looked at the things I was distracted by – writing, mucking about on the internet – and found ways to make them productive,” he says. “I wrote an article about my mediocre performance in Creative Writing at university, which ironically found me some writing work, and then discovered it was possible to muck about the internet and get paid for it.”

Calum’s advice: “Use your disappointment and feelings of failure to your advantage – just because you didn't get great exam results doesn't mean you're not talented, and now you have a reason to work extra hard to get people to see that. Employers aren't just looking for grades on paper, they also want you to be interesting, passionate and nice.”


Jewellery designer-maker Lenique Louis

Despite achieving A*s at GCSE in her favourite subjects – Art and English – Lenique wasn’t able to do A-levels because the rest of her grades were so bad. After starting and not finishing several courses, Lenique launched her own jewellery business from her grandma’s garage with support from The Prince’s Trust, and now has a studio in Holborn.

Lenique’s advice: “It’s good to fail sometimes because you learn. Find a goal and work towards it. Be persistent and get experience. That’s what it’s all about.”


Freelance Copywriter, Journalist and Blogger Lauren John

“Although I’m an avid bookworm, analysing books doesn't come naturally to me,” says Lauren, who failed her Spanish and English A-levels. “I still had the points I needed to get to uni, but it knocked my confidence.”

Lauren’s advice: “If you fail English A-level, that doesn't mean you can't succeed in the creative side of writing; just as you may not be great at algebra, but find you have a knack for figures and book keeping.”


Cariad Martin, Writer and Interviews Editor at For Books’ Sake

“I messed up quite a few exams,” says Cariad. The one that bothered her most was failing Art the year before GCSEs, which meant she couldn’t continue with it. “It made me believe that I wasn't artistic or creative,” she remembers. But after taking a photography evening class, Cariad went on to study the subject at university, graduating with a First!

Cariad’s advice: “Lots of people have old-fashioned ideas about Art and might make you feel that if you can't draw or paint or sculpt you can't be an artist. This is not the case. You need to find the right medium and the right path. If your school doesn't offer much variety in creative subjects then look around your local area and find somewhere that does.” 


Director Nathan Human, who runs film and theatre company Citizen598

After being predicted AAB in his A-levels, Nathan got a B in English, a D in Psychology and a fail in Politics. “I got distracted by socialising and music,” he says. “I didn't totally come off the rails but I spent too long in the pub.”

Nathan’s advice: “You can't change the results, so focus on what you've learnt and what you can still do to achieve what you want. Recognise your flaws and weaknesses, as well as your strengths, and take time to weigh up your options.”


Sian Meades, Editor of Domestic Sluttery and Freelance Feature Writer

She has since founded a website and authored a book, but Sian was so ill during her GCSEs that she couldn’t even sit some exams. “I went from getting 99% in my History coursework to getting a G,” she says. While dispiriting, her results didn’t prevent her from going to college to do a B-Tec in Performing Arts. 

Sian’s advice: “Sometimes crap stuff happens. You move on, you get better, you learn what you love doing. I doubt anyone I deal with professionally would care that I didn't get my Graphic Technology GCSE.”


Have you ever messed up an exam? How did you deal with it - and what's your advice for people finding themselves in a similar position? Leave a comment below.

Image: Sad face, Colonel by hackett on a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

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