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Failing is one of the most common things you’re ever going to do in life (if you’re doing anything significant.) It’s a part of day to day life that no one can avoid but in school it’s given a particular negative stigma. An F is supposed to be looked at with embarrassment. While many teachers have the good sense to tell students the truth, that’s buried under years of being trained to fear Fs.

As many a teacher will gladly admit: An F is just a lesson. You don’t have to sit in shame about it. You just should probably change something. Here is where many a teacher would start to argue with me: There are many times that an F should be an expected part of being a student.

An unwillingness to get an F is a limitation that will prevent you from being the most efficient student possible. Heck, there are times when you’re not focused on being a good student that you should completely not care if you failed. Of course, there are still the times when it’s just a lesson.

Did You Plan For It?

Getting an F is a great thing if you planned for it.

PLANNED FOR IT? Yea. I know that sounds ridiculous to the untrained reading this blog but there are plenty of times when you might want to plan for an F. One of the fundamental parts of being a good student is prioritizing the work you have to get done.

If you have one assignment due that’s worth a huge portion of your final grade and another assignment that’s worth a tiny portion of your final grade, given limited time, you want to focus most (if not all) your energy one the important assignment. That ensures your grade is as unaffected by your inability to complete everything possible. It also ensures you’re not wasting your time on low value assignments.

If you planned to get an F and appropriately got an F then pump your fist in success because you did it. If you planned to get an F and got an A you might have had more time to spend on the more important assignment. That could cost you points in the long run.

Of course, most average students never plan for failures. In most cases, their failure means something else completely.

Your Strategy Failed

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If you fail on a test then you can usually pretty quickly deduce what caused the failure. You just need to take 5 minutes to ask a few questions to yourself.

Is this unusual in this class?

If you typically fail on tests in any particular class, it may have nothing to do with study strategies. You could be trying to study the complex stuff when you don’t already understand the simple stuff. Repeated failures in any particular class (when effort is being put in) is a sign that you may need extra catch up time in the class to become successful.

Did you study as you planned to study?

If you studied exactly as you planned then failing is a seriously bad sign for your current study plan. It doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work but it should be taken as a reason to take caution. If this is your third or fourth cautionary sign then abandon ship and go back to a different study strategy that you already know works ideally. You can only afford a few unplanned for catastrophic failures before you just need to get back on solid ground.

Study strategies can fail for many different reasons. Most study strategies truly suck at countless things. In fact, if you’re not motivated (which is kind of a part of this) then many of the study strategies I recommend will suck too. You have to find a study strategy that will work with you now.

Was there anything more important on your mind during the test?

You’re human. Some of your failures will come from emotional problems. If something dramatic happened in your life before you took the test then there is a real chance it impacted your ability to do well on the test. The more dramatic the problems you had in your life before the test, the less you should treat your failure like a notable incident for planning off of.

Of course, if you happen to experience the same “dramatic event” before multiple tests then it’s probably a dramatic event you should plan for. Don’t use dramatic events as an excuse if they’re an everyday occurrence.

Do You Care?

After you fail a test, this is one of the most important questions you should ask: Do you care that you failed the test?

No… I’m not asking if you fear explaining it to your parents. No… I’m not asking if you fear the consequences. They may play a role but leave the external consequences out of this thought process for a minute. Do you have any gut level personal reason you wanted to pass this test?

It’s okay to say no.

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Most students go through their whole schooling experience without admitting they don’t care about some stuff. Some students don’t care about any of it but still find ways to dominate in everything. That being said everything starts to get a whole lot easier when you try to get all your motivation pushing in the same direction.

If you don’t care that you failed the test on a gut level then you’re probably not interested in learning the material. That’s okay. In most cases, you can still pass the tests and get the good grades.

In fact, it becomes a whole lot easier after you admit that you don’t really care beyond the superficial aspects of the class. Suddenly you don’t have to worry about the more difficult to measure factors.

If you do care that you failed the test on a gut level then try to find out why. Is this a subject you really care to learn? Is this a subject you planned on using for your career in the future? Don’t worry about what other people think about it. What do you think is wrong with getting this particular letter on this particular sheet of paper? This process should be painful. It’s meant to help the failure sink in.

If you are truly motivated and you still failed a test then you must have had some catastrophic problem. It should be blatantly obvious what that problem was. If it’s not then you really need to start digging until you find out what happened.

Not always… but often, it comes down to a false assumption of motivation. That false assumption will constantly drive a student right back where they started until they get the point. If you really are motivated, you should know why you failed. (Study the wrong textbook? Forget to study? Wrote your test in invisible ink?)

Once you really understand what led to your failure (or motivated it,) you can work to prevent the same problem in the future.

Do you want to know how to land the big grades without putting in the big effort? That’s what this blog is all about. It’s possible to study in less than 15 minutes a night while still kicking out A’s. No… It’s not only for gifted students. Want to learn more? Check out the archives and ebooks in the sidebar. Please share this page if you found it helpful (or think someone else might.)

Failing Gracefully: Some Lessons To Learn From The Almighty F

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5 thoughts on “Failing Gracefully: Some Lessons To Learn From The Almighty F

  • December 8, 2015 at 8:37 am
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    I love what you said about planning to get an F. Sometimes it truly isn’t a reason to cry, just something that had to happen and won’t matter long term. No reason to get nervous about it.
    The worst thing is when your strategy fails, especially if it has always worked. I used to had this issue with maths, because depression made me mix everything up. It was a horror that lasted for years. Luckily, I’ve pulled through.

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