• Olivia

Repeating a Subject

I had to repeat a first year subject in my second year. On the first day of uni I arrived at my seminar just in time, with most of the 40 students already seated. Given that it was a first year subject, everyone was pretty quiet and nervous. Except for my friend who saw me and yelled:


It was the stuff of nightmares, except I was wearing clothes, there were no monsters and IT WAS REAL.

I had wanted to keep my repeating covert and glide through the semester silently and unnoticed. My well-meaning friend’s comment abruptly changed my plan and suddenly I was explaining to a large group of people that I was indeed repeating.

Law students are typically high achieving so having to repeat a subject can be devastating because it’s like the ultimate admission of failure: I couldn’t finish it the first time, and now I have to crawl back and re-do it.

What will everyone say?

When I repeated my subject, what I found was that most people did not care.

My friends were sympathetic. My tutor was encouraging. My parents were supportive. The hardest person to please was myself. I was so ashamed.

When uni began, I thought I would begin a course with a group of people and finish it with that same group of people. Having to repeat destroyed that ideal. But once I realised that it was only my ideal that was harmed in repeating, I could approach the subject with an open mind. I could understand the course better. I could make new friends. I was okay.

If you have to repeat a subject this year…

Consider why you are repeating

You may have failed the subject or you may have withdrawn before you could complete it.

If the subject is challenging, approaching it for the second time will give you an advantage. Having spent more time thinking about the concepts than most people enrolled in the subject will enrich your understanding as you learn from the beginning again. However, the extra time alone won’t be enough – attending more lectures, talking through problems with your tutors and actually doing the readings will help you pass well.

If your health was the reason why you couldn’t complete the subject, make sure you are well before attempting the subject again.

If poor time management was the cause for repeating, consider taking on a lighter workload both in uni and externally. Learning how to say no to people can be difficult but it’s very liberating to understand that you don’t have to do everything asked of you.

Keep it real

Be honest with yourself and those around you. Trying to hide that you’re repeating will add unnecessary stress to your load. If someone asks why you have to repeat, you don’t have to tell them.

Different universities have different marking schemes and failure rates. In one of my subjects, the failure rate was close to 10%. In other courses, it can be even higher. Most people will know someone who has repeated and the consensus generally is that it’s not the end of the world.

But no one will hire me now!

We’d all love to have a perfect academic record, but if reality is not so kind, think of it as good excuse to explain what you learnt from this character-building experience in future interviews. For example: “I had some difficulty with this subject the first time I attempted it, however repeating was a valuable experience because I re-evaluated my study practices and did much better the second time around.”

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