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© Updated as of 2019
Survive Law

  • Emily Kelly

How to get over a Bad Exam


It’s happened to everyone: you study for weeks straight. You summarise, compile, re-write, learn and re-learn your notes. You don’t sleep and you survive on two-minute noodles and Red Bull. It’s the age old tale of law students, and it comes to a head when you walk into the exam room and have two hours to show the examiner that you can remember – ahem, apply – all the law you’ve learnt over the past thirteen weeks.

But sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn’t go to plan, and you walk out of the exam feeling disappointed and disheartened and, worst of all, you feel like Mike Ross in Suits did when Jessica found out his secret: absolutely terrified. Terrified that you didn’t do enough to pass and will have to do the whole thing again next semester. These thoughts and feelings can hang in your mind and linger like the smell of your room after you haven’t washed for four weeks (I really hope I’m not the only one who does that), but fear not! There are plenty of ways that you can get over a bad exam, and I promise that I won’t say, “just get over it” once.

1. Get some perspective Okay, you screwed it up. But just think: it’s one exam, in one subject, in one semester of an entire degree. Too often when an exam goes badly, it becomes the only thing we take from the semester – try not to forget where that exam sits in the scheme of things, and don’t forget all the other invaluable knowledge you gained through having done the subject. If you realise just how small a part of your law school journey that one exam is, it can help you to put it behind you and focus on what’s in front.

2. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

I know, failure sucks. But think, if you really did do that badly (and, as a sub point, almost all of the time it is never as bad as you think), what’s the worst thing that happens? You sit a supplementary exam, or you do the subject again. The sun will still rise every morning and the world isn’t going to end. Yes, it is a pain and it is definitely not how you want your degree to go, but at the end of the day, the earth will still spin – and hey, pizza is better re-heated, so who is to say that it’s not the same for a subject?

3. Think positively

Like I said, almost always, the exam isn’t as bad as you think, and your negative thoughts will stem from one or two parts of the exam that you were unhappy with. It’s not easy, but try to stop going over the exam in your mind, and definitely don’t go reading your textbook or notes and comparing it with your answers to the exam questions. If you’re going to think back over the exam, try and think over the parts you did well – chances are that once you block the bad thoughts from your mind and focus on the good ones, you’ll start to remember the things you did well, and all of a sudden it won’t seem so terrible.

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