Failure: It’s Sometimes an Option

While I may not have been posting here, I have at least been writing with my students.  So much so that I have a backlog of entries I would like to share in this space, starting with the piece I just finished using classification and division writing.  Students started these in-progress writing pieces yesterday and I had a lot of fun “polling” them for answers to the question: how to you react or respond when you fail a test?

For some students it is their worst nightmare, for others it is their daily life, but at the end of the day it is probably going to happen to someone at least once.  Failure, specifically the failure of a test in a class you are taking just to graduate, is sometimes an option. Every year I listen as students come into my room, stressing about the exam in the next period or the two quizzes that are scheduled in two different classes the following day.  It isn’t the material itself they are worried about, but the ‘F’ that might come back to them once they’ve turned their test over and declared themselves done. However, that’s just the ones that openly stress, failing a test is something that every student has dealt with and their solution to the problem seems to range from outright denial to just not failing a test at all.


  • Denial


Some students live in a world where they’d prefer to not think of the bad things that happen in life.  They like to live in a world where they haven’t failed at all. It’s a borderline zen approach, with whatever happening in the past staying in the past.  This mindset is an extreme approach, since how can you deny a concrete reality? “I just don’t let it bother me,” senior, Ethan Pierce admits. Of the two students I spoke to who identified themselves in this category, it would appear that this group is much more relaxed than their counterparts that actually accept failure.  Perhaps it is because in the grand scheme of things that one test doesn’t seem to matter to them, especially when compared to overall GPAs or being homeless. There are other tests, other assignments, so if you ignore the one you did poorly on then what does it really matter?


  • Accept and Move On


Of course, denying reality again and again is difficult for most students and, honestly, perhaps not the healthiest way to go through life.  However, that doesn’t mean they have to panic about it. The “accept and move on” group takes in what happened in the past, but instead of ignoring it they simply move on.  Perhaps this group watched The Lion King one too many times and took Timon’s advice to heart: “You got to put your past behind you.” That’s not to say that there might not be some stress along the way.  After all, they have to come to a point where they can accept that failure.  “I stress for three days and then I just avoid the problem,” senior Tristan Taylor admits.  However, accepting their failure does not mean there isn’t some blame to go around. This group seemed the most likely to want to place blame elsewhere in order to find acceptance.  Perhaps they are just poor test takers or the teacher failed to properly prepare the class in some way for the test. Either way, accepting and moving on allows those students to not worry about outside factors in the long run, because there is no option to change things.  They can place the blame, accept it happened, and then move on without changing anything in their habits because it is due to some fault outside of their control. This group seems to be the bridge between those students who would deny their failure and the group of students who would actively do better.  


  • Accept and Do Better


The “accept and do better” group makes up the bulk of students in my College English class.  It involves more than just acceptance, but also taking an active role in doing better next time.  This group will often speak to a teacher or, at the very least, try to study harder next time. Of the four categories, this group has perhaps the widest range of reactions to failing a test.  Some didn’t seem bothered by the failed test, as long as they knew there was a way to improve. Others stressed about their failure a lot, especially when faced with outside motivators like angry or disappointed parents.  And of course there were some students in this group who looked to guidance from their peers. If a majority of others were in the same boat, then it was almost not worth stressing about. “It’s okay if we all failed,” senior, Gracie Massey admits.  It does seem to take some of the pressure off if you can look to your peers and know that whether you tried your hardest or not, you all failed together. Group failure just softens the blow a little.


  • Don’t Fail


Perhaps the smallest group could be called the Don’t Fail group.  I cannot take credit for this group as it was suggested by senior Brandon Burke when he admitted that the one solution to the problem of failing a test is simply “Don’t fail.”  The answer was so quickly given that I couldn’t help but be a little taken aback; however, it is true. Not all students are going to fail. This group can include those students who study hard or students who are just naturally good test takers.  Whatever the case may be, these students have just never received a failing grade on a test in their life! They don’t have to worry about this being a problem because they have never had to face it before.

In the grand scheme of things, failing a test is perhaps not the worst thing that is going to happen in the lives of my students.  Some will have to face problems that are much worse, and for those students a failed test isn’t so much a nightmare as it is a minor inconvenience.  Students may stress about tests before they happen, but most of them have at least learned that there is no point in worrying about it after the fact.  The past can’t be changed and so many students have just learned to leave failed tests in the past where they belong. After all, the next test can always go a little bit better.


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