The 7 Stages of Failing (When You Weren’t Expecting To)

Joey has just completed a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing and is graduating in a week, so if your Dad is the handsome, recently-divorced CEO of either Random House or Penguin, please let her know so she can get in touch.

I work in one of the Student Hubs, and during this time of year we serve a long stream of students who haven’t passed a subject. I’ve found that students who have failed go through something  roughly similar to the seven stages of grief… and normally all within the five minutes that they’re with me at the front counter.

So here are the Seven Stages of Failing (when you weren’t expecting to) and the things that can get you through it:

1) Shock/Disbelief


Normal reaction: ‘There’s an N next to my mark… Lol?’

If you have an N (short for ‘Nah m8’) next to your mark, it’s likely you’ve failed enough assessment that you haven’t satisfied the subject requirements. If it’s an NH (‘Nah m8, dat Hurdle’), it means you’ve failed to meet a hurdle requirement (such as attendance).

Strap yourself in for a rollercoaster of emotions.

2) Denial


Normal reaction: ‘There’s obviously been a mistake. I can’t believe they managed to type a 45 instead of a 95, how embarrassing for them… Lol?’

Look, mistakes happen. But when a result is visible in your portal, it means it’s already been entered, checked and double-checked, so it’s more likely than it is unlikely that it’s the incorrect mark. I know it’s hard to hear but… you didn’t pass the subject.

3) Anger


Normal reaction: ‘This is completely unfair!’ *student rips off shirt* ‘I am paying a LOT of money to go to this university!’ *student punches the sky* ‘WHY ME???’ *student backflips off my desk* ‘My father will be hearing about this!’

Look, it’s normal for you to be pissed – but please remember that it’s rarely anyone’s fault. Writing an angry email to your subject coordinator won’t help, and neither will abusing staff members at the Student Hub. If you need to, go and punch-dance out your rage in a wooded glen.

4) Bargaining 


Normal reaction: ‘How about I just email my subject coordinator?? What if they say I can retake the exam?? Can’t I just do four other subjects and re-take this exam next year?? What about additional assessment??’

As a staff member, one of the most difficult things to deal with is watching a student’s hope slowly die while you murder all their future happiness. So here we go – I’m going to try and crush your dreams as gently as possible:

  • You wake up in a meadow of wildflowers. A fairy alights on your shoulder and says, ‘If you didn’t apply for special consideration within four business days of sitting your exam or assessment, then you are unable to be considered for a supplementary exam.’ She kisses you gently on the forehead and flies away.
  • You are centre field, playing your favourite sport at the highest level possible. You kick a goal/score a three-pointer/stick the landing, and a crowd of thousands chant your name: ‘STU-DENT! STU-DENT!’ Your sporting hero approaches you and, ruffling your hair, says, ‘You’ve got what it takes, kid. Appealing a result is a three step process, which starts by organising an appointment with your subject coordinator to review your exam. You can find more details here.’
  • You are sitting in a fountain of chocolate while your favourite celebrity massages your shoulders. They lean forward, smell your hair and whisper, ‘Is it your final or penultimate semester? Did you fail with a mark between 40-49%? If so, click here as you may be eligible for the Final Subject Rule and be awarded additional assessment. But remember! It’s automatically assessed, so you have to wait for notification via student email.’

5) Guilt 


Normal reaction: ‘I failed because on the third Saturday before the exam I stayed up an extra half hour so I could finish watching Season Six of Gilmore Girls.’ Or, even worse: ‘I studied so hard I became incontinent and I still failed? I am certified Trash™.’

This is a shitty stage, but remember: people fail all the time. If I could, I’d wear a Go-Pro at my job and send the video to you – things are put into perspective when you see 17 people in a row sit down and tell you that they’ve failed, and you’re doing that five days a week.

6) Depression 


Normal reactions include (but are not limited to): Crying, unhinging your jaw and swallowing bottles of booze whole, smearing yourself with wet dog food and waiting for golden retrievers to take you away, staring at your reflection and quietly singing Adele.

In all seriousness, this is the worst stage and there are resources to manage it. If you’re feeling down and want to talk to someone, book an appointment with Psychological and Counselling Services.

7) Acceptance and Hope 


Normal reaction: You open your eyes. Shiver. Sit up. You’re sitting in the local dog park. The golden retrievers have brought you here. One starts to gently lick your face. Your mum is there. She is holding a box of fried chicken – it’s for you! Beyoncé is there too! She braids your hair. ‘You got this, bae,’ she says.

Everyone pushes past a fail. Failing is not the worst thing that is going to happen to you, and although it’s not the most ideal situation you’re going to push through and pass your course and on the day of your graduation Glyn Davis will shake your hand and you’ll throw your head back and laugh and say, ‘Oh Glyn. I got this.’

More advice on failing can be found here.

If you would love advice on how to plan the rest of your course after failing a subject, visit your Student Hub from Monday 7th December.

– Joey

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