What to do after your child receives disappointing exam results

child gets disappointing exam results. exam. test paper.


Receiving lower than expected exam results can feel shocking or devastating for your child. It is important for parents to approach disappointing exam results positively to help their child improve.

Why did my child receive disappointing exam results?

Kids can fail exams for a variety of reasons.

Common reasons may include:

  • Lack of interest in the material

  • Distraction when studying

  • ‘Text Anxiety’

  • Poor time management and procrastination

  • Lack of confidence or overconfidence

There could also be underlying reasons a student is not motivated at school over a prolonged period. This may include underlying learning disabilities such as autism or dyslexia or mental health conditions including ADHD, anxiety, depression or OCD.

What to do after your child receives disappointing exam results

Eden Foster, College Psychologist at St Aloysius College, Victoria discusses the best approach is to ‘develop a growth mindset’.

A child who has a fixed mindset will have the belief that a poor grade on an exam or assessment suggests that they cannot do well in the respective subject and is more likely to give up and see failure as something irreversible and inevitable for them.

Parents can take the following steps to boost confidence and approach disappointing exam results positively:

1. Praise your child for their efforts

Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck’s research demonstrated praising ‘process not outcome’ is a key to developing a growth mindset.

Praising your child for their academic efforts is just as important as praising them for their results.Recognising your child’s effort will motivate and encourage them for future exams, assessments or homework.

Your child will learn the connection between the amount of effort they put in and the results they achieve.

Praising your child’s effort can look like praising their concentration, self-correction or study techniques.

Eden believes focusing on your child’s results may lead to a fear of failure and task avoidance.

2. Creating the best study conditions at home

Creating good study conditions at home may help your child with distractions and battling exam stress.

Create a dedicated study space that is quiet, organised and away from distractions.

You may wish to set boundaries with your child about the use of technology or phones in their study space.

3. Seeking help from teachers and wellbeing staff

Encourage your child to seek help from teachers or wellbeing staff following their exam results.

Praising your child for seeking feedback from staff will help them improve their grades.

It also helps your child build a good relationship with their teacher and feel more comfortable to ask for help before the next assessment.

4. Help with organisation

If your child is struggling with their organisation you may wish to set up a calendar or study plan.

  • Make sure to write in assessment or homework due-dates

  • Encourage them to make a to-do list where they can mark off each task

  • Help them create a study timetable which also schedules in wellbeing activities

5. Encourage them to use their feedback to improve

A popular study technique is to note the mistakes from the last exam and re-do those questions everyday until they are completely mastered.

For example, if your child gets a complex maths question wrong, have them write down the question in a separate note book and re-attempt it until they have learnt the correct working out.

Make sure your child asks teachers for further feedback until the next assessment so they are prepared. ‘

What not to do after your child receives disappointing exam results

Don’t blow things out of proportion

It’s not the end of the world if your child has one disappointing result.

It’s important to help your child (and yourself) put these results into perspective. Does this one exam result mean my child will not succeed in life? Of course not, in fact failure is more likely to help your child succeed so long as they focus on what they have learnt in the process- what they did well and what they can improve on.

Eden Foster, College Psychologist, St Aloysius College, Melbourne

Help build their self-esteem and reward them for any efforts leading up to the next exam.

Don’t get angry or show disappointment

Your child is likely already disappointed in themselves. Try to show support and encourage a growth mindset.

child receives disappointing exam results. boy on computer.

Remind your child although they can’t change what happened, they can work towards learning from their mistakes.

Do not compare them or their marks to others

Child Psychologist from Sydney Child Psychology Services, Nidhi Dev advises that comparison puts excess pressure on kids.

Your child’s learning is unique and should be approached as such.

Comparing your child and putting them higher than other students can also be destructive. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research has shown that students are more likely to see their ability as ‘fixed’ when they see themselves as the top achiever.

In a fixed mindset, a minor setback may be perceived as a complete failure.

Summary: Tips to help them stay on track after disappointing exam results

  • Reward their efforts

  • Encourage them to learn from their feedback

  • Remind them it is possible to achieve a different outcome in the future

  • Help them have an organised study space free from distractions

  • Make sure you are focusing on them, and not comparing them to others.

Choosing a school for your child can be difficult, if you wish to receive further information please see Choosing a School NSW 37 or Choosing a School VIC 34.


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