Don’t let failure define you – from failing AS Levels to University of Leeds PPE Graduate

Sophie resat a year after failing AS Levels. Now she’s a uni graduate. Here’s her story, and advice for students in the same position.

Results Day might mean excitement for some, but also nerves and pain for many. There’s no two ways about it, failing sucks – it feels sucky and it feels even worse if you’re a pandemic student failing an exam you technically didn’t sit.

However, as an initial AS Level failure, somehow I made it to graduating with a 2.1 this year from a Russell Group university on a highly selective course. If I can do it, so can you.

Most people when they come across my CV or Linkedin page may not notice anything unusual apart from my ridiculous over compensatory voluntary experience. However, those eagle eyed recruiters may notice a 1 year gap between when I achieved my GCSEs and when I achieved my A Level results and no, this was not a gap year. It was my year of reckoning.

Early in August 2013 I opened my results and was horrified that as a normally A grade student I had achieved BCDE in my AS Level results. I felt utterly dejected; I felt as if this was a sign that I should not be pursuing higher education as I was clearly not ‘bright’ enough.

If this is how you’re feeling right now, I just wanted to let you know that it’s absolutely OK to feel that way, no matter what anyone tells you. The key is not to make any long term, potentially detrimental decisions on the basis of that feeling. Instead I would advise any student who feels upset over their results to go through the following stages.

1. Grieve

Allow yourself to feel everything you are feeling right now without judgement, whether that is coming from yourself or family and friends. Well meaning friends try to tell me that I shouldn’t feel bad, that my grades weren’t that ‘bad’ however this did little to quell my anxiety when at the time all I needed was someone to listen and a good cry, seek out supportive people who can offer you this.

2. Reflect

Once you are starting to feel a little calmer, you may want to reflect on the options that are available to you, usually appealing or resitting. Think about what makes most sense for you, but do not let the fear of ‘falling behind’ a year stop you from resitting. I resat an entire year and can honestly say that year was the making of me. I managed to establish much better study habits, I stopped caring what other people thought of me, actually figured out what I wanted to study at university and to top it off managed to save thousands of pounds through my part time job.

3. Redirect

Consider why it was that you failed, it may simply be that in this case the school you attended resulted in your grades being lowered or perhaps you scored poorly in you mocks, as most do. Come up with a strategy to counter that, whether it means improving your study habits or pivoting towards a subject you really enjoy. Also take time to consider whether what you had decided on as your next steps is really right for you. Do you know, for certain what you want to study and which university to study at, if not utilise this time to research some more and even if you know what you want to do, you can still utilise this time to research the university and make connections there so when you arrive next year you can really hit the ground running.

4. Focus on yourself

I’m giving you complete permission to disregard the opinions of others, yes even your parents, or in my case, the head of sixth form. Only you know deep down why the failure occurred and what path in life, career, education or otherwise, truly suits you. Do not let the opinion of others sway you too much, after all at the end of the day you’re the one who will have to put in the years of hard work at university if you choose to attend or into that career you’ve been wanting, that’s a lot of work to put in just to try and make people happy (P.S it doesn’t work).

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