4 Thoughts that you’ve had after an exam

‘What question 8?’ ‘That was so easy! Why did everyone else find it hard?’ ‘I miss the Library.’ ‘What do I do with my life now?’ ‘I can breathe again!’ ‘I failed. My whole life is over.’

We’ve all experienced some of these thoughts catapulting around our head as we leave an exam room. Let’s take a deeper look at the post exam feels and how to cope with them…

So you get up from your seat, walk down the aisles of perfectly aligned chairs and allow yourself to be carried by the crowd, through the narrow corridor and out into the fresh air. All the while, your mind is struggling to process what just happened in that room, in that paper… and why couldn’t you remember the word ‘effectively’? Your brain is exhausted so why is it still working at double speed, eagerly processing the 4 different conversations taking place around you between your course mates?

Every exam experience is different. You might come out of one and already be scouting out a quiet spot where you can break the news of your inevitable resit to your mum on the phone. Alternatively, you may come out of another exam completely over it and focused on what topping of pizza you’ll be having as a reward for bossing it. Every exam varies. Everyone’s experience will vary. But let’s take a quick whistle-stop tour through the most common post-exam thoughts:

1. ‘What question 8?’

So you feel prettaaay good about that exam. Hell, you even had time to check over your answers. You eagerly scout out your mates for a high-five and raucous celebration. There they are! You approach just as they’re discussing question 8. You’re momentarily confused. But there was no question 8… right?

So you think you may have missed a question. It’ll be really hard not to obsess over this – how many marks was it worth? How could you have possibly missed it? Did you number all of your questions wrong on the answer sheet? My best piece of advice would be not to dwell. You can’t be sure that you even missed this question and if you did, there’s not much to be done. You can learn from this, meticulously checking future exam papers. You may also rest assured, aware that it’s not your knowledge is being called into question. Mistakes happen.

2. ‘That was so easy! Why did everyone else find it hard?’

You open your exam paper and it’s all coming up Milhouse: the perfect choice of questions. You’ve even answered half of them from past practice papers! Excellent. You speed through your exam, check over your answers and even add a extra commas for good grammar. You practically glide out of the hall and into the arms of your bestest pal, as they say, “Worst exam ever, right?” Right. Wait, what?

Just remember, everyone has different experiences during exams – the choice of questions, how much you’ve slept that day, little bits you focused on during revision or can recall from lectures. Don’t be influenced by others. It’s Occam’s razor. Don’t overthink!

3. ‘I failed. My whole life is over.’

I’m not denying that exams sometimes can actually, really be that bad. Poor choice of questions, you weren’t on point that day or it was just a particularly brutal exam. It happens. But sometimes life does throw a curveball at you. Trust me, that won’t be the last. So try to cope in the way that’s best for you: have a rant about it, comb through every detail (if that helps you to move past it), reflect, and then move on. Think positively about what you can do now. A resit? No biggie. You’ll be fully prepared next time. Or perhaps you need to come to terms with a slightly lower grade? Often, one paper won’t make a dramatic difference but if you feel that it will mean that you have to rethink your life plans then do this. Take some time to explore new avenues and possibilities. There’s nothing wrong with a little readjustment in the grand scheme of your life. And while it’s good to be prepared but don’t make any dramatic life choices until your results confirm your decisions! Exam results can often pleasantly surprise you.

4. ‘What do I do with my life now?’

You go out, buy a cheesecake and eat it. After that, it’s up to you; enjoy summer, look into jobs or internships or focus on some light reading for pleasure? I’d strongly recommend taking a break though. You deserve it (and your body probably needs it).


If you are concerned about exams at all, there are plenty of services to help: Student Careers & Skills can help with preparing you for jobs or helping you form plan. Student Support services are available if you feel anxious, concerned or depressed. This is very common, especially during times of pressure, so do talk to someone about it and seek out any support you might need.

Image: Worried Square/cathredfern/CC BY-NC 2.0

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