International Ambassadors, November 2018

Getting exam results is stressful, especially when the results are unexpected and less than hoped for.

Although you may have the grades you need to get onto your chosen university course, some of your friends might not be in such a lucky position. They may be feeling disappointed and upset with their results

While you should be proud of yourself and celebrate your achievement, it's important to be there for your friends and support them through their next steps.

Everyone responds to bad news in different ways. Here are some ways you can help your friends feel better if they don't get the grades they need on results day.


[1] Be supportive

We all know what if feels like to receive bad news, or to not do as well as we expected. Even though you may have had a successful results day, you can still empathise with the emotions your friends are feeling.

Receiving a disappointing exam result can be a shock to the system, especially if you worked hard and expected to do better. The most important thing is to let your friend know you're there for them and you'll support them in choosing their next steps.

Accept that they will be upset, but don't let them wallow in this feeling. Remind them they're not defined by one exam result. There are still ways they can achieve their goals, but through a different route than they originally planned.

A group of female students talking outside

Be sensitive

Although you received good results, and you should be happy and tell your friends about it, they may not want this rubbed in their faces.

Be sensitive to their feelings when talking about your results. Good friends will be proud of you but they might not want to hear too much about it while they're upset.

Give them time

Not everyone wants to talk about their failures straight away, and they may find it embarrassing to share results with friends and family.

Give your friend some space and time to process what's happened, and let them know that you'll be there whenever they're ready to talk.

Listen to them

Sometimes people just need someone who will listen to them. Before they start thinking about what they should do next, allow them the time to vent about their feelings and get everything off their chest.


[2] Reassure them

Receiving a set of bad exam results can feel like the end of the world, but it's not. It's important that your friend knows this.

Failing their exams doesn't mean that they're a failure, it's just a small bump in the road. Getting good exam results doesn't guarantee that you'll be successful throughout your life.

Encourage them to think positively and remain confident that things will turn out okay. The only real failure would be giving up.

They're not alone

It may not feel like it at the time but they're not the only one who has experienced a blip. Some of the most wildly successful people did badly at school or college, but this didn't stop them. For example:

  • Richard Branson dropped out of school when he was 16 and started his first company. He's now one of the most recognisable businessmen in the world with a net-worth of over $4 billion.
  • Michelle Mone left school with no qualifications, but instead carved out a successful career in the lingerie industry, founding Ultimo, and is now estimated to be worth £20 million.
  • Simon Cowell left school with only 1 GCSE but after working his way up from the very bottom of a music company, he became one of the most successful in his industry.
  • Deborah Meaden left school at 16 before completing her A-levels. She started her first business at 19 - a glass ceramics import company - and at the age of 63 is believed to be worth around £49m.
  • Jon Snow only passed one of his A levels, but is now one of the most successful TV journalists in the UK.
  • Cheryl Cole dropped out of school in at the age of 16, with zero qualifications. This didn't deter her however, as she soon found herself on the ITV show Popstars: The Rivals and won a slot in Girls Aloud. Nowadays, she's worth an estimated £15 million.
  • Stephen Spielberg was rejected from film school, but persevered and is now one of the most successful directors in film history.

4 things to say:

  • "I'm here for you if you need anything."
  • "Everyone fails at some point. Plenty of other people in our class are in the same position as you, and I know that you will all get through it."
  • "Let me know how you're feeling, I'm here to listen for as long as you need me."
  • "Let's take your mind off of things for a little bit and go for a walk."

4 things not to say:

  • "I didn't even study but I still got all As."
  • "I thought the exam was really easy."
  • "Don't worry about it, these results aren't even that important anyway."
  • "Does that mean you can't go to University anymore?"
Three students walking together in the park


[3] Help them choose their next steps

Getting worse exam results than expected isn't the end of the road. Your friend has lots of options and you can help them think through what they want to do next.

They could:

  • Go through Clearing: Entry requirements are often lowered during Clearing, so your friend could find a place at a different university.
  • Consider a Foundation course: Foundation courses develop a students skills in a selected area, leading straight into a desired degree.
  • Resit their exams: Your friend could choose to stay on at 6th form college, or study online, and retake their A level or T level assessments.
  • Take a gap year: They may want to take a year out to work or travel and think about what they want to do next.
  • Consider an apprenticeship: Your friend could explore the government's apprenticeship website to find a job where they will earn and learn.

It's a good idea to suggest to your friend that they talk to a teacher or the careers service at your school or college to help them explore all their options.


[4] Take their mind off of things

Your friend may have some big decisions to make on what they want to do next, but this doesn't mean they have to make them immediately. Doing something small can help them to relax and get their mind off of things.

It will help to get out of the results hall as seeing other people getting positive results may make them feel even worse. Take them out for a short walk, or get a coffee together. It doesn't have to be big, just something to help them forget about the situation for a short while.

You could also give them something they can look forward to. The next few days will be stressful for them as they navigate their next steps, so organise to meet up for dinner or to go to the cinema the following week.


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I was disappointed on results day but I received plenty of advice and encouragement that I’d find a place through Clearing. When I got my place I was relieved as I worried that I wouldn’t get in anywhere. It will be okay!

Guy Harrison, BSc (Hons) Biology