Helping students learn from exam results

Did your son or daughter sit their GCSE or AS-level exams this summer? Understandably, these exams are perceived by students and parents exclusively as a stepping stone to the next level of education. But exam results provide a great opportunity to learn how to become a better student and students and parents are missing a trick if they don’t exploit this.

This is what you need to be doing if you want to maximise your chances of success in your next exams:


This involves thinking back over everything you did before and during your exams. If your grades differed from your (and your teachers’) expectations, then something went wrong. Reflect on how you approached your study – number of hours studied, what time of day you studied at your best/worst, the type of studying you did (reading, making notes, testing yourself, working with others etc). If you continually had problems in certain areas, how did you go about learning from this? How were your energy levels during study periods, were you able to concentrate (were you on Facebook whilst studying)? These questions are really asking ‘how did I go about trying to understand what I had to produce in order to get a good grade‘?

You also need to consider how you prepared for your exams. By this I mean everything you can think of that would ensure you gave yourself the best possible chance of success. This would cover things like; did you test yourself under exam conditions? what did you eat before your exams? were you calm, awake and feeling confident when you entered the exam hall or were you so nervous you couldn’t concentrate on the questions? did you answer all the questions, managing your time effectively? I know a student who, for one subject, achieved very high marks with the exception of one paper in which they got an ‘Ungraded’ mark. When asked to answer any 2 of 5 questions, they answered question 1 (for example), but erroneously wrote on the paper that they had answered question 3. The examiner had no choice but to fail the paper, thus dragging their overall grade down. A basic error, easily avoided by good planning and preparation.

Ask for a copy of your exam scripts

These days students are allowed to request their exam scripts. I would recommend you do this if your grades were lower than expected. Not for the purpose of requesting a ‘re-mark’, but rather so you can learn from it. 

Read and understand the comments (if there are any) from the examiner and ask your teacher to critique your answer. Be very clear after this exercise as to how you could have got more marks. This will be especially useful for essay-based questions that require critical writing skills. This is the essence of academic success the higher you progress in academia.

Make a plan

Take what you have discerned from the above and make a plan for the next exams. If you found yourself with no motivation and didn’t study very much, then how can you change things (your environment, your mindset) so that you have more commitment to doing well? If you have difficulty constructing coherent essays then how will you work on this over the next year to ensure you understand what a logical structure ‘looks like’?

Getting better is so much more than just ‘working harder.’ So many people fall into the trap of believing exam results are about volume of effort. You need to understand how you can develop the key skills to give you the best chance of optimising your potential.