It’s happened to all of us. In any subject. Whether we expected it or not, sooner or later, one of our assessments or exams will come back to us with a disappointing grade.

We might feel sad, we might want to give up, and this is perfectly normal.

However, we’re going to take you through how to readjust your focus so that you can improve poor assessment marks!

Step 1: Feel upset, even have a cry
Step 2: Take control
Step 3: Ask for feedback
Step 4: Work out what you need to improve
Step 5: Set realistic goals

Step 1: Feel upset, even have a cry

It’s OK to feel down about poor assessment marks.

You may be feeling disappointed or suddenly be starting to doubt your future success – and that’s okay!

Take some time to note your emotions and your feelings. We need to process our feelings before we can work on solutions.

It may sound counter-intuitive but take the night off. Don’t study for the subject that let you down today.

Everyone processes their emotions differently, this is what I normally do:
  • I found that going to the gym gets rid of my anger.
  • Going for a long run clears my head of jealousy or envy.
  • Colouring in helps me when I’m feeling helpless.
  • Doing something I’m good at helps me when I’m feeling disappointed.
  • Having a bubble bath, eating a hot meal and reading all help me when I’m sad or tired.

When you’re feeling better and have openly accepted what’s happened, it’s time to reflect on how we can improve poor assessment marks.

Step 2: Take control

Unfortunately, motivational theories suggest that many people gravitate towards external attributions rather than internal.


This means that many people prefer to blame external/uncontrollable factors rather than internal/controllable factors.

For example, if you receive a bad grade you may say that it’s your teacher’s fault or that it was a terribly written exam.

Rather, we need to try to avoid making external excuses and instead suggest reasons for how we, personally, may have contributed to the poor result.

Did we study enough? Maybe we misinterpreted the question? Did I have enough sleep before the exam? Did I proof-read my essay or did I stay up to 4am finishing it the night before?

If we place ourselves in a mindset that says ‘maybe I could’ve done something a bit differently’, we realise that we actually are in control. This give us power to improve poor assessment marks.

Step 3: Ask for feedback

Carefully read through any written feedback you have received so you can improve poor assessment marks.

Although you may not want to – book an appointment with your teacher. Identify the cause of the failure with them.

If you know where you went wrong you will be able to improve.

Did you read the question properly? Were you well prepared?

Ask your teacher to discuss some ways you can improve your extended response or ask how you could improve your exam technique or whatever you think you need help with.

If you received a poor examination mark, try and work out which section you did well in and which sections you need help with.

For example, if you did well in multiple choice and did poorly in the short answer section it could indicate that you have a solid understanding of the multiple choice content but you are not able to write enough to secure full marks in the short-answer section.

Step 4: Work out what you need to improve

Once you’ve talked to your teacher and read their feedback, you’re ready to set some targets.

I think it’s always a good idea to write down what mark you wish you had received and compare this to the mark you actually did receive.

For example, you may have wished to receive a mark of 85% but in reality, you only received a mark of 55%. Use this assessment task as a learning experience and analyse your current study habits.

Are you writing enough notes, studying sufficiently? Do you simply need to work on your exam technique?

Sometimes changing one or two behaviours can drastically improve poor assessment marks.

Step 5: Set realistic goals

I’m going to show you how you can make your own SMART goals that actually work.

A SMART goal is one in which you make sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, Timely.

Let’s do an example together! Adapt the following goal to your needs:

I want to increase my mark in (subject)  from (%) to (%) within the next (weeks before the next assessment) as it will boost my confidence and be highly rewarding for me and my future.

Setting a clear goal allows you to better track your progress to improve poor assessment marks. You can also monitor whether you are achieving the progress you desire and deserve.

Keep trying. Stay motivated. Have fun. You’ve got this!


  1. Have a cry – let it all out. 
  2. Take control of your own actions. Don’t blame your teacher or the assessment.
  3. Ask for feedback.
  4. Work out what you need to improve.
  5. Set realistic goals

Now you’re well on your way to improve poor assessment marks so you can aim high for your next exam!

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Thomas Woolley loves Economics and Business Studies. He completed his HSC in 2013 and has been working at Art of Smart since 2014. He enjoys helping out his students whilst studying B Commerce / B Education at UNSW to become an actual economics/business studies teacher in 2018. Since high school Thomas has also learned to scuba dive, salsa dance, and he can fly a quadcopter like a pro. However, he still cannot skateboard.