It's almost inevitable that at some point your teen will get a result that is, to them, disappointing.
Maybe they put in lots of time and effort...
Maybe they thought they'd given correct, or good, answers...
But the result isn't what they expected or hoped for.
After hundreds of conversations over the years, helping students come to terms with and create positive outcomes from a disappointing result, I've found two critical aspects in conversations that may help your teen connect with and then constructively move forward and upwards from a result they felt disappointed with.
Listen to find out what they are and how I use them.
You’re listening to The Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode number 68. What I do when helping students deal with a disappointing result in an exam or assignment, so they understand and connect with the situation, and also have a way to move forward with clarity and positivity.
Hi VIP’s. I hope you’re doing great. I’m having a little sigh because I have just recorded this podcast once and then clicked stop record only to realise that I hadn’t pressed record! So, if your teen has ever had something like this happen to them, or lost a file, or whatever it is, I get it. And I heard a tip very recently that definitely helps me right now in this situation. And it was… if you ever have to do something twice, it’s probably going to be better the second time. So hopefully that means that this episode should be really smooth and really awesome for you to listen to.
And I think it is kind of fitting to isn’t it because we are talking today about disappointing results. Because I know there have been trials, mock exams and other exam blocks for a lot of students here in Australia and New Zealand, and if you’re in the UK or an international school then I hope this will still be really useful, because the new school year is just kicking off for you.
But unfortunately, this will happen for most of us at some points.
It did for me as a student, and I see it happen for students today.
I thought it would be helpful to talk about what I say and how I try to help students when this does happen for them. And to be clear, I am no psychologist, I have zero training as a counsellor, therapist, teen psychiatrist or anything else that actually qualifies me to share any advice on this. I’m not even a parent. So, I’m purely sharing this as anecdotal experience and in case even one thing helps you to help your teen. But as you can imagine, I have talked with hundreds of students who have received disappointing results, as a high school teacher, as a head of department, as a study coach, as a homeroom teacher, as a tutor, in all the different ways that I’ve worked with students over the past 17 years. And of course, every child is different and each scenario and situation is different. So like I said, this isn’t hard and fast advice. But after lots and lots of different versions of these often similar conversations, these are two things I’ve tended to home in on and always make sure I include in the conversation, and figured it might be helpful to others who also have these conversations, i.e. you as the parent or carer.
Now, as a teacher and study coach, the thing I really want to get to is figuring out where things went wrong and how to fix it next time, but, that’s like a friend telling me they’ve just broken up with their partner and me then immediately trying to match them up with someone new. It’s pretty dismissive of the experience and the thoughts and feelings they’ll be having at that moment.
Or, sometimes, we just want the other person to not feel so bad. So it might be tempting to try to placate things like saying to a student ‘well, as long as you tried your best,’ or ‘ that results doesn’t really count for anything though’ or even counter it with, “what? I think that’s a perfectly good result!”.
In the case of the friend with the break up, it’s a bit like saying ‘plenty more fish’ or ‘I never really liked them anyway’.
In my experience, when I talk with students, I’ve found the most effective thing is to really take a moment to validate how they are thinking or feeling about their result. We don’t want to wallow in the disappointment forever, but we don’t want to just gloss over it or basically tell them that it doesn’t matter. Even though it’s tempting because we just want them to feel better about things. And even though, we know, that in the grand scheme of life, no, it doesn’t really matter, but to them, in their life at that moment, it does. And I think there is a positive here in that they clearly do want to do well AND they clearly believe in themselves enough to think that they were going to do better. They know their potential is greater. This is a great thing. The worst situation, I think, is where a teen has lost faith in their ability, lost their self-confidence and self-belief and so don’t even expect to do well.
So, first up I make sure that I’ve taken the time to hear and genuinely acknowledge how they’re viewing the result or task, and how they’re feeling about it.
And likely you’re much better at this as a parent than I am. Like I said, psychology and emotional wellbeing isn’t my area of expertise, but I’ve found that students aren’t really ready to actually tackle or critique the nitty gritty of the task, if they haven’t been able to embrace or I guess, process, that first part. And only once I’ve done this, gauged where they’re at with this, and have shown that I understand that, do i let myself loose on the area that IS my expertise and that I do see as my strong suit and might be less so for anyone who isn’t an educator or assessor so I hope is helpful for me to share.
We want to make the assessment informative and useful for your teen. Not just something to be done and dusted and that can be tricky. So often we want to put stressful or hard things behind us and move on. Breathe a sigh of relief that it’s done and whether the outcome was good or bad, or somewhere in the middle, move on. But there is so much to be gained from an in-depth dissection of it all. We really do want to identify at least one reason as to why they got that result. What we don’t want is for them to come out of it feeling confused and uncertain because that is likely going to carry through to other tasks in future. If they thought they’d done all the right things on this task, but didn’t get the result they hoped for or expected, then they’re likely going to doubt themselves on upcoming tasks.
They’ll think they know what to do, but they thought that last time, and it didn’t work out. So, maybe they don’t know what to do here.
And there are two aspects to this.
1) dissecting what they actually wrote and submitted and the marks it got or criteria it hit,
2) dissecting how your teen worked on it.
For the latter, I would recommend checking out episode 13 - Assessment post-mortems, where I share the one word to ask your teen (or they should ask themselves) about a completed assessment or exam question AND real life ways I’ve taken students through assessment post-mortems. Because we want to know exactly what got marks and what didn’t. And all-importantly WHY.
Now, if they can’t or aren’t sure how to do this for themselves, then they definitely should ask their teacher to go through it with them. And reminder, anyone with a teen in the 10WGT right now, they can come to any 3 live group coaching calls that we hold every week during term time. Next Level students can bring a completed exam paper or assignment to any of those calls, or to your 1-1 private sessions. And I’ll be ready and raring to do this work with you, guide you and figure it out and explain it to you.
It is SUCH a valuable and high bang-for-buck exercise. It is one of my absolute favourite things to coach students on in our group coaching calls because so often, it isn’t about an answer being right or wrong, it’s about how they answered and how it did or didn’t align with the mark scheme. I mean, consider an English essay. It’s unlikely that they’ve written about the wrong character or described a scene totally wrong, or even written about a totally different theme than was asked. So it doesn’t matter that they won’t get that same essay question again, or that they don’t need to study Romeo and Juliet any more. It’s how they analysed or didn’t properly analyse. Or, in an exam, it’s how they addressed the command of the question or didn’t, or how accurately they predicted the mark scheme just from reading the question, or didn’t. And these are universal skills that can be used - in fact will need to be used, again and again in every subject and all different types of tasks and assessment.
So, that’s dissecting what they actually wrote - or presented or said in their speech - the content they delivered. Then there’s the other part - how did they work on it? Was it a smooth path, or did they have a false start somewhere? Did they go around in circles a bit along the way, did they procrastinate or get distracted while they were working? How much effort did they put in?
I like to use a scale of 1-10 for this. If they’re an 8 or above on anything, I’m happy with that. 8 or more confidence in the subject content, all good. 8 or more in effort, all good. 8 or more in confidence, all good. But if it’s less than that, then we might need to dig a little bit more. Maybe it was a 5 for effort, but that was for a strategic reason. Like, maybe this task didn’t actually count towards a final grade and other assessments they had on at that time did. In which case, is the result truly disappointing, or is it probably what we’d expect for a 5 in effort? Or, if they did put off getting started and then ended up under time pressure, then that may well be the reason for the result.
Whatever it is, we want to figure out WHY. WHY they got that result. And it will likely be more than one reason, so for me, it’s important to explore all the aspects that I just described, not just stop at the first sign of an explanation.
For example, if they say they procrastinated on getting started, we then want to find the cause of the procrastination. Were they unsure of WHAT to do? Or HOW to do it?
Or, if they ended up pressed for time, did they genuinely mis-judge how long it would take to complete, or was the time they spent on it unfocused and full of multi-tasking on other things as well? Or did they simply not schedule or plan it out at all, and that is the reason?
Now, they might well have a situation where it’s something beyond their control that is the reason. They might say something like ‘ the teacher didn’t really explain the task clearly.’ or ‘i got sick and missed some of the info’ or ‘I had a major footy tournament on the whole weekend before it was due’. This is where I like to encourage them to consider how they could make a positive impact here.
Could they ask their teacher for more clarification, or say ‘here’s what I think - is that right?’, or could they independently catch up on something missed, or proactively plan for when time is tight? I think this is much more powerful than just blaming an outside factor. Not that those factors aren’t real, and not excusing something that wasn’t explained properly or dismissing a genuine issue, but the truth is that being able to see where we do have some control and where we can overcome these things is a great life skill. I think it’s one of the times when we truly can say that school or assessment is helping to set us up to be successful in life. Not just because we can now analyse Romeo and Juliet, and likely more impactful than the actual assessment, but being able to figure out how we can proactively set ourselves up for success, be resilient in the face of adversity and reflect on and strategically evaluate results or outcomes.
And some of the reasons that your teen identifies will be relatively easy to solve. Like, okay, well next time you need to plan out each sub-task and schedule in when you’ll do it. Others will be trickier and may require additional skills and training like how to predict the mark scheme when you’re reading a question in the exam hall. But all of them are solvable. Or at least steps can be taken to improve them. I’ve never had a student where I’ve just had to throw my hands up and say, “yeah, you know what, I’ve got no idea how we could do things differently next time to significantly improve the likelihood of getting a higher grade.”
And of course, I really hope that your teen has been really happy with their results, and if they aren’t then I hope that you can use these two aspects of follow up that I’ve gradually tried out and found to be the most productive and effective - acknowledging and understanding their thoughts and feelings about them and actually letting them feel those rather than instantly trying to cover them up with more positive ones, and then trying to identify the skills and techniques they need to use, or learn and hone, in order to work and perform in a way that creates more success for them next time and in a way that best reflects their ability and effort.
Have a brilliant rest of your day and I’ll meet you back here next week!